The last few days were usefully spent on reading the Long’s first book “Risk Makes Sense”. Already the title appealed a lot to me as I’m (like the authors) convinced that a life without risk is impossible - and really boring too.

The book is handy, about 150 pages and rather accessible and easy readable. The book aims at a wider audience than just HSEQ experts, and deviates from a typical text book build-up too because instead of building up to one major conclusion, the chapters can be read separately and learning points picked up all over the place. One should be able to hop through the book like one surfs the net.

On a critical note – at some moments the text feels a bit fragmentary, or hopping between subjects. I think some things could have been explained a bit better or more extensive for the un-initiated. I had no problem following the book, but then, I’ve read quite a lot literature which makes it easy to place various references in context. Not everyone has this backing when reading the book and I think that might give a few minor hurdles for some readers.

One of these instances is where the idea of one brain and three minds is posed. I understand what the writers say, but I would like to see in greater depth where it comes from. I would also like to see this concept discussed in relation to Rasmussen’s/Reason’s SRK-model and Kahneman’s two systems. Robert informed me that several subjects will return in later books where more will be explained.

One thing that makes it easier to read the book for un-initiated is a brief glossary found at the start of the book. This gives a good and quick framework for what is about to come. Another thing that makes the book easy accessible are the transitional paragraphs between the various chapters. Each chapter is concluded with some questions for workshop use (or reflection and further ‘home’work). Excellent idea to give a bit extra to the book.

The book draws (among others) a lot of inspiration from Weick’s work on HRO and the concept of mindfulness he proposes. Since I’m a major fan of this approach it’s a big thumbs up there!

The first chapter concentrates on myth busting. Quite an interesting take on some widely entrenched beliefs here. Throughout much of the book you’ll find a well-founded and well-reasoned trashing of the zero cult. I’m looking forward to read more of that in the second book (which seems to promise to do that, judging from the title). I also love the phrase ‘safety cosmetics’. This describes very well some things of what I see around in safety practioning!

In that regard it is interesting to see that the writers connect themes to religion and fundamentalism. Too much of that which is done and decided is rather based on dogma than on reason.

I like the way the writers stress learning throughout the book. That’s something we are struggling with/working on all of the time in the company I work. We had about 30.000 registrations of big and small cases (incidents, complaints, proposals for improvement etc) last year. We are relatively good at handling these, but how do you get the learning points from essential cases into as many heads/minds as possible? Challenging! Some thoughts found in this book.

I found also the angle about language very interesting. Language is one of our most powerful tools. As such it can be easily misused. I also read with interest what has been written about the art and importance of dialogue. This reminds me very much of the work and writings of my Belgian friend Johan Roels. His book on crucial dialogues (alas only in Dutch, check here) elaborates on some of the themes touched upon in “Risk Makes Sense”.

There is quite some space spent on conscious and subconscious actions in the book. Of these I find especially the argument about the counterproductive effect of a rationalist approach in the non-rational setting intriguing. I truly hope that the writers will come back to that in the two follow-up books, since I’m more than just a bit interested in the ambiguous relationship between rules and safety that has some of its origin in this phenomenon.

Off to the second book now. 

I've read the second edition, ISBN: 978-0-646-57094-5

P.S. One thing I appreciated a lot: the book does mention what the writer’s company does, the tools that they have developed, but the book never tends towards sheer marketing. Good job! I’ve seen many books which are mainly the vehicle to sell and I’m no fan of that practice, to say things mildly.

Meanwhile, feel free to check them out on the web.