Atul Gawande is a noted surgeon and author of the best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto.

He writes about his profession in a way that speaks to each of us in our own jobs. He has an earlier work, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. In this article, I’ll share his five-point call to action that ends the book.

Ask the unscripted question

Gawande challenges doctors to go beyond the normal questions of ailments, where it hurts, and how long it has hurt. He encourages questions that allow doctors to get to know patients on a deeper level. He extends this concept to asking the questions that allow doctors to get to know staff members beyond the roles in which they see them each day.

The same advice could extend to any of us. Anybody can follow the script. When we go beyond the expected questions, we just may get the unexpected answer that winds up making all the difference. The author writes, "If you ask a question, the machine begins to feel less like a machine."

Don't complain

Dr. Gawande writes, "Whenever doctors gather —  in meeting rooms, in conference halls, in hospital cafeterias — the natural pull of conversational gravity is toward the litany of woes all around us."

Every profession has its problems, and when competing priorities exist, there is often no single right answer. The negativity can fester, and before you know it, the ox is in the ditch. We also have the capacity to make a better choice, to turn the conversation from "how bad things are" to how good things can be, and the next steps we can undertake right now to make the situation better.

Count something

"It doesn't really matter what you count … The only requirement is that what you count should be interesting to you." Gawande talks about counting how often instruments or sponges were left inside patients during surgery. Counting the incidents led to determining the situations in which they seem to occur, and hence the problem causing the mistakes. Finding the real problem was the first step towards finding a solution.

When we count something, we are focused on it. When we focus, we find the relationships that have always existed, yet nobody seemed to notice. "If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting." Great advice for researchers in many fields — and we are all researchers.

Write something

"An audience is a community. The published word is a declaration of membership in that community and also a willingness to contribute something meaningful to it."

We all have something of worth to say. Never before in history has it been easier to publish our writing. In many ways, writing is a responsibility, a way of giving back to the body of knowledge from which we have benefited. It's like holding up our end of the conversation.

Best of all, when we can explain our thoughts to others, we also clarify them for ourselves. The clarity leads to better performance.


"Look for opportunities to change … be willing to recognize the inadequacies in what you do and seek out the solutions." The ideas that have made your life and my life significantly better were once ideas on a drawing board. Modern-day pioneers were not afraid to share those ideas. Early adopters were not afraid to give those ideas a chance. They spread until reaching the proverbial "tipping point," where they became a common part of our days.

What's the next great idea out there? Will it be yours? Or, perhaps you will be one of the “early adopters” of a good idea worth spreading.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.