Posts Tagged 'Checklist Manifesto'

Priority List: What Yitro Has To Teach Us This Year

Despite the fact that we are almost done with January, I feel that the year has just started. And yet some how my To-Do list is already too long with hardly enough checked off. How will I ever get through it all this year? But I do not feel alone. It seems that we all have too many things to do. Making lists help us structure and prioritize our time, but do the lists represent us? Do these to-do- lists portray our personal, professional, or organizational values? While we want to be accomplished, do we want to be identified just as the people who do the things on our lists? Is there a soul to our lists?

Wanting to check “write blog post” off the list I turned to Yitro, this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the receiving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments. Interestingly enough, there was a period in Jewish history when they wanted to read the Ten Commandments in the synagogue liturgically. This practice was rejected for fear that people would think that the entire teaching of the Torah was just this To-Do (or Not-To-Do) List. Surely these ten commandments are important, but what is their relationship to the other 603 commandments? Are these a list of priorities or values? If they are a list of values, how does the rest of the Torah spell out these values? And if they are priorities, does this really manifest the values of the rest of the Torah? Or more importantly how does a list speak to the soul?

This got me thinking about Atul Gawande‘s 2009 The Checklist Manifesto . Gawande points out that, while airplane pilots use checklists to ensure optimal outcomes, surgeons do not. While the surgeon might think that their education is beyond needing a remedial checklist, that is not the biggest difference. The biggest difference is if the surgeon fails the patient dies while if the airplane pilot fails he goes down with the ship. It is easy to distance yourself when you do not have as much invested in the outcomes. The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes.

It is impossible for me to read Yitro without think about our beloved FJC’s Yitro Program for assistant and associate directors (ADs) of Jewish camps across North America. With the continued support of the AVI CHAI Foundation this program is running its third cohort. Yes, I love each cohort equally. In this program we are training these ADs to enhance the Jewish experience at their home camp. In short they need to explore the soul of their camps. As everyone knows these ADs have a crushing amount of work to do. Their To-Do-Lists would give most people apoplexy.  Together in this program we are doing the hard work of defining and elevating the soul of these lists.

Taking their example to heart I think it makes sense for all of us to review our lists for the coming year to ensure that our values and priorities are aligned. We all have a lot of work to do to live accomplished value driven lives.

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Checklist Manifesto

Just today it seems that they might have finally discovered some wreckage from the missing Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370. Over close to two weeks on every news outlet, every page, every website, people are talking about this flight. There has been an incredible amount of  ink  spilled on the reaction or lack of reaction by authorities, or on possible motives or explanations for its disappearance, but there has been comparatively little on the passengers, their families, or their communities. Why are we so focused on the  idea of a missing aircraft  to the exclusion of an actual missing aircraft? What about the people they left behind, the people waiting for them, and the people themselves who are missing?

This seems pretty straight forward; we are all self-interested. We are more concerned how this or something like this might impact us than what it means to people we do not know on the other side of the world. This got me thinking about Atul Gawande‘s 2009 The Checklist Manifesto .   Gawande points out that, while airplane pilots use checklists to ensure optimal outcomes, surgeons do not. While the surgeon might think that their education is beyond needing a remedial checklist, that is not the biggest difference. The biggest difference is if the surgeon fails the patient dies while if the airplane pilot fails he goes down with the ship. It is easy to distance yourself when you do not have as much invested in the outcomes. The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes.

This idea got me thinking about Shmini, this week’s Torah Portion. There we read:

And Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which God had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moshe said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, [when God said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ “And Aaron was silent. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them: ‘Draw near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.’  So they drew near, and carried them in their tunics out of the camp, as Moshe had said. And Moshe said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and to Ithamar, his sons: ‘Let not the hair of your heads go loose, neither rend your clothes, that ye die not, and that God be not wroth with all the congregation; but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled. And you shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting, lest you die; for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.’ And they did according to the word of Moses. ( Leviticus 10:1-7)

Similar to our silence around the missing passengers from the Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370, I have always felt Aron’s silence to be painful. How could a father stay quiet when faced with the death of his two sons? But I think it is also interesting to think about the role of the priest.  In Gawande’s terms is the priest more like a surgeon  or more like an airplane pilot?  You might think with their special status and their role in ancient society that they are like doctors, but Moshe treats him like an airplane pilot. In response to tragedy he does not join him in morning, but rather gives him checklist of what he and his sons need  to get done. The priest serves the entire nation and needs to understand that he is responsible for the patient on the table ( AKA the nation of Israel). But at the same time they need to know that they are flying the plane and are at risk. I think this has interesting implications for today’s Jewish communal professionals. We too need to understand our role. We cannot pretend to be removed surgeons operating the community at arm’s length. If we understand that we are flying the plane, we need to have our own checklist manifesto to ensure that we achieve optimal outcomes for our entire community.

And most importantly, may the friends and family of the pilots and passengers of  Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370 find a voice for their sorrow and comfort from their mourning.

– Thank you to Alon Meltzer for inspiring this post.


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