Have you ever run to the supermarket in a flurry and returned home with a facepalm 🤦🏻♀️ when you realize you forgot the one ingredient that sent you to the market in the first place? Or, if we relate oversights to work, been near completion of a project when a coworker tells you he overlooked adding a key detail, thus delaying your project’s deliverable (at best) or sending you back to square one (at worst)?
In my first job in tech, I was given Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto. In a world of smartphones and ever-evolving technology advancements, Gawande makes the case for taking a methodical approach to our work and using one simple way to up our game: use a checklist. A checklist, he writes “gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn’t have to occupy itself with” so that you can concentrate on the more important items at hand. A checklist can run our mind through the tasks that seem so plain we take for granted we’ll remember them, so that we can think through the important details of a project. The book most captured my attention when Gawande shared a checklist’s utility in architecture. He shares the story of building Citigroup Center in 1977 in Manhattan, New York (p. 69):
“The Citigroup building in midtown Manhattan was planned to rise more than nine hundred feet on four nine-story-tall stilt-like columns,” a massive structure that would appear as if it floated above Fifty-third Street. It was designed by structural engineer William LeMessurier. The structure would be the first of its kind and visually stunning. “But wind-tunnel testing of a model revealed that the skyscraper stood so high above the surrounding buildings in midtown that it was subject to wind streams” that could cause it to collapse and be fatal. After calculations and redesigns, engineers pressed on with their plans. However, one key calculation was not reviewed by William LeMessurier: a checkpoint regarding whether using bolt joints was OK in place of a more expensive option called joint welding. In 1978, “a year after the building was opened, LeMessurier, prompted by a question from a Princeton engineering student, discovered the change. And he found it had produced a fatal flaw: the building would not be able to withstand seventy-mile-an-hour winds” which were anticipated to happen. In this circumstance the building would collapse.. “by now, the tower was fully occupied. LeMessurier broke the news to the owners to city officials. And that summer, as Hurricane Ella made its way toward the city, an emergency crew worked at night under the veil of secrecy to weld two-inch-thick steel plates around the two hundred critical bolts, and the building was secured. The Citigroup tower has stood solidly ever since.”
In the US, we have nearly six million commercial buildings and one hundred million low-rise homes. We add somewhere around seventy-thousand new commercial buildings and one million new homes each year. But ‘building failure’—defined as a partial or full collapse of a functioning structure—is rare, especially for skyscrapers. Building engineers rely on checklists to ensure the structural soundness of the buildings we visit everyday. Checklists work. If something as simple as a checklist can be useful in building skyscrapers, I am willing to incorporate them in my daily routine as a way to strive for the best possible outcome 👍 What do you think? P.S. The first photo is the Citigroup tower taken by @woodycampbell. The second photo are my ingredients on Saturday night. I tried a new recipe this weekend. A recipe, a checklist so to speak, is necessary to help me cook up appetizing, edible food. It turns out the applicability of a checklist is just as important personally as it is professionally 🙃.