The Weekly Reflektion Week 51 / 2019

This week’s Reflektion is a follow up on the Reflektions in week 49 and week 50 and concerns the process of changing of our mental models.

Learning is not the just the accumulation of knowledge. Learning is the application of new knowledge and new experience to a desired end. Learning requires a change in the way we think and what we do. Learning requires us to change our mental models.

The Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) theme for 2020 is ‘Never another Major Accident’. The Norwegian oil industry celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 and the PSA maintains that the petroleum sector has learnt a lot about risk in these 50 years. This learning has come at a cost and approximately 300 people have lost their lives in the exploration and production of oil and gas from the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The biggest loss was the 123 people that died when the Alexander Kielland rig capsized on the 27th March 1980. We don’t think that anyone would dispute the sentiments behind the theme, however what difference can the theme actually make? Can the theme be part of the process to change our mental models of Major Accident prevention?

In the Reflektion from week 49, we discussed how people follow their convictions in making decisions and taking actions. In week 50, we developed this theme and introduced the concept of mental models. In particular, how mental models dictate how we understand the world and through this understanding how we make decisions and take actions. This week we venture into the area of challenging and changing mental models. We have considered this as a series of steps that follow a cycle of inquiry, dialogue, reflection and adjustment.  

The first step is to be the conscious of the fact that we have a mental model at all. What is our mental model related to ‘Prevention of Major Accidents’? Do we question our mental model and use reasoning to justify whether the model is appropriate?

The next step is to consider the information and experience that we use to build and sustain our mental model. Are these correct? Are these relevant? What assumptions have we made? Have we considered actual Major Accidents and why they happened?

The next step is to inquire about other peoples’ mental models. What do other people think about prevention of Major Accidents? Have they rationalised the facts and information in the same way? Have they come to the same conclusions as you? Do they see the world differently? Do they have other experiences that may have given them a different view?  

The next step is to challenge ourselves on the way we are. Do we tend to jump to conclusions? Do we have pre-conceived ideas that hinder our ability to listen and understand? Do we attribute motives to others to explain their views, decisions and actions?

The next step is to adjust our mental model and start applying the model in the process for making decisions, taking actions and expressing ourselves.

Following these steps, we need to consider whether our adjustments are having the desired effect and of course, how we will assess this.

After all what is the purpose of the PSA theme in 2020? Is it to emphasize that Major Accidents like Alexander Kielland are bad and we do not want any more of them? Alternatively, is it to influence our mental model so that a Major Accident becomes less likely?

Reflekt AS