Niagara Gazette


November 27, 2012

BRADBERRY: Managing the unexpected, or not ...


Niagara Gazette — It probably started over a year ago when a good friend handed me a couple of good books to read, thinking they might help prepare me for a major task that he and I and a few other brave souls were about to tackle.

I may have mentioned either or both of the books before: “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande and “Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty” by Karl E. Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe.

The first book details how the surprising power of the ordinary checklist can reduce avoidable failures in health care, government, the law, the financial industry and, as the book says, “in almost every realm of organized activity”.

Avoidable failures continue to plague us because, “the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people consistently, correctly, safely”. The authors point out that, “We train longer, specialize more, use ever advancing technologies, and still we fail”.

Personally, I probably could have avoided at least some of the inconvenience of my own misery had I simply used some of the principles spelled out in the “Checklist”, not the least of which is to, in the midst of extreme complexity, don’t overlook the obvious.

I should have been taking better care of myself instead of putting off my own health while I focused on other issues. The other book, “Managing the Unexpected” seemed particularly timely the second time I read it while I spent nearly a month in the ICU trying and ultimately rescinding the pending farm deal.

Like the first, this book offers some pretty basic, but sage advice:

• Track small failures

• Resist oversimplification

• Be sensitive to operations

• Maintain the ability to be resilient

• Take advantage of expertise

Most of us never expect to get sick, or be struck by tragedy and as a result, are not ready when it actually happens. Not even the best health or homeowners insurance in the world can prepare us for what could happen.

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