Aug 7, 2019
Many of us are too occupied with our regular daily habits to truly innovate safety culture, and the rest of us are expecting a safety muse to save us. In our efforts to increase safety leadership, we have moved toward trying to learn the precursors of unintentional injuries. This research has led us to think broader in causal chains as we attempt to do in root-cause interpretation, and more broadly as done in Ishikawa diagramming.
We have long relied on lagging signs and are now examining leading indicators. All these and more are efforts to make safety leadership more proactive rather than reactive. We try to get ahead of the curve and not rely on failure to grow. But are we looking in the right direction? Let's face the facts: Many of us are too busy with our traditional daily habits for safety innovation to occur. At the root of our predicament is the reality that most of us are vertical thinkers. We move from one logical rung to the next, towards what we hope will be the right answer to our predicaments. We were not taught to be creative but to be rational. It is often this logical presumption that makes creative reasoning unlikely. But there is another kind of logic that has shown to deliver breakthrough thought in many instances-lateral thinking. The current debunking of Heinrich's postulates is a great illustration of how we confined ourselves in the cause-and-effect squirrel pen. Heinrich was looking for what caused accidental damages and he took the word of many untrained or undertrained managers who conducted accident inquiries and attributed causation and corrective procedures. He decided most accidents were created by human error and did not look beyond or beside that. When cause=human error, solution=fix humans. Underlying this was another premise that what caused minor accidents also caused serious accidents and fatalities, and that fixing human responses would fix both. Decades later, we can see this is not true. Lateral thought is a way to move across vertical pathways to find options. It is more intuitive than one might assume. A great example of lateral thinking is a joke. Many jokes simply bring you down a line of thinking and suddenly move laterally across to another one that, ironically, makes a funny kind of reasoning. The traditional line of thinking is disrupted and succeeded by an alternate, and steps leading up to the joining point may have been jumped in the alternate line, i.e., Q: Why is Basketball such a messy sport? A: Because you dribble on the floor! You jump from one linear thinking about bouncing a ball to another. So, you might be wondering how does this all apply to safety leadership? Lateral thinking has the potential to get us out of the vertical search for root cause and into the broad world of other potential solutions. The crucial ingredient is getting one's thinking to make a 45-degree turn and to look further than the next step.
Terry Mathis | Aug 07, 2019 - In our attempts to improve safety, we have moved toward trying to understand the precursors of accidental injuries. This exploration has led us to think deeper in causal chains as we attempt to do in root-cause analysis, and more broadly as we do in Ishikawa diagramming. We have long relied on lagging indicators and are now searching for leading indicators. All these and more are attempts to make safety efforts proactive rather than reactive. We try to get ahead of the curve and not rely on failure to improve. But are we looking in the right direction?
Let’s face the facts: Many of us are too busy with our traditional daily routines to truly innovate safety, and the rest of us are waiting for the safety muse to come enlighten us. At the root of our problem is the fact that most of us are vertical thinkers. We move from one logical step to the next, towards what we hope will be the correct solution to our problems. We were not educated to be creative, but to be logical. It is often this logical arrogance that makes creative thinking unlikely. But there is another kind of logic that has proven to produce breakthrough thinking in many instances—lateral thinking.
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