I’ve written before about my admiration for Atul Gawande, master storyteller, multi-talented doctor/surgeon/journalist/genius. This morning on NPR, they had a great segment about his new book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. (I plan to present a synopsis of this new book in either April or May at the First Friday Book Synopsis). You can read/listen to the NPR segment here.
The premise is simple – the world is more complex than ever before, everyone in every profession has more to do, more things to remember than ever before, and we all need a checklist to keep us on target, on schedule, and to help us make sure we are avoiding dumb mistakes.
In the interview, two things stood out: one, 80% of doctors say they plan to use the checklist, but 20% say they don’t – they don’t need it, they have enough experience, they are “above” such a mundane task (my words). Yet, 94% of doctors say that when they have to be on the receiving end of surgery, they want their doctors using a checklist. That is telling!
The other point: Gawande himself went from being journalist to practitioner and started using the checklist himself in his own surgery practice. He considered himself “above” such a need. But notice what happened (emphasis added):
Despite all the evidence, Gawande admits that even he was skeptical that using a checklist in everyday practice would help to save the lives of his patients.
“I didn’t expect it,” Gawande says with a chuckle. “It’s massively improved the kind of results that I’m getting. When we implemented this checklist in eight other hospitals, I started using it because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. But hey, I’m at Harvard, did I need a checklist? No.”
Or so he thought.
“I was in that 20 percent. I have not gotten through a week of surgery where the checklist has not caught a problem.”
Think about your own week. How many things fall through the cracks? How many times do you simply forget everything that you need to do in order to stay an track and do your best? How often could a well-written, thoroughly-followed checklist help you in this busy, complex age?
I think Gawande is on to something.
Prior to his retirement this month, Maister worked with 139 companies in fifteen countries in an effort to answer this question: What makes the most successful companies in the world? The revelations are concepts that comprise what he calls “The Profit Formula.” (Please visit
at which you can watch a podcast of Maister discussing “The Profit Formula” and/or download a copy of his essay.)
Maister’s insights are even more valuable now than ever before, given the fact that the Experience Economy has made everything a service business. Here are some of his key findings:
• The most money comes from superior client satisfaction –which is entirely subordinate to internal culture.
• Businesses need employees who are engaged – not simply happy with their benefits package.
• It’s about the WOW factor. If your people are coming to work every morning saying “Wow, this is exciting and fun – I get to be a barista again!” then they’re feeling meaning and purpose.
• It comes down to the character, not the skills, of the individual manager.
• The person in charge must credibly be seen as having an ideology.
In other words, “ideology trumps systems.” If a company’s are employees are not its evangelists about what they do and where they do it, the company’s clients (or customers) won’t be its evangelists either.
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To repeat, you can watch a podcast of Maister discussing “The Profit Formula” and/or download a copy of his essay by visiting
Nierenberg is the creator of The Music Paradigm. He has led presentations with more than eighty different orchestras throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. His recent book Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening gives readers an inside look at how to gain crucial insights about leadership from the work of great conductors. For 14 years, he directed the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in Florida, where he established a special reputation for his highly successful collaborations with many of today’s outstanding soloists and composers. For 24 years he was Music Director of the Stamford Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut. Nierenberg has served as guest conductor for many of America’s most distinguished orchestras and opera companies, has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious music festivals, and has recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Sony Classical Records.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Nierenberg. The complete interview is also available.
Morris: With regard to Maestro, here are two separate but related questions. First, why did you select the business narrative format to present the material in it?
Nierenberg: I struggled for quite some time to find a way to convey the ideas that had made such a tremendous impact during Music Paradigm sessions. Finally I realized that the book had to be about more than ideas. It had to be an experience. After years of interviewing clients who had greatly benefited from their Music Paradigm experience I decided to roll them all into one character, and he became the protagonist of the story. The narrative follows his transformation from his old-style, hands-on management style to a more enlightened approach that befits the seasoned professions that he appointed to lead.
Morris: What specifically does “leading by listening” mean?
Nierenberg: Leading by listening is actually quite a rich idea. Of course there is the obvious meaning of leveraging the knowledge and wisdom of the people around you by really giving them your full and open attention. But it involves far more than that. A conductor becomes quite expert in doing what I described above: developing a compelling vision of success for the music. When the orchestra plays he takes in their sound while simultaneously comparing it to the vision he imagined. Thus he discovers the gap between the two. This helps him to invent the best strategy for closing or even eliminating that gap. This kind of leadership-listening is very active and probing. Then there is the epiphany that the leader is responsible for the way his people listen to each other, and that the more transparently they communicate the greater his ability to influence and direct them. There are many levels to this concept.
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If you wish to read the complete interview, please contact me at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, you are cordially invited to check out the resources at these Web sites: