Incident investigations are used to find causes of a loss and provide effective solutions to prevent recurrence. Conventional wisdom has us look for solutions in our existing safety programs and modify them to prevent recurrence. Better training, procedures, and hardware are common solutions. But as we have learned from behavioral studies, it is the ideas and perceptions of each employee that truly govern behavior, not the rules of the safety program. After teaching thousands of people around the world a new way of thinking about effective problem solving and loss prevention, I have discovered a way of thinking that significantly helps prevent problems in the first place. This new way of thinking teaches us to understand the world causally rather than categorically and linearly. While simple enough for anyone to use on any problem, this new way of thinking is contrary to conventional wisdom and hence takes a little time to understand. For those who have caught the wave, like NASA, Boeing, Dow Chemical, General Electric Medical Systems and many others, this new method is transforming their organization in many ways. Join me for an overview of this exciting and revolutionary way of understanding the world and in the process learn about an effective communication tool that makes group decision making as simple as falling off a wave.

Ideas Cause Behavior

In her landmark book Mapping the Mind, Rita Carter shares the latest scientific knowledge on how the human mind works. Perhaps the most fascinating insight Ms. Carter shares is the knowledge that the brain is a programmable organ. We take in information through our senses and store it according to our own categorical system. Once stored, we manipulate this information into knowledge based on many strategies - strategies that are developed by trial and error interaction with our environment.

Strategies are our causal understanding of the world. Strategies are the basis for our decisions and we have hundreds of them to get us through each day. We may use the strategy of always staying in the left lane to avoid buses from slowing our drive to work. We may believe that honesty is always the best policy or that stealing is an acceptable means of survival. Each strategy helps us make a decision based on the input we are receiving from our senses. Once we learn a strategy we preserve it as a prototypical truth until it fails and then we modify it to fit the new data (Churchland, 1996). Each time a strategy works for us, it is validated. Validation at the neurological level can be observed by physically larger neural connections. Similar to building muscles, our strategies and hence our behaviors are programmed by repeated use.

Learning is an electrochemical reaction between neurons (Carter, 1999). When neuron "A" receives a stimulus, be it from our senses or another neuron, it will cause its neighbor neuron "B" to "fire" across the synaptic connection.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.