“We Don’t Know It” & “We Blow It” – Two Paths to Potential Disaster

I mentioned to a group this week that I think The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is the most important book I have ever presented.  Not necessarily the best book – but the most important book.  I think about its principles, such as that our age is an age of great complexity, with nearly every news story I read.  I have blogged about it so often that my readers must be thinking, “Oh no – not another Gawande blog post…”

But today, as I was going thorugh the concepts  of the book yet again, these two simple phrases flew out of my mouth.

“We don’t know it”
We blow it.”

All mistakes that we make flow from one of these.  Here are the relevant quotes from Gawande’s book (emphasis added):

We have just two reasons that we may fail.
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 nearly all of history, people’s lives have been governed primarily by ignorance.

Failures of ignorance we can forgive.  If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort.  But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.

In other words:
“We don’t know it” (our problem with ignorance)
“We blow it.” (our problem with ineptitude).

We don’t know it.
We blow it.

Solve these two, and we will have a much less troublesome world.


To purchase my synopsis of The Checklist Manifesto, with handout + audio, go to our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

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