‘To err is human’ – it’s all about how we respond.
Originally stemming from research by psychologist, Carol Dweck, into individual learning and responses to failure, the concept of a ‘growth versus fixed mindset’ is now moving from being embraced by schools, to being applied in organisations and the business environment. It is easy to see why it could be relevant to the realm of safety culture, and incident investigation in particular.
Briefly, a fixed mindset is characterised by a belief that intelligence and ability are innate and unchangeable. A growth mindset, however, is characterised by a belief that learning and success can improve and are achievable through effort.
Striving for a perfect safety record represents a fixed mindset because it implies an expectation that no mistakes will be made but a resistance to investigating when they inevitably are. As a result, self-justifying, blame and defensiveness are also a big part of a fixed mindset. Investigations in a company with this culture will more than likely be inaccurate and have recommendations that are ineffectively carried out, leading to more failures.
The very act of investigating incidents properly, however, is the result of a wider supportive culture that values problem solving, continuous learning and improvement – the very essence of a growth mindset. Safety and success are cultivated through effort, development and learning from mistakes. A healthy relationship with failure can exist, where accountability rather than blame enables productive responses and solutions. Investigations are seen as a crucial part of organisational learning rather than a necessary evil.
Matthew Syed says that we should strive for the ‘Black Box Thinking’ of the aviation industry, which has such an exemplary safety record as a result. This thinking is based on an open culture where learning from mistakes is ingrained, unlike in other no less safety-critical industries and sectors, such as medicine. It is also a way of thinking already present in science, where results and theories are based on completely objective evidence using techniques that remove psychological bias.
The TOP-SET Investigation method is a tool that does just this: it helps to accurately and objectively investigate any incidents that occur with a growth mindset at its core. Developing a strong investigative competence within your organisation not only demonstrates a commitment to a continual striving for better safety; it can also lead to more effective organisational learning and genuinely effective recommendations, with the aim of reducing future incidents and improving business success.