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.

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