Tim Minchin is an Australian composer, musician, entertainer and comedian who really knows how to reveal the human condition. In this short video he ‘nails’ the challenges of Confirmation Bias (see below). Confirmation Bias is one of hundreds of unconscious filters we use every moment of every day to manage living, doing, being and decision making.
You can see a map of some cognitive biases here:
The beginning in understanding ‘embodied learning’ is to know how the unconscious constructs heuristics and how these guide decision making unconsciously, automatically and in and embodied method.
Similarly, there are just as many unconscious social biases and these too shape decision making unconsciously, you can see a map of these here:
Understanding heuristics, cognitive and social prejudice/bias should be the starting point for anyone in risk and safety interested in human judgment and decision-making. Alas, no. In the world of BBS, Behaviourism and Engineering, all these unconscious dynamics are of little interest. Why should Safety want to know about unconscious decision making?
How does this work?
In the risk and safety industry it all starts off with compulsory miseducation (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-entitlement-and-compulsory-safety-mis-education/ ). The safety curriculum teaches beginners that the foundation of safety is legislation, regulation, engineering, controls, hazards, policing, checklists, paperwork and counting. Once this foundation has been set then everything that follows is compared to this foundation.
Once the Bible has been made true, any challenge to the Bible must be untrue. This is the key to suppress critical thinking.
Without reform of the safety curriculum, nothing is likely to change in safety. The regulators, associations and industry in general has too much ‘sunk cost’ in safety territory. Oh, that’s right, let’s get an engineer to reform the safety curriculum, that’s what happened last time (https://safetyrisk.net/brady-review-nothing-new-no-way-forward/ ).
Once this foundation has been set, the new and enthusiastic safety advisor then seeks out all that confirms this view and has been taught to quickly dismiss anything (through binary bias) that contests this view. Such is the nature of confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, recency affect, fundamental attribution error, anchoring bias, ostrich effect, selective perception etc. All of our perceptions of what is true, real and what works, is conditioned by cognitive and social bias anchored to how safety was introduced. Once one has been indoctrinated into behaviourism, anything outside of that philosophy must be shunned.
Then when any challenge comes to the established (indoctrinated) view, binary bias explains and helps demonise any challenge to what one has been told is true, confirmed through repetition, propaganda and emotional anchoring to comfort and certainty of foundations. Distress triggered by several cognitive biases helps confirm and discourage discomfort.
· Unless confirmation bias is broken, people rarely embrace the unknown or what is uncertain.
· Leaps of faith are scary, uncomfortable and can be distressing.
· There is no learning without a leap of faith.
When SPoR suggests that culture requires a Transdisciplinary approach, we are suggesting one step outside of one’s comfort zone, one’s certainty, and embrace disciplines with which one is unfamiliar. When Safety discusses culture, it always anchors to itself, usually referencing the old tried and true favourites: Heinrich, Reason, Peterson, Hopkins, Hudson, Cooper, Dekker etc.
The most important characteristic when Safety discusses culture is NOT to seek expertise on culture or any Transdisciplinary view outside of itself. This is how confirmation bias works.
Listening and giving validity to disciplines outside of one’s comfort zone is critical for tackling wicked problems (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-as-a-wicked-problem-for-safety/) like safety, risk and culture. A simple example is evidenced in how Safety completely excludes any discussion of Religion in its understanding of culture. Yet, any expertise in culture will tell you that Religion is the place to start in understanding culture. No wonder Safety thinks it has no rituals.
Searching within safety for some epiphany about culture is like consulting a Gannt chart to find out about mental illness.
What is normalised in the mono-disciplinarity of safety is that anything that is unfamiliar, challenging or threatening must be dismissed as ‘hot air’. In this way there can be no leap of faith, no questioning and no change, so that one can continue counting LTIs hoping for ‘safety culture’. Even more so, demonise the messenger so that one doesn’t have to listen to the message (https://safetyrisk.net/the-medium-is-the-message/ ).
The beginning of learning starts with reflection on cognitive and social biases and through various strategies of collective deconstruction, questioning foundations and Transdisciplinary validation. Just imagine what would happen if Safety considered an understanding of Anthropology, Semiotics, Religion, Poetics, Education and Learning, Cultural Theory, Critical Theory etc as valid.
Usually, questioning in safety only starts when one has been brutalised sufficiently by the industry or one gets smashed in court (https://vimeo.com/showcase/3938199) for delusional foundations. Even then, many accept the brutalism of Safety and many of its meaningless systems as justified through so called ‘just culture’ and zero.
In a compliance-centric and brain-centric industry, a focus on learning gets pushed to the background. Training gets elevated and regurgitation endorses validity.
Just explore for a few moments any discussion on learning in Safety or so called ‘Safety 2’ and look for how learning is defined. It’s mostly NOT about learning but training and schooling. Similar to culture, make sure any exploration of learning only seeks views from within the safety camp, don’t consult expertise in learning from outside. Such is the power of confirmation bias.
In SPoR, learning starts by introducing people to Transdisciplinary ways of understanding (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-thinking-in-risk-and-safety/) and disciplines with which one is unfamiliar. Indeed, even registering for a SPoR course indicates one is ready for that leap of faith. This is a good thing because it helps one travel towards methods in safety that ‘work’ and moves one away from many methods in safety that don’t ‘work’ (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/).