Detailed Procedures Are Great for Surgeons and Pilots


Procedures with a step-by-step checklist are essential when we have a known destination and specific route planned.  Explorers working on the edge of charted territories do not have maps with all the details, therefore detours and retracing steps are necessary tactics.  Making decisions without reference points becomes part art and part science.

I recently finished, In the Kingdom of Ice, an arctic tale that puts the Shackleton tale of survival on the second tier.  The crew of the USS Jeanette searched for the rumored open waters at the North Pole.  Committed to confirming the existence of ice-free waters at the most northern latitude they purposely sail thru the Bering Straight and into the arctic ice pack.


The USS Jeannette’s committed crew of explorers balanced naval protocol, 1800’s science, and explorer’s intuition to decide their fate.  They navigated haphazardly from vaguely detailed maps, celestial reference points, and the individual talents of the crew.  Big decisions had to be made throughout their quest.  There were no right answer, only an unflagging commitment to a journey that mattered.

After finishing the Kingdom of Ice, I read an article in Powder magazine about the human element as a cause of snow avalanches.  A case was made about the decision-making process necessary to decide when to proceed with skiing a slope and when to retreat.  The following decision-making paradigm was presented:

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What I like about this model is that it provides a role for individual people to channel.  Much like de Bono‘s Thinking Hats there is a perspective for each member of the team.


Checklists and procedures are critical.  I want airline pilots and surgeons not to skip steps because they have a hunch that everything is going to be all right.  I want explorers and those working on the edges to use the wisdom of their team when they commit to a course of action but also have clarity under what circumstances they will re-evaluate their decisions.

We are all working on projects that matter.  Our enterprises require us to make decisions that have significant impact.  How we decide is often as important as what we decide.

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