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Oct 12
2013

Reluctance to simplify

Posted by dvstralen  filed under    0 Comment(s)    Add a Comment  comment-icon.png


When I first applied to medical school I was still working on the fire department. The senior engineer (the one who drove the fire engine) reviewed my application and advised me “There are a thousand things going on and only a few things you can do. Pick some and do them, then do as many as you can and see what works.” Well, it did not get into medical school that time but his advice, fire house wisdom, guided me for any confusing situation. An incident is complex, do not simplify it and think you know what to do.

However, we must simplify to gain a grasp of things and also to teach. But we must also accept that there is more in these events than we can understand. How do we balance simplifying so we can think and talk about it while accepting the complexity of events?

In situation awareness, the situation changes, you remain aware of these changes, and you alter the task.

In confirmation bias, we look for information that confirms our conclusion. It is challenging to recognize this bias in ourselves. Also in confirmation bias you start to see things that confirm your belief, it is not only selective seeing by choice. Our ingrained nature is to be optimistic. You want to find you are successful and see it working.

I would teach shortcuts by first breaking the process into as many steps as necessary. The purpose of reducing to many steps was to make each step have a reason for it. Then we can discuss the reason. I let the student amalgamate the steps on his or her own. Someone may combine the first two, some the last two, and some the middle two. It made no difference to me because it was only important for it to make sense to the student. (I taught this to a dance teacher who then used it to teach multiple steps to his students. He let the student decide how to combine steps for a smoother dance.) Amalgamating in this way created more meaningful short cuts, as the shortcuts included all the steps.

Dr. Weick emphasizes “reluctance to.” (Personal communication, January 18, 2013.) It is not a rule that we do not simplify, only that we are reluctant to simplify.  Simplification is not bad in itself. In responding to a situation you have seen this before and you have not seen this before. It is old and new at the same time. You are reluctant to simplify but you will do it.

There is intentional simplification and unintentional simplification. If you have intuitive impressions, are you backing them with facts? Fact-check your intuitive feelings. Intentional simplification may have ulterior motives. For example, the manager may want to increase productivity at the expense of safety.

We tend to make it a simple problem with a simple solution. How you shape and define the problem helps you understand the solution. But some times we have a solution in search for a problem. Simplifying the problem and the solution can be dangerous.


Weick and Sutcliffe

When we lump details together or name things we lose information. Simplification, in an HRO, is done slowly and purposely.  It is something we would rather not do. Having team members with different backgrounds reduces simplification as they see things differently than other team members will.


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