In every workshop I conduct the issue of measures, a STEM view of evidence and ‘controls’ are always raised. This week was no exception. I find it so amusing that the industry has this fixation with measures in working life and the opposite in our private life. Yet:
The most important things in living cannot be measured.
So much that is important in life cannot be measured yet we have this psychosis in risk and safety with the quantitative. What matters most to you in life like: love, trust, care, resilience, peace, respect, integrity and learning cannot be quantified. Indeed, any effort to quantify these, wreck the very quality of their experience.
It is because none of these experiences can be quantified that humans go to poetics to find meaning but, you can measure a sonnet, a sunset or a dance. You can’t quantitatively measure art, performance, literature, song, music, prayer or metaphor. Does that make these understandings irrelevant or invalid? Of course not, but it show the limitations of what risk and safety defines as valid knowledge.
I was working this week with a not-for-profit organization who were indoctrinated, intimidated and seduced by all the gobbledygook, mumbo-jumbo and fantasy associated with the industry on risk assessment. Similar to the last school I worked with, they had been convinced they needed massive documentation, risk matrices, coloured numbering systems and absurd categorizations to ‘demonstrate’ that they could manage risk. Yet, the moment I questioned what they had assembled we quickly moved from a discussion about managing risk to fear of prosecution, accountability and what the industry had normalized. Once we assemble all this gobbedlygook and normalize it in a culture, the questions stop and attributions amplify. What was interesting was when I asked how it worked, how the documentation process helped manage risk, they couldn’t tell me how it actually influenced their decision making.
One of the most challenging aspects of questioning all that we burden organizations with in risk and safety is how it is anchored to fear not reality. The reality is that most of this documentation set in stone in risk and safety orthodoxy is not actually used in the way we assess risk and, similarly the many attributions of success are not questioned. The truth is most of this stuff doesn’t actually work. Most of the time we evaluate risk on the go, we use intuitive heuristics to determine what risk we will take in the heat of the moment. So much of what we choose to do is emotionally determined and yet intuitional and emotive decision-making is never discussed in a risk assessment because ‘what can’t be measured can’t be managed’, again more orthodox safety mythology. Hence much of what my clients were anxious about was nothing more than pure safety mythology.
When we actually stepped outside, put the pieces of paper behind and discussed how people actually managed decisions in risk in their work, it was completely disconnected from the documentation they felt they had to put in place. How strange that safety validates such disconnectedness. This is discussed by Greg Smith and myself in the video series we produced on Risky Conversations on the topic of diagnosis (https://vimeo.com/166158437 ). You can view the full video series here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/3938199
When we shift our focus from this fixation with measurement to the things that cannot be measured we soon find where the real challenges are to tackling risk and safety. You can have all the paperwork and systems in place that you like but if trust is low and fear is high, your organization will not manage risk well.