Monday, October 8, 2012

Is Being Too Safe Putting You at Risk?

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There is quite a debate ensuing around complexity and how humans respond to risk. A few fire veterans I have conversed with lately wonder if the risk aversion pendulum for safety has swung too far, that we are more risk averse, and that we are actually putting ourselves at greater risk.

In the Harvard Business Review blog article "What to Build Resilience? Kill the Complexity," Andrew Zolli weighs in on the subject addressing July's release of the final report of the 2009 Air France Flight 447 disaster which killed 280 people.

Over the next few months, we'll showcase some of the talk regarding the issue. Zolli's article will give you a foundation for our discussions. Check out a few of the concepts he presents.
Risk Compensation: As we add safety features to a system, people will often change their behavior to act in a riskier way, betting (often subconsciously) that the system will be able to save them.
Risk Homeostatis: Suggests that, much like a thermostat, we each have an internal, preferred level of risk tolerance — if one path for expressing one's innate appetite for risk is blocked, we will find another. 
Cognitive Diversity: Getting people to think more broadly and diversely about the systems they inhabit. 
 Ask Yourself
  • Do the safety features you have built into your firefighting equipment change your behavior to act in a riskier way?
  • Do you have an appetite for risk? If yes, do you have a mechanism to keep that appetite in check?
  • Can you determine the difference between operating in areas of vulnerability or using the keys of resiliency?
  • Has your organization adopted the tenets of a high-reliability organization? 
  • Have you developed a culture as a learning organization using pre- an post-mortem exercises?
  • Do you embrace cognitive diversity?

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