I think, therefore I am… Wrong here!
It was a few weeks ago in a large corporation. A kick-off for an HSE leadership training. It was a mixed group, and so we started with introductions to get to know each other. So far so good…….until it was the turn of a longstanding employee: name, work area, and then his personal motto in the company: “I think, therefore I am … wrong here”.
As soon as he said it, everyone burst out laughing. It took me a few seconds to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes. This was by far the funniest version of René Descartes’ famous quote I’ve ever heard. But even though this sentence was very obviously meant as a joke by this employee, there was a grain of truth to it that showed during the training. There are so many rules and regulations in the company that some employees can feel they are in the wrong place when wanting to use common sense and just “think.”
The rest of the training was a real success. The participants were able to take away a lot from the activities, models and reflections for their own everyday work and leadership.
On the way home on the train, I reflected on the humorous twist that the employee had put on the Descartes quote. I realized that as funny as the employee’s motto was, if my everyday experience in a company is that I feel I’m in the wrong place, that is alarming because that is not how risks and potential dangers are recognized. Moreover, a person who feels misplaced may fall back on the comfort of routines to get through the day. In an unintended way, it occurred to me that there is a deeper truth about organizations and their culture in what he said.
To some degree, we adapt our behavior to the culture of the organization in which we work. This leads to routines being formed. On one hand, this is helpful because without routines we would not survive our day for 30 minutes. On the other hand, routines can harbor real dangers. They often narrow our view and can eventually lead to blind spots. In the context of workplace safety, routines are often one of the main contributors to workplace accidents.
We can gain insight into our risks and blindspots by periodically questioning our own thinking routines. To do this, we must consciously reflect, i.e. think.
In every InTense HSE Leadership Training, we encourage participants to reflect on their own behavior and the safety culture in the company. Activities like the “Blind Spots” or models like “Comfort-Stretch-Panic” are effective tools to challenge routines and increase safety.
Take time for yourself, and encourage others in your organization to take a fresh look at their routines, and maybe all can reach a state where all employees and managers can say with conviction:
I think, therefore I am … right here!