In my books and my articles I’ve frequently pushed for us to be more forward-focused in safety. Rather than getting caught up in trying to trying to prevent accidents. I’ve argued that an inputs-driven approach to creating safety is vital.
Over dinner this evening with a client in Louisiana, USA, my companion reminded me of the importance of learning from the past and his reciting of various quotations recalled my own passion for historical wisdom.
In this piece, I thought I’d share a few that mean something to me, in the hope that they resonate and provide inspiration for you.
In my 2016 book Safety Savvy – written with Tim Marsh – we discussed the Piper Alpha disaster off the North East coast of Scotland in 1988. 167 men lost their lives. It’s one hell of a number.
Sir Brian Appleton guided the inquiry and poignantly reminded society that:
“Safety is not an intellectual exercise to keep us in work. It is a matter of life and death. It is the sum of our contributions determines whether the people we work with live or die”.
What a privilege we have in our work.
In recent years in safety we’ve been teased by the sexy cousin known as corporate governance. Bob Tricker, professor of management (and regarded as the ‘father of corporate governance’), emphasises the nature of the beast:
“If management is about running the business, governance is about seeing that it is run properly.”
Feels remarkably appropriate to the work of safety practitioners, don’t you think?
But the idea of both thinking and doing ‘the right thing’ is no light matter, as Bill Clinton points out:
“No generation has had the opportunity, as we now have, to build a global economy that leaves no-one behind. It is a wonderful opportunity, but also a profound responsibility.”
This responsibility requires deep thought.
Former US Marine Jeff Cooper – credited with the modern technique of handgun shooting – was no stranger to the import of good risk management when he remarked that:
“Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
So let’s dig a little deeper.
30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, was a money-man through and through, and considered that the “The business of business is business”, whilst ‘ethical capitalist’ Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop argued that:
“The business of business should not be about money. It should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.”
It’s hard to disagree.
More recently, though, Canadian leadership guru Robin Sharma suggested that “the business of business is relationships”. Certainly, in my experience as an international consultant, Sharma has it right.
My favourite classical composer, Gustav Mahler, would endorse Sharma’s view, clearly appreciating the bigger picture and eluding to the power of collaboration when he said that:
“The most important thing in music is not the notes.”
Mahler’s epigraph is: à propos of culture, which …is powerful for three primary reasons:
John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, will be a name familiar to many readers. He’s rarely wrong.
Then how to build a strong culture? The author Simon Sinek offers a clue:
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
In the third-most-watched TED talk on the planet Sinek advocates that we must ‘start with why’ if we want to build engagement. Why?
Well, John Bargh, Social Psychologist at Yale University, in his studies of human cognition and motivation, notes that:
“We have primitive brains. Up to 95% of behaviour is caused by habit, unconscious or consciously.”
To break from habit and create safety is key, otherwise let us not forget the sagacity of Henry Ford who famously cautioned that: “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.”
So, what of us as we look forward? Regarded as The Don of the art of leadership Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, counsels that:
“A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organisation, not as it is, but as it should be.”
We shouldn’t wait as “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” accordingly to English Antarctic explorer Robert Swan.
Donald McGannon, an early pioneer of the modern television format, knew something about the future and the value of teamwork when he remarked that “Leadership is action, not position.”
Whether in teams or flying solo best-selling cultural anthropologist Dr Margaret Mead reminded us of the importance and value people make when she said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
And so, to conclude, let’s place this all into context. According to Dr Denis Waitley, President of the International Society for Advanced Education:
“There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs – and that is the risk of doing nothing.”
So, what will you do today?
The New Rule of Safety #20: Life is a quotation
In a busy world the words of others may serve to bring focus, give reassurance or provide inspiration. Which quotations inspire and guide you in your life and work? Please share them below this post.
About the author:
Andrew Sharman’s global best-selling books From Accidents to Zero: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Workplace Safety Culture; Mind Your Own Business: What Your MBA Should Have Taught You About Safety (co-authored with Dame Judith Hackitt); and Safety Savvy (with Tim Marsh) are all available to SHP readers with an exclusive 25% discount.
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