The Most Powerful Tool In The World

This is something I’m certain Napoleon Hill would have added to his “Magic Ladder” had he paid a bit more attention to the actual anatomy of industry.

It’s a tool to ensure the completion of any project, whether for work or for life. But it’s hardly ever used and whenever it’s suggested or revealed, it’s usually dismissed or ridiculed.

It’s a very simple tool that is possibly the most powerful thing on earth.

It’s a checklist.

A checklist is not a To-Do List. Not really.

A checklist encapsulates knowledge. It’s not just a list of tasks.

I’ve used checklists time and again and they’ve saved me from a variety of potential disasters.

Whenever I’ve had to do a complex task, I document the steps as I do them. From that I have a future checklist of the steps I have to go through in order to complete that task whenever I have to do it again — whether it’s a week from now or even a year from now.

I don’t have to carry around in my head a vague notion of what needs to be done. Who can remember everything? Instead, it’s all there, written out — and all I have to do is go through the process. All of the thinking I went through the first time wasn’t wasted — it was captured for future use.

And yet I’ve been made to feel like an idiot for using such things.

This morning I find out that all the friction I’ve gotten over the years was from those who can never — and will never — succeed at anything.

Because it turns out Apple uses such a vast checklist to ensure its success.

Any company can copy the keystone of Apple’s design process

“‘It was a very rude awakening for me to go a different company like Excite or Yahoo because they had none of that!’ [said Sally Grisedale, former manager of Apple’s advanced technology group.] ‘Nothing written down. Like, Process? Are you kidding? Just ship it and get it out there!’”


At company after company, I’ve discovered I’ve had to start at zero and create a checklist from scratch. And the checklist is never for them — it’s for me. Because even leaving behind the checklist after departing, it’s unappreciated, forgotten, discarded. Because like a cat spraying its urine to mark its territory, the next person coming in wants to “make their mark.”

They don’t realize that process hardly ever changes — and what you as a new human being doing that process brings to it is style.

Also, a checklist doesn’t make someone a robot for following it. A checklist has to be appreciated, not just followed. When encountering a checklist, the first question should be: “What went into making this?” Seeing the thinking behind the checklist is where opportunities are to be found. No matter how comprehensive a checklist seems, the tides of time work on it to open up areas of improvement. Small refinements can create huge rewards. That’s how successes are made.

A dramatization of the thinking behind a checklist:

I need to make a special note here for people who are forced to robotically follow a checklist — and what it usually does is create nothing but hatred. These are the unfortunates who work at call centers.

You’re hated because you don’t appreciate the checklist. All you do is follow it. If you understood it, you’d quickly know when it needs to be abandoned and other steps taken, whether it’s bumping the caller to your supervisor or handing off to the next level of support.

The best tech support I’ve gotten is one where I can say up front, “I’ve tried X, Y, Z” and the call center person understands the script was already processed and I need more than the script. Instead of winding through two minutes of a checklist that was already processed — wasting time and creating frustration and aggravation — I’m given the next step within seconds. As a caller I appreciate that you can think, that you’re not a robot.

Publisher’s page: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande

Amazon: Kindle edition



Filed under Apple: The Company, Napoleon Hill, Reference

3 responses to “The Most Powerful Tool In The World

  1. E.T.

    I still haven’t found an optimal checklist utility.
    I like Trello’s ability to move cards around but not that it the checklists within each card are not visible from the board view.
    Google keep is lightweight but too limited (and loses data occasionally), and Evernote has a steep learning curve.

    • mikecane

      I keep it very simple. I open up WordPad and just start typing. It’s easier for me to deal with moving lines of text in an editor than a fancy app UI.

  2. I have had The Checklist Manifesto for quite awhile. Loved it! I like to point out that pilots use checklists and they got the idea from nurses! I make checklists on paper because of the brain/write/remember connection, and revise on the typewriter if I need to.

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