The Checklist Manifiesto: The End of the Master Builder

(Our weekly reading according to our reading calendar)

The benefits of using checklists of simple task are obvious. However, the author ask himself it they can be also beneficial when tackling complex tasks, that is, tasks with lots of different actions to be taken and with unexpected and unforeseeable complications. The kind of environment that he has previously shown us that is the norm in modern medicine.

To look for answers he turns to the building construction industry. Building big skyscrapers is an extremely complex task that involves the coordination of hundreds of workers and specialists. It seems, like the intensive care units of hospitals, the perfect kind of environment for mistakes to easily appear. And however they don’t. Building collapse is an extremely rare event. The building industry manages quite well the complexity.

Until the twentieth century, the construction of a building was organized and managed by the Master Builder, and experienced expert who took responsibility of all the critical decisions and steps of the building process.

During the last 100 years this figure has disappeared. The job is nowadays organized in a mechanical way around two kinds of procedures. On one side, there is a checklist-like amount of documentation that describes the planning of the building process and which is constantly checked by all parts for consistency and accomplishment. On the other side, there is also a clearly defined documentation that defines the steps of communication between different participants that have to be performed when unexpected events happen.

In the author’s opinion, medicine has still to make the step out of the master builder stage like the construction industry did almost a century ago.

The Art of Learning (review)

Title: The Art of Learning

Author: Josh Waitzkin

Link to Amazon

 This is a rather peculiar book. It is a sort of intellectual autobiography of Josh Waitzkin, in which the chess wunderkind –World famous after the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer- explains his development in the world of chess championships and how the transformed himself into a martial artist, winning world championships of Tai-Chi.


While he describes his own life and attainments, he also present us with his original way of learning things and make them stick. A fascinating combination of creativity, self-discipline and alternative view of learning emerges from those pages.

His learning method is described in some detail. Sometimes it makes perfect sense and you’d like to try on yourself immediately. Others it is too related to chess or Tai-chi to make any sense outside it. Other times the description is so sketchy that it is not usuable.

I wouldn’t recommend  the book for just the learning tips he presents there, there are few, and randomly distributed through different parts of the book. However, it works well as a biography of a learning process, and it is enjoyable to read, almost like a novel: Waitzkin knows how to describe a chess tournament of a Push Hands fight to make it quite thrilling.

I plan to write a couple of posts to describe his ideas on learning


The Overprotected Kid

Because of our obsession with safety we are robbing our children of their childhood and we are not letting them to train for the risks and dangers of future life. Fortunately some parents seem to be waking up. This is a must read  if you have kids (quite long, look for some spare time).

Like most parents my age, I have memories of childhood so different from the way my children are growing up that sometimes I think I might be making them up, or at least exaggerating them.


One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.


At the core of the safety obsession is a view of children that is the exact opposite of Lady Allen’s, “an idea that children are too fragile or unintelligent to assess the risk of any given situation,” argues Tim Gill, the author of No Fear, a critique of our risk-averse society. “Now our working assumption is that children cannot be trusted to find their way around tricky physical or social and emotional situations.


Also from Tim Gill’s Blog:

No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society argues that childhood is being undermined by the growth of risk aversion. This restricts children’s play, limits their freedom of movement, corrodes their relationships with adults and constrains their exploration of physical, social and virtual worlds.

Tim Harford on the Business of Borders

Looking back 70 years, the broad trend is for borders to appear rather than disappear. There were 76 independent countries in the world in 1946; today the US recognises 195 (…)

The curious thing about nation states is that they aren’t economic units at all but political ones. (…)

The economic dividing line in the UK does not run along the Scottish border between Berwick and Gretna – it circles London, taking in Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton. London is the true economic outlier in the UK.

The whole story here.