As our world and workplaces grow in complexity, and as failures in these complex systems become increasingly calamitous, how do we take the insights that have been given us by so many dedicated and brilliant individuals, and make things better for the people who, whether we want to think about it or not, will suffer and die if we don’t adapt? It’s a heavy question, and one that’s been on our minds for a while.
You might not have known but, between blog posts and our day jobs, we’ve been writing a book. In fact, we are now in the final phases of writing this book called, “The Safety Switch℠,” which aims to tie together our research and the priceless contributions made by scholars and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines.
We thought it was about time to introduce the premise.
The Safety Switch℠ is a way of thinking about how we can adapt to a new world — one in which organizations are understood as complex systems, and the ever-increasing complexity of these systems presents new challenges.
The “Switch” happens at two levels.
First, it is a micro-level, personal, in-the-moment switch between two mental Modes. Our default setting, Mode 1, is powered by mental shortcuts (called “heuristics”) and distortions (called “biases”) and often leads us to fix upon human error as the cause of safety problems. While we may be “wired” to stay in this default mode, we can deliberately switch to a second Mode. When in this Mode 2, we take a rigorous, effortful, sometimes counterintuitive, and often winding path to understand and address persistent safety challenges.
Second, there is a macro-level, organizational switch. It involves activating within the organizational system an inherently dynamic layer of protection — it’s people — positioning humans as a unique and requisite response to growing complexity.
But here’s the catch: You can’t flip the second switch until you flip the first.
We have to learn when and how to switch from Mode 1 to Mode 2 in the moment and on the fly if we are going to generate the capacity to flip the second switch, and energize within our organizations this vital, dynamic and fully integrated layer of protection — the people.