Why Mice are Better Off?

“Simplicity is a state of mind.”— Charles Wagner

It was a case involving an accident victim. An attorney, cross-examining a doctor, queried, “Before you signed the death certificate had you taken the man’s pulse?” “No,” the doctor replied.
“Well, then, did you listen for a heart beat?”
The doctor answered, “No.”
“Did you check for respiration? Breathing?”, asked the attorney.
Again the doctor replied, “No.”
“Ah,” the attorney said, “So when you signed the death certificate you had not taken any steps to make sure the man was dead, had you?”
The doctor said: “Counselor, at the time I signed the death certificate, the man’s brain was sitting in a jar on my desk. But I can see your point. For all I know he could be out there practicing law somewhere.”

There are situations when one should do away with checklists. But we may need them at all other times, to carry out all aspects of work and life. An accomplished US surgeon Dr Atul Gawande in his book, “The Checklist Manifesto” presents findings of a study that show how checklists make remarkable difference in patient outcome. If checklists work in as complex a field as healthcare, should there be any doubt about its effectiveness in other industries?

There is another equally and ridiculously simple technique, called If Then planning. I came to know of it reading this article, by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and author, two years ago.

It is all about coming up with two statements: an If statement, and a Then statement. Following are some of the If-Then statements I use regularly:

“If I speak to a customer, then I will take notes of what he/she says”
If I am sending a newsletter, then I will edit it at least 4 times”
If it is Monday, then I will update my accounts”
If I finish having dinner, then I will go for a 30 minute walk”

As you can see, its applications are diverse — I am using it for thinking, planning, doing, changing,… For me, it works fantastic. And I read that If Then is also used in managing projects. Its practitioners include NASA!

Dr Heidi says that this technique is effective because it is written in ‘the language of our brains’. And it is also something very instinctive and simple, something what we can adopt without much efforts.

In the story of ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ the mice, Sniff and Scurry, find new cheese long before “Littlepeople” do. How? The mice used “the simple trial-and-error method of finding cheese”. They ran down one corridor, and if it proved empty, [then] they turned and ran down another. However, the two Littlepeople (Hem and Haw) relied on their complex brains to develop more sophisticated methods of finding cheese. Sometimes they did well, “but at other times their powerful human beliefs and emotions took over and clouded the way they looked at things. It made life in the Maze more complicated and challenging”.

Why use brain every time and make everything complex? Maybe, it’s possible for one to practice law (or medicine) with tools like checklists, and If Then planning, even as his or her brain sits in a jar. :)