Human Risk Newsletter

McMistakes Edition

Estimated Reading Time 6 mins
Welcome back to the latest Human Risk Newsletter containing lovingly-curated Behavioural Science (BeSci) inspired content. 

Missed any of the two previous editions? Indulge yourself in the archive before reading on.

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Coming up in this edition
1. A prime example of Human Risk in action at Boeing;

2. In the Bi-weekly Cognitive Bias I highlight the power of a technique called Re-Framing; 

3. A BeSci Intervention I really like called McMistakes, courtesy of the Golden Arches;

4. Some research on BullSh1tt1ng is Something that made me think; and

5. In Something for the weekend, I recommend an exhibition of World War II propaganda posters.

Human Risk in action

Journalists investigating two recent Boeing plane crashes have found Human Error and poor culture within the company.  
Having featured British Airways in the Launch Edition, I was going to steer clear of the airline industry for a while. But an article I read about Boeing was so astonishing from a Human Risk perspective that I just had to share it.
Investigative journalists from set out to investigate the root cause of two recent fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max, one of their newest, most technologically advanced aircraft.

What they've chronicled is less a tale of engineering failure and more one of Human Risk on the part of Boeing and, perhaps more shockingly its regulator, both of whom it is claimed, cut corners.

If you've got 25 minutes to spare, then I strongly recommended reading the whole article.  As most of you don't, here are the key findings:

  • Mistakes began nearly a decade ago when Boeing was caught flat-footed after its archrival Airbus announced a new fuel-efficient plane that threatened the company’s core business. It rushed the competing 737 Max to market as quickly as possible.
  • In developing the Max, Boeing not only cut corners, but it touted them as selling points for airlines. Since the 737 Max was the same plane type as its predecessors, pilots would only need a 2.5-hour iPad training to fly its newest iteration.
  • MCAS is the new software system blamed for the deadly Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. But its failure in both crashes was the result of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to properly inform pilots of its existence or to regulate it for safety.
  • The FAA has admitted to being incompetent when regulating software, and, as a policy, it allows plane manufacturers to police themselves for safety. Nowhere in its amended type certification of the 737 Max is MCAS mentioned.
  • Boeing only recommends a 30-minute self-study course for pilots on MCAS, rather than additional simulator or classroom instruction.
  • Despite the two crashes, neither Boeing nor the FAA believes they’ve done anything wrong. A Boeing spokesperson said the company believes the system is still “a robust and effective way for the FAA to execute its oversight of safety.”
How could this happen?  A New York Times investigation suggests a culture within Boeing that discouraged speaking-up:

"Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes"
Source: New York Times
Professor Amy Edmondson, the author of a book I highly recommend called The Fearless Organization which looks at the importance of Psychological Safetydescribed the Boeing situation "as good a description of #PsychologicalSafety failure as any I've heard”. 

In a Harvard Business Review article, she wrote about it from that perspective, pointing out that all too often it takes a disaster before companies are willing to make cultural changes.

The unfortunate thing about this story is that in other aspects of their business, Boeing seem to have thought about the dangers of Human Risk. For example, recognising that fatigue presents a significant threat to their maintenance technicians who work long hours, often overnight, led them to establish a Fatigue Risk Management System. 

What they don't appear to have fully considered, is that people don't just create Human Risk. They're also one of the best sources of information to help mitigate it.
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Bi-Weekly Cognitive Bias

A story about the adjectives we use to describe the weather illustrates the power of a BeSci technique called Re-Framing.

Being British, I’m obsessed with the weather and talk about it a lot. So an anecdote from chess guru Josh Waitzkin in an interview he did for a book called Tools for Titans, resonated with me:

“One of the biggest mistakes that I observed in the first year of [my son] Jack’s life was parents who have unproductive language around weather being good or bad.

Whenever it was raining, you’d hear moms, babysitters, dads say, ‘It’s bad weather. We can’t go out’ or if it wasn’t, ‘It’s good weather. We can go out.’

That means that somehow, we’re externally reliant on conditions being perfect in order to be able to go out and have a good time. 

Photo: Pexels

So, Jack and I never missed a single storm, rain or snow, to go out and romp in it. Maybe we missed one when he was sick.

We’ve developed this language around how beautiful it is. Now, whenever it’s a rainy day, Jack says, ‘Look, Dada, it’s such a beautiful rainy day,’ and we go out and we play in it. 

I wanted him to have this internal locus of control—to not be reliant on external conditions being just so"

This is a lovely example of a BeSci technique called Re-framing. By changing how we look at things or present them to others, we can influence how they are perceived and therefore the way we and others, take decisions.

As the Norwegians like to say, “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær,” which means “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
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A BeSci Intervention

A recruitment campaign for McDonald's illustrates the power of looking at things from the perspective of your target audience.
When McDonald's are recruiting, they follow an approach of “hire on attitude, train on skills."  In other words, experience really isn’t needed.

That’s easy to say, but somewhat harder to credibly communicate in a way that will resonate with potential recruits. To get that message across they used these posters:
They could have transmitted the same message with a handwritten note. But the McMistakes campaign arguably achieves a much more powerful impact on its target audience.

Firstly it is clearly attention-grabbing and stands out.

Secondly, the act of investing some marketing budget in the exercise, reassures potential applicants that they really do mean "no experience required"; they wouldn't waste money on high-quality posters if they didn't.

Finally, showcasing mistakes that are so bad that even the most inexperienced recruit wouldn’t make them, gives potential applicants more confidence in applying than they might otherwise have.  A mechanism, if you like, of signalling that they support Psychological Safety in advance.  

The posters ran inside McDonald's restaurants; precisely the kind of place teens with no work experience would be most likely to spot them.
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Something that made me think

When a serious institution published some research on Bullsh1tting they obviously got my attention. Given the prevalence of this trait, I think it also deserves yours.

Social scientists and political commentators have long known that bullsh1tters, individuals who claim knowledge or expertise in an area where they actually have little experience or skills, are relatively commonplace.

But what makes people do it and what can we learn about them? That's what the IZA, an Institute of Labor Economics, set to find out in this research:

Source: Institute of Labor Economics

The study surveyed 40,000 teenagers in nine English-speaking countries. Using a questionnaire, the students were asked to rate how well they understood genuine mathematical terms like "polygon" and "probability". 

They were also asked to rate their understanding of these three fictitious terms: "proper number", "subjective scaling" and "declarative fraction".

Here’s a summary of the findings:

The researchers don't know why these differences occur. In an interview, one of them, John Jerrin, speculated that culture might play a role:

“You can think about the positivity of North Americans and the supposedly dour nature of the Scots”...Within a country, boys, and children from more advantaged backgrounds may fear to admit ignorance, he said, or feel more confident that they will get away with “over-claiming”.

Jerrin also highlighted that a critical area for further research is whether and when it is beneficial to bullsh1t: 

“Everyone gets a question in a job interview that they cannot answer. If you’re an effective bullsh1tter, it might help you get your foot in the door.” 

On the subject of bullsh1t in the workplace, I can also highly recommend a book by anthropologist Professor David Graeber. 

In a compelling analysis,
 he argues that over half of the jobs undertaken in society today are pointless and looks at solutions to the problems this poses.  

For a summary of the key points in the book, read this New Yorker review of it.
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Something for the weekend

An exhibition of Second World War propaganda posters at the National Army Museum showcases some wonderful BeSci interventions.

With apologies to readers who can't get to London, my recommendation this time is an exhibition at the National Army Museum.

The Art of Persuasion explores the Second World War posters of graphic designer Abram Games, who fulfilled the role of "Official War Poster Artist".

His iconic imagery, which was well ahead of its time, was used to communicate messages relevant to the war effort.

Although BeSci didn't exist as a discipline at the time, Games showed an innate understanding of it when talking about the approach he took to his work.  He described his guiding principle for his designs as:
The exhibition is on until November 24th and is well worth your time.

Readers with museum fatigue or who are unable to visit can get a feel for it by reading this Designweek magazine review.
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Until the next time...

That's it for another edition.  

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