I was recently asked about Risk Intelligence by one of our 30-year experienced safety people in SPoR, George Stavrou. George has completed many modules in SPoR and always comes up with great questions whenever we do study together. His questions recently were:
- How can organisations create risk intelligence?
- A question on learning and training. (I know they are not the same). In general, we tend to be more comfortable with structured education; we always feel the need to provide a lot of information to our trainees with the intent to make lessons comprehensive or watertight, perhaps due to a fear of leaving something out which may come back and “bite us”… (using a typical safety language). But in doing so, we end up with long and boring presentations that are not effective. Do you suggest a different approach?
So, we started our discussion with some reading:
- Dylan Evans: Risk Intelligence, How to Live with Uncertainty and,
- David Apgar: Risk Intelligence, Learning to Manage What we don’t Know.
Then set a time for a conversation and decided to record it and also upload it as a podcast. Here they are for you (Full video at end of post):
The discussion brought us to a quandary between several competing values and principles: Learning/Risk; Fragility/Anti-Fragility (Read Taleb) and Procedures/Adaptability-Bricolage (Read Weick).
In SPoR we have a semiotic tool that helps us grapple with the problem (see Figure 1. The Learning-Risk Dynamic)
Figure 1. The Learning-Risk Dynamic
You can see other SPoR Semiotic tools here: https://www.humandymensions.com/product/spor-and-semiotics/
Risk Intelligence is contingent on many conflicting factors which makes it a ‘wicked problem’. Hence, George and I didn’t come up with any answers or certainty but rather a range of strategies to help cultivate Risk Intelligence. When Risk Makes Sense (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/risk-makes-sense/) we know it’s a fine line between risk aversion and Risk Intelligence.
In SPoR, we foster Risk Intelligence through the many methods associated with iCue (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/spor-and-semiotics/). That is, methods that help foster people to recognise intelligent cues (iCues) about risk at work. The ability to recognise and discuss heuristics, make intelligent observations and listening skills are critical to Risk Intelligence for safety people. The last thing that never works to foster Risk Intelligence is ‘telling’ (the olde safety favourite).
One of the worst culprits in the safety world for cultivating risk ignorance is Zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/). Zero is the grand delusion that makes people risk averse and more fragile when faced with risk and uncertainty. When zero ideology governs one’s thinking, then risk aversion becomes the goal. Fragility with regard to risk makes people much more likely to not cope with an unexpected event (http://kgt.bme.hu/files/BMEGT30M400/Taleb_Antifragile__2012.pdf). Weick’s book Managing the Unexpected is also worth a read: https://archive.org/details/managingunexpect0000weic
In our discussion, George and I came up with the metaphor of ‘juggling’ to best describe the challenges of tackling risk, learning and safety. We also discussed the importance of: coaching, mentoring, role-play/scenarios and updating (Weick). These strategies whilst labour intensive, are for better for learning than classroom/theory training.
All that George and I discussed paints a difficult fine line to walk for a safety person especially, in an industry that loves zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/for-the-love-of-zero-free-download/) and denies fallibility (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/).
But head in the sand safety helps no-one (https://safetyrisk.net/consciously-safe-unconsciously-unsafe-or-head-in-the-sand-safety/). Fostering risk-ignorance or risk-fragility is simply a waiting game for that tragic event to happen.
So, if you are looking for certainty regarding risk in safety then head-in-the-sand safety is for you. If you want to get away from ‘Ostrich safety’ then, it is best to own up to the challenge of risk and stop spruiking the nonsense of zero.
If you want a bit of wisdom about risk intelligence then, why not do the free SPoR introductions here:
Free SPoR Intro
Free Due Diligence
or read here: