For the Love of Zero, Human Fallibility and Risk
Free Download: Understanding Extremism and Fundamentalisms: For The Love of Zero Ch6
In a perfect world things don’t go bump and wheels don’t fall off, humans don’t make mistakes and people don’t suffer – but we don’t live in a perfect world. No amount of denial of human fallibility makes it so. We have hospitals, morgues and cemeteries that remind us that human life is not only finite but that suffering and risk test your attitude to learning. In the midst of human reality there are proponents claiming that ‘all accidents are preventable’ and advocating ‘zero harm’. Some organisations even reward employees for meeting ‘zero’ goals and thereby ‘prime’ workers to hide, deny and under-report harm.
This book is an extension of the previous book Risk Makes Sense: Human Judgement and Risk. There is no sense in total risk aversion or risk elimination. There is no learning without risk.
The absolute of ‘zero’ is actually not possible. There is no nothing. This is despite the fact that the word ‘zero’ dominates our culture, giving its name to everything from drinks, motorbikes and shops. There is no void and any effort to try and measure zero is affected by the efforts to measure it. Scientists can’t get to absolute zero (Zero Kelvin −273.15°). Yet there are many organisations and CEOs who set ‘zero’ goals for their organisations in the management of risk .
What do perfectionist goals do to humans? Do perfectionist goals motivate humans to learn? Do perfectionist goals set people up to fail? Why are absolute goals for perfection absent from all walks of life except mining and construction companies? Why do academics, teachers and sport coaches know that absolutes and perfection are de-motivating yet these organisations don’t? Why do psychologists associate perfectionism with mental health disorders yet some CEOs see perfectionism as healthy? Are such perfectionist goals applicable for themselves or only for others?
Much of the quest for zero is based on binary opposition thinking. This is black and white fundamentalist thinking. Binary opposition thinking can only imagine two options: if it’s not white, it must be black. You are either a good citizen or a terrorist. There are no ‘50 shades of grey’ in the ‘zero’ mind-set. One either sets a goal for harm or one must only have goals for ‘zero’. Such simplistic thinking is endorsed by language of entrapment to prove its own assumption. There are more sophisticated ways of thinking and speaking that make better sense of the real world and enable motivation and learning.
This book seeks to contribute to the debate about the value of zero harm as a goal and motivational tool to stimulate ownership in risk. The ever expanding-popularity of the mantra of zero harm across mining, building and construction and related industries has spread like an epidemic in the last 10 years. But is the concept all it’s claimed to be? Has the adoption of zero harm language been well thought through? Does the concept of zero harm inspire and motivate leadership, ownership and better practice? Does the discourse of zero harm promote the right outcome, or are there hidden dynamics associated with its promotion? What is the logic of zero harm? Is the ideology of zero harm ethical or helpful? Is the binary oppositional mindset that accompanies zero helping lead people to thinking, learning and dialogue about risk? Does the language of ‘zero’ perpetuate adversarialism? Could it be that the discourse of zero harm counter-intuitively stimulates the opposite of what it seeks to achieve? These and many more questions are answered by the discussion of this book.
Everywhere you look in the mining, building and construction industry you can see the advocacy for zero harm. The Queensland Government offer a Zero Harm at Work Leadership Program as part of their ‘zero harm strategy’, with more than 300 hundred members made up of nearly every company of significance in the state (http://www.deir.qld.gov.au/workplace/zeroharm/partners/index.htm ). You can find companies called Zero Harm and positions advertised as ‘Manager of Zero Harm’. There are advertisements for ‘zero harm auditing services’, ‘zero harm training’, ‘zero harm directors’ and ‘zero harm charters’. As you fly about Australia and walk through airport lounges the badging for zero harm is everywhere, on shirts, cups, drink bottles and every imaginable marketing trinket, but not on the airline marketing. The language of zero harm seems to be everywhere. Companies give out ‘zero harm safety awards’, speak about ‘designing zero harm’, ‘towards zero harm’ and ‘think zero harm’. Some even go to the absurd use of language, espousing such meaningless language as ‘beyond zero harm’.
So, in writing this book I may not be winning lots of friends and certainly am running against the tide. It would be easy to endorse the status quo and tell everyone what they want to hear, the language of simplicity seems so attractive and certainly a source of income in safety, security and risk consulting. If you want business in training in risk it seems you conform to and espouse zero harm or you don’t get the work. However, that would be counter to the evidence that shows that the ‘zero’ concept and ‘zero’ language are far from harmless or motivational.
This book seeks to show that the zero harm concept, zero harm discourse and zero harm ideology undermine a culture of learning in organisations. The book discusses issues to do with culture, language, motivation, goal setting, binary opposition, unconscious priming, cognitive dissonance, counter-intuitive dynamics and survey evidence on zero harm believability and ownership.
Whilst this book is primarily focused on risk and safety it is important to realise that any discussion of zero extends way beyond such interests. As the issues of zero and risk are discussed it is important to remember how other areas of business such as quality, sustainability, environment, management, leadership and health might also be influenced by this ideology.
This is a book for the fallible, the human and those committed to learning.
If you would like to purchase a copy visit www.humandymensions.com