Two Great Dilemmas: Ignorance and Ineptitude — insight from Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto


I never do this – but I am doing it now.  I am reading a book “early.”  I usually read books just a few days before I first present them. For example, for the First Friday Book Synopsis, I read the book the week of the event.  This keeps it “fresh” in my mind.  Besides, I do better paying attention to one book at a time.

{Aside:  I absolutely marvel at Bob Morris (our blogging colleague) and his intellectual gifts.  He reads books, plural, every week, writes reviews, and remembers their strengths and main points with extraordinary precision.  I do not have that ability…  That is why his posts are so diverse, so comprehensive, so educational – literally, it is an education to read his posts on our blog.}

Ok – back to this post…  You can guess, I am reading a book early.  It is my selection for the April First Friday Book Synopsis, The Checklist Manifesto:  How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande.  I wrote earlier that I could not wait to read it.  Well – I couldn’t.

Here’s just one gem from the book.

There are two deficiencies that lead to a failure.  One is ignorance.  The other is ineptitude.  (This insight came from a 1970’s essay by philosophers Samuel Gorovitz and Alasdair MacIntyre).  Here’s an excerpt from the book:

The first is ignorance – we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works.  There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build, snowstorms we cannot predict, heart attacks we still haven’t learned how to stop. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude – because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly  This is the skyscraper that is built wrong and collapses, the snowstorm whose signs the meteorologist just plain missed, the stab wound from a weapon the doctors forgot to ask about.

For most of human history, the problem has been ignorance.  Now, the problem is increasingly the problem of ineptitude.  Again, from the book:

The balance of ignorance and ineptitude has shifted.  For nearly all of history, people’s lives have been governed primarily by ignorance…  But sometime over the last several decades – and it is only over the last several decades – science has filled in enough knowledge to make ineptitude as much our struggle as ignorance.

When ineptitude occurs, buildings can fall, companies can blow it, and people can literally die.  This book is about a simple solution to this problem – the solution of a checklist.  It fits in the category of “execution.”  And it really does provide a path to much less ineptitude – which is a very good thing!

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