Last year our office was abuzz with checklists – for the team, for a project, for each step in our innovation process – and they have been an excellent tool for keeping our activities consistent and focused without the burden of bureaucracy. Checklists excel at parsimony; They whittle down the points of importance to the very least they need to be, thereby making your use of them more efficient.
Consider this though: While the checklist helps you get through the activity/list/whatever with economy, how does it keep alive the important nuances of each step? Even the most carefully worded checklist item will have difficulty capturing a handful of considerations in a few words. This is where rituals have potential to do better.
A while ago, we visited Arlington National Cemetery with friends and watched the changing of the guard there. The closest I’ve got to the military is playing Call of Duty on a games console, so bear with my description here. What fascinated me about the guard-changing was that this ceremonial ritual was deeply practical. The guards didn’t just bow, salute and switch places, but in fact each movement was a carefully considered motion that they would need to do in real guard post situations. The pacing, facing and standing were optimised versions of watching and staying alert in a space. The inspection of the arriving guard’s gun was a comprehensive check that the gun was properly set up and working. Anyone who knew this guard-changing ritual was equipped with all the best actions to perform the role, with detailed nuances about how to perform each part.
So how about turning checklist moments into rituals? We have a set routine – fully checklisted – for running a brainstorm. But what if it were a ritual, encompassing not only the steps to prepare and run the activity but also to shape the moderators behaviour and interactions with the brainstormers.
Admittedly a ritual requires a time investment for learning that doesn’t exist for a checklist – someone has to teach you the ritual and show you the unique nuances that are embedded in the ritual. This may not be a bad thing if you think about the interpersonal value of the learning session, the potential for the ritual to become handed-down from one person to another, and the scope for individuals to add their own personal touches.
Finally, and what may be most interesting of all, is that unlike the checklist, the ritual offers the chance to bring art and culture to something simple and formulaic. Guard duty as a checklist may simply be defined as series of walk-stand-look commands, but guard duty as a ritual is a sophisticated, nuanced performance that transcends the basic requirements.