Ever since reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s bestselling book, The Checklist Manifesto, I’ve thought a great deal about the value of using checklists to help make complicated things more manageable and dependable—more safe and trustworthy.

Gawande was the driving force behind the compilation of a single, one-page checklist of 19 items to help hospitals reduce the surgical suite’s big killers: bleeding complications, infectious complications, unsafe anesthesia and what he called “the unexpected—the numerous individual ways that cases could go wrong.”

In writing my new book, LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water, I thought a good deal about the numerous brain biases that keep us from making good decisions about what to do next. (Wikipedia now lists literally hundreds of biases!)

In the spirit of The Checklist Manifesto, I’ve devised a checklist to help us reduce the influence of brain biases on our decision-making. Each of its items is informed by one or more of the major “brain biases” that cognitive psychology, neurosciences and other fields have flagged as problematic in our thinking. I don’t expect my reader to consciously review each and every item before making a decision. But now that I’ve completed the effort, I am finding that the deeper these guidelines soak into my own automatic run-up to making a decision, the more their helpful influence grows. In that spirit, I invite my reader to acquaint herself or himself with the air-clearing, fog-lifting, bubble-bursting influences of “The LEAP! Anti-Brain-Bias Checklist”:

Should I get involved in this?
Is this my cause, fight, responsibility—destiny?
Is this a good fit with my purpose in life, my
mission, my vision, my goals?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how big a deal
is this to me?

Is my passion for this going to be a problem?
What would make it hard to walk away?
What would make it easy to walk away?

Are “ego” issues under control?
Do I want this for the right reasons?
How badly do I need to win?
Can I lose effectively, if necessary?
Does my “right stuff” mesh well with the
“right stuff” of enough other key participants?

Am I clear-headed about what’s needed?
Is group- or herd-thinking contaminating my thinking?
How about my “first blush” excitement—
has it distorted later information?
Is there anything stupid afoot that I
may not be detecting?

Is there sufficient “ripeness” for success?
Do the time, place, players, financial resources,
pressures for change feel promising?

Do I have “the plan”?
Grand strategy, strategies, tactics, method?

Have I thought adequately about my first move?
Does it point me toward my goals?
Is there a better “first move”?

Is the past complicating my thinking?
Are old thought patterns getting
in the way of new circumstances?
Or, am I overlooking something
useful because it is old and not new?

Have I done a thorough job of estimating the risks?
Dangers to life and limb?
Dangers to other?
Dangers to the future?

Have I accurately estimated what I can control?
Where is uncertainty most likely to emerge?

What is my gut telling me?
Are feelings and facts agreeing?
And, who seems ready to walk the talk versus
who could be a “trust” problem?

What is my “inner eye” showing me?
TIP: This is different from your gut. This is your
unconsciousness’s consciousness.
Not so much a feeling as a preview of possibilities
going past your awareness too rapidly for you
to take it all in but not so rapidly but what
you can sense its general shape.

Have I given thought to what people’s worldviews
and personal biases may keep them from seeing
and/or accepting?

Carpthinkers? Sharkthinkers? NoQuiff thinkers?
Others in the dolphinthinker pod?

Am I thinking clearly enough about my own values?
Am I being sufficiently pragmatic?
And, am I clear about what “ethics” I
intend to maximize when there are
conflicts between my ethical values?
Where else and how else might I sabotage
myself on this?

Am I allowing sufficient time?
Remember, even the dolphinthinker’s brain
tends to underestimate how long complex
activities can require.

Does this require a breakthrough?
If so, is the needed brain power and
“excitement power” available?
Plus other essential resources, such as
funding, technology, political support, etc.?
And is there enough time to arrive
at a breakthrough?

Do I have a good handle on information?
Not too much. Not too little. And am I
taking care not to be waiting on info that
can’t affect action or outcome?

Where might I be vulnerable
because of personal “brain bias”?

TIP: In particular, watch for any of the behaviors
listed below that have gotten you into trouble before.

a. Do I feel pressured for quick answers or quick action?
b. Am I thinking someone is “better than average” when they aren’t?
c. Am I taking too narrow a focus?
d. Am I rationalizing injustice by thinking someone deserved what they got?
e. Do I prefer things simply because I am used to them?
f. Am I not planning for something because it has never happened before?
g. Am I doing the opposite of what someone wants me to do
just to show my independence or personal power?
h. Am I overestimating my ability to reject temptation?
i. Am I ignoring new evidence because it contradicts an established paradigm?
j. Do I have a tendency to remember items that “stick out
like a sore thumb” more than others?
k. Am I favoring things that are fun to imagine
over things that are merely rational or well-documented?
l. Am I overestimating the probability of an event because it
is so easy to recall examples?
m. Do I prefer to eliminate a small risk entirely as
opposed to taking a larger risk to get a larger reduction?

Am I prepared for the emotional
costs of this?

How much suffering am I prepared to
take responsibility for?
How big would losses have to become before
I would accept defeat?

How is “the new simplicity”
likely to triggered?

By what the pod does cooperatively?
Develop out of the technologies?
Something new springing to life?
Things disappearing suddenly?
By my brain, mainly?
By the brains of a few of us?
By the brains of many of us?

How will I know it’s over?
Are there deadlines I can’t ignore or avoid?
Resources that are finite?
Goals that are self-extinguishing?

If I succeed, am I clear on
my role going forward?

Do I want to run this for a while?
Long term? If not, do I
have others ready to become
the leaders? At what point am I willing
to step away from “my” project
and turn it over to others?


(with thanks to psychotherapist Insoo Kim Berg!)
Suppose a miracle happens overnight tonight,
while I’m asleep. And all the problems involved
with this are gone. Disappeared. The problem
is solved. But because this happened while
I was sleeping, I have no idea that there was a
miracle during the night. What might be the first,
small clue upon awakening that will make me
think, “Oh, my gosh! There must have been a miracle
during the night! The problem is all gone”?

In my wildest moments, five
things I’d never expect to happen
while I’m working on this that
would absolutely change
everything are:

1. _____________________________________

2. _____________________________________

3. _____________________________________

4. _____________________________________

5. _____________________________________

These, then, are the 23 (plus one) check-off points of the “The LEAP! Anti-Brain-Bias Checklist”: 1. Personal relevance weighed? 2. Depth of caring pondered? 3. Clear on score-keeping? 4. Surveillance quality okay? 5. General pulse reading taken? 6. Planning in place? 7. Startup move scoped out? 8. Past placed in perspective? 9. Risks evaluated? 10. Control issues surveyed? 11. Feelings checked? 12. “Flash cards from unconscious” checked. 13. World-view “intel” assessed. 14. Self-sabotage possibilities reconned? 15. Adequate time allotted? 16. Breakthrough requirements reviewed? 17. Information realities manageable? 18. Personal brain biases considered? 19. Prepared emotionally? 20. “New Simplicity” possibilities reconnoitered? 21. What signals “the end”? 22. Role after victory? 23. What if a miracle happens overnight? Optional: “Unthinkables” that can be thought of?

Once they get the hang of it, I’m convinced that dolphinthinkers can pretty much do this in their sleep. If asked to provide an even shorter version of their pre-launch checklist, users of the dolphin mind may say they simply ask themselves and anyone else who wants to participate: (1) Have we done our homework? (2) Can we leave most of our ideological and off-line “brain” baggage behind? (3) Can we forget impressing our own academic or professional discipline (if we have one), the media or Power Point lecture circuit audiences with our mastery of insider’s cant and jargon? (4) Can we take the widest possible view initially? Then, (5) can we be clearly focused, plain-spoken and pointedly specific about what matters? What works? What makes sense? What’s next? That is, are we as prepared as we can reasonably be to suss out the next right, smart, good thing or move and act on it?

Bookmark and Share