Are You A Christmas Tree Farmer?

My uncle was a Christmas tree farmer.

He planted Frasier and Douglas firs on the farm in his twenties and thirties. One season my family and I helped him with the trees. We trimmed branches, cut trees, and wrapped them for customers.

I won’t build a roadside stand to cut and sell my own Christmas Trees in my forties. Not that I have anything against the holiday tree. It’s just that I didn’t plant any trees a decade ago.

No matter how much fertilizer I use, how many branches I trim, how many billboards I rent, if the trees weren’t planted in 2008, I cannot harvest and sell trees in 2018.

Personal finance works this way too. Someone who saves for retirement only between the ages of 20-26 will have more than another who saves from ages 27-65 due to compound interest.

Don’t make the Christmas tree mistake with your personal and professional life. If you wait until you want to sell trees to plant seedlings, it’s too late. If you wait for a promotion opportunity to turn up your performance, it’s late. If you wait until you need a friend to build and strengthen the relationship, it’s also too late.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” –Chinese Proverb

Goals Do Not Work (Without This One Thing)

Changing a flat tire in the rain isn’t fun.

But if you’re going on the trip of a lifetime, you change the tire.

Cutting down trees while being eaten alive by enormous mosquitoes is rarely described as an essential life experience.

But if you’re building your dream cabin in Alaska, you grab the chainsaw.

Do you know the one part of goal-setting that isn’t mentioned too much? They aren’t much fun to do.

Writing them down is fun. Planning them, for some, is fun as well. But doing the necessary action to accomplish the goals? Yeah…not so much fun.

Like changing tires while on a trip or logging while building a cabin, the goal must accompany and support a dream.

Do your goals have associated dreams? Do your dreams have the necessary goals to support them?

Try this.

Make a list of your dreams. Then grab your list of goals (you have a written list right?). Which goals need a dream? Which goals don’t support a dream and could be eliminated? Which dream needs a few goals to become reality?


What Did You Expect?

I was in the last month of fifth grade when my report card came.

There were low grades and then there were mine.

It was the year I’d stopped doing homework. My grades reflected this lack of effort. When my dad saw my dismay regarding the grades, he asked, “What did you expect?”

My father taught me that actions (or a lack of any action) have consequences.

-When we complain that our bodies are tired and don’t work like the used to, but we rarely find time to exercise…what did we expect?

-When we aren’t promoted, yet refuse to put in the effort to study, improve, or create other positive change…what did we expect?

-When EHS professionals exist to point out problems and the innumerable errors made by others, and aren’t appreciated…what did we expect?

-When life appears to fly by, but we cannot pause for a moment to reflect, appreciate, prioritize, and move ahead…what did we expect?

The fifth grader inside of me still recoils at homework, but is reminded by every sunrise that actions have consequences.

Make this sunrise count.


Use it up

If you have a large freezer, you’re already familiar with this concept.

The new food goes in and old food is used first. If you have a very big freezer, the rotation of food takes time and you end up eating food that’s 6-months to 2-years old.

It happens in our lives as well.

We have talents we suppress until there’s “more time.”

We leave words unsaid for days, months, and even years.

We take all of these…projects, education, certifications, marriage proposals, retirement savings, talking with spouses and parents…and wrap them in mental freezer paper.

Begin today. Have that conversation, pick up those paints, enroll in the class, and express that talent.

Start with the fresh food. Don’t let it get old. Use it up.


On the side of the majority

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Questioning our beliefs.

(My answers below…feel free to include your responses in the comments block)

1. What do the majority of EHS professionals believe to be true?
2. Which foundational belief(s) is incorrect or needs to change based on new information?
3. What do you disagree with in EHS?
4. What have you changed you mind about in the past 5 years?

1. Most EHS professionals believe risk and injury is best reduced by engineering the environment (hierarchy of controls). Many also believe taking action is better than not taking action.
2. Taking action can create a false sense of security (e.g we feel safer) and increase overall risk (e.g. driver’s education vs. graduated licensing; while both should reduce car crashes, only one succeeds.)
3. Heinrich’s Triangle, “Safety First”, safety education that segregates basic business and economics, a focus on human error as a root cause (for starters).
4. I used to believe assigning human factors during mishap investigations, and the data analysis of those human factors, would lead to new methods and/or more useful prioritization of hazard controls. That theory has not proved as successful as I once thought.

Does being an EHS expert even matter?

In “The Death of Expertise”, a 2014 essay published in “The Federalist”, and now expanded in a recently released book of the same name, Tom Nichols openly questions a culture where everyone’s opinions about anything are as good as anyone else’s.

Google and Wikipedia have now grayed the area between the expert and the laymen. And while access to information provides huge overall benefits, when laymen with little information and a loud voice (Nichols gives the example of Jenny McCarthy and vaccines) speak with equal value as medical experts, the benefits are reduced.

Are experts always right? No.

But discounting years of training, experience, research, and education based on a Facebook meme, Wikipedia note, or Reddit response may not be a path to a better tomorrow.

Does this expert/laymen conflict and the “death of expertise” effect the EHS profession?

Have you seen it in your work?

Seeking Validation Kills Dreams

“That won’t work.”

This is the typical response from an adult when their 5-year old speaks of their dream to become an astronaut.

And while the dream may not die, it becomes small and hides in the corners of the mind.

This search for validation extends into adulthood. Job applications, book proposals, elections, awards…the list is endless.

We often miss the important point that validation doesn’t mean “right.” Corrupt politicians win elections. Bad books become published and good books have multiple letters of publisher rejections. Phenomenal athletes are frequently passed over in draft picks and many first-round picks fail in the first season.

When someone reacts to your idea, they’re processing it through their filters; their collection of perspectives, habits, and experiences.

Do we think Henry D. Thoreau (born 200 years ago this week) went to Walden Pond seeking validation? Or Abraham Lincoln thought everyone agreed with the Emancipation Proclamation? Did the Americans ask the British to concur with the Declaration of Independence?

Get ready. Tell the 5-year old in you to listen up.

Someone will tell you that your idea is “pie in the sky”. Will you make your dream small and tuck it in a corner? Or will you thank them, remember that everyone has filters, and become your own version of an astronaut?


Why We Take Action (and what to change first if you’re dissatisfied)

Step on that bathroom scale.

No, really. For this to work you need to feel this…not just read about it.

I’ll wait.

OK, for those of you who really did step on the scale, when you read the number, what did you feel?

Were you satisfied? Dismayed? Happy?

The emotion you felt is controlled by something called a reference point. Like the thermostat in your home, your internal reference point “trips” at a certain point and you take action. In your home, either your air conditioning or heat turn on. In your life you induce change.

Our reference points are all relative. While one person may be elated about a scale that reads 200 lbs, another may panic at that very same number and begin a regime of strict dieting and morning marathons.

Our reference points change. The younger you may have been happy with one number (a lower weight, a lower salary) and the current you is now satisfied with different numbers (a higher weight, a higher salary).

Your company uses reference points. Budgets, quarterly sales and profit goals, students, miles driven…and all change in your company is driven from associated reference points. Makes sense, right?

You too can use reference points. In every area of life, you can change your reference point. From your salary, to your house, to your significant other (careful here), to your profession, to your education level, to your bank account, your reference level dictates your level of achievement and satisfaction.

Now, get off the scale, reset your reference point, and take action.

The scale can only tell you what you weigh; not who you are.” ― Steve Maraboli


Are We Creating Dummies?

One of the mistakes at Pure [Pure Technologies] was that every time we had a significant error, sales call didn’t go well, bug in the code, we tried to think about it in terms of what process could we put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again and thereby improving the company. And what we failed to understand was that by dummy proofing all the systems that we would have a system where only dummies wanted to work there. Which is exactly what happened. So the average intellectual level fell and then the market changed…and we were unable to adapt to it.”

Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, to Reid Hoffman on the “Masters of Scale” podcast

This is an almost taboo topic between safety professionals. While some in the profession may whisper about “defeating Darwin”, when you read much of today’s EHS professional literature, the perspective seems to be that if managers and EHS professionals created the perfect system, then employees of all sorts (good, bad, and even a little indifferent) would no longer be killed or injured. In shorthand, if you have a hazard it’s the system and never the employee.

For some, this idea is the EHS profession. For others, this is the problem with the profession.

Intuitively, we know that who works in an organization matters. Work ethic, integrity, persistence, intelligence, demeanor…these qualities make or break organizations.

But in EHS, we seem to sometimes forget this concept. Some of us continue to seek the perfect checklist and the completely hazard-free process.

Are we helping to attract and retain the best people to our organizations or are we really just creating a management system that restricts and confines, thereby selecting and retaining only the lowest common denominator?

NOTE: “Dummy” is not meant in this context as demeaning in any way, but simply as a talking point. Insert your own version of the word as needed.

Larry Page on the necessity of a broad education

(or why every safety professional should also study engineering, science, math, and psychology)

I don’t think we’re doing a good job as a society deciding what things are really important to do. I think like we’re just not educating people in this kind of general way. You should have a pretty broad engineering and scientific background. You should have some leadership training and a bit of MBA training or knowledge of how to run things, organize stuff, and raise money. I don’t think most people are doing that and it’s a big problem…when you’re able to think of all these disciplines together, you kind of think differently and can dream of much crazier things and how they might work. I think that’s really an important thing for the world. That’s how we make progress.

– Larry Page, co-founder of Google, as quoted in “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance