Risk Intelligence and the Quest to Dumb Down Safety
Guest post by Dr Rob Long. Rob’s new book will be out in a couple of weeks and we will be giving away copies – watch this space!
My good friend George tells me that I don’t write much about solutions, which may be true but solutions are something you must own, ‘spoon feeding’ is not learning. It is the mistake of many in training and inductions to think that learning is about ‘telling’. Most learning is about discovery and the power of ownership, telling is most often just information. Learning is real when change and conversion accompanies information and results in new thinking but new behaviours. Lists of solutions are often not that helpful, whilst stories of change and testimonies of influence are far more powerful. So, if we know something doesn’t work, you don’t need someone to ‘spoon feed’ solutions, the most powerful thing in learning is the will to learn. Learning is about taking risks, seeking new things, asking questions and discovery. When you discover things for yourself, then ownership occurs. If you hear someone else’s ideas then one can be entertained but change is not that likely unless one is seeking and listening.
The opposite of learning is indoctrination. Indoctrination is about the ‘dumbing down’ of people that fosters non-learning. Whilst indoctrination is full of data and information, there is no real inquiry. Indoctrination is effective if everyone is a sponge. There is no need for discussion, dialogue or conversation in the trajectory of indoctrination. There is no freedom or thinking required in indoctrination, just absorb and do. When the lemmings all march in line it looks good but it all goes pear shaped when there is any turbulence or change, and they march right off the cliff. If we want people who can think and manage change in the workplace, then indoctrination won’t do. If we want thinking people with well developed ‘risk intelligence’ then learning should be the driving dynamic of our organization.
Current trends in risk aversion are anti-learning and anti-thinking in nature. We do our children no benefit and retard their maturity if we wrap them up in cotton wool. The legal quest to engineer out all fun and freedom means playgrounds are boring. Rather than teach our children to ‘risk safely’ and climb a tree, we barricade off the trees. One can’t develop ‘risk intelligence’, unless one takes calculated risks. This is how we learn to make educated guesses, its how we learn about the edge of risk. If we do the same with the workforce, we will end up with such lack of experience when the current generation of retire, that the next generation will wonder what trees are for? The powerful lessons learned from the past and through ‘trial and error’ are lost as we trend toward ‘dumb down safety’.
How can we encourage risk intelligence? How can we help people learn how to ‘risk safely’? The key is found in the good old apprenticeship or parenting model of learning. The good mentor or coach creates learning through holding the learner at the edge of risk and allowing them to learn. The good mentor and parent knows when to let go, it’s a judgment in risk and ‘readiness’. The effective coach and mentor not only models ‘risk intelligence’ but helps the learner learn how to ‘risk safely’. This means that the most effective tool for learning about risk and safety is conversation and dialogue. George, here is the solution. We have enough brain dead systems and regulations now, we need no more. We need to make more time to get away from the paperwork and get back to the fundamentals of supervision, conversation, dialogue and mentoring. Risk intelligence knows how to stand on the edge of risk and ‘let go’ in the face of what’s probable. Risk intelligence knows that whilst there is some likelihood of something going pear shaped, you must let go off the bike seat if they are ever going to learn how to ride a bike. Yes, there may be some wobbles, there may be some skinned knees but holding on simply retards learning. Is our current trend in safety helping develop ‘risk intelligence’ in the workplace, not that I can see.