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High-Consequence Success, with K. Scott Griffith (Risk, Management, Systems, Leadership)
Episode 44726th December 2023 • The Action Catalyst • Southwestern Family of Podcasts
00:00:00 00:27:59

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K. Scott Griffith is the founder and managing partner of SG Collaborative Solutions, LLC and author of the world's first Collaborative High Reliability improvement programs, recalls averting catastrophe for the airline industry, working for NASA, and tackling risk A.S.A.P., and explains the sequence of reliability, the essential attributes of a highly reliable organization, socio-technical improvement, unlinking staff from systems, normalization of deviancy, doing risk assessment on white rice, and mistaking "The Big Bang Theory" for a documentary.

Transcripts

Speaker:

K. Scott Griffith: Hi Stephanie, how are you?

Stephanie Maas:

Hey, doing great, Scott.

Stephanie Maas:

K. Scott Griffith: My pleasure.

Stephanie Maas:

So I'm going to dive right in.

Stephanie Maas:

K. Scott Griffith: Let's dive in. And we'll we'll swim in deep

Stephanie Maas:

water.

Stephanie Maas:

So in your background, you built this

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reputation for world class reliability in high consequence

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industries across the globe. So can you put some legs under that

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table for me?

Stephanie Maas:

K. Scott Griffith: Absolutely. So the term high consequence

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industry, it's a little bit of a misnomer. It originally was used

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in those industries where catastrophic failures could

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result in the blink of an eye. So think about a plane crash. on

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a on a more human level. Think about a police officer and the

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blink of an eye things could go catastrophically wrong, a

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surgeon on an operating table, a nurse administering a medic

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medication. So those are industries where the

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consequences of failure are, are sometimes immediate and

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catastrophic. So my reputation started in aviation, where I was

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the Chief Safety Officer at the world's largest airline. And I

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developed a program known as ASAP which led to a 95%

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reduction in the industry fatal accident rate. From there, I was

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invited by the Surgeon General David Satcher, years ago and 19,

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actually, in 2000, to come to Washington and meet with a group

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of healthcare professionals under the Health and Human

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Services Department, and explore the potential for the aviation

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success to be migrated into the healthcare industry. So for

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about the last two decades, I've worked in multiple industries,

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including healthcare, aviation, law enforcement, emergency

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medical services, and nuclear power. I wanted to take the

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lessons that I've learned and the strategies I've developed to

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any business, because at some level, any business or

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organization is high consequence to the people involved, the

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owners, the employees, that the shareholders. So what has worked

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in those high consequence industries can absolutely work

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in any business.

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You said you have a 95% improvement that is

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SIG nificant. So tell me about what are some of these

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principles that you found really translated, regardless of the industry?

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K. Scott Griffith: That's right, so so so it was it was

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astonishing, in the sense that a group of industry professionals

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came together with a common goal to keep the public safe to keep

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planes from crashing. And so what we were successful doing is

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bringing in a regulator that had previously been very rules based

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enforcement posture, to become a more risk based oversight

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agency. So the Federal Aviation Administration, we helped move

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them from a position of it's all about the rules, to it's all

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about how we manage the risk. The other part of that

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collaboration was clearly the airline executives and leaders,

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and then the Labor Association. So we worked with different

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unions across the country, from Pilot unions to flight

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attendants, and mechanics and air traffic controllers. And I

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created a program that combined each of those entities into a

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collaborative endeavor, known as the Aviation Safety Action

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Program. And one of the central images are metaphors of our

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success was that of the iceberg. So what we typically see when a

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plane crashes, or a rule gets violated is yet just the tip of

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the iceberg. It's a cliche, but it turned out to be a very

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powerful metaphor in convincing the regulator that a crime and

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punishment style of enforcement was was not giving them a full

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picture of the risk in the National Aerospace system. So

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what we did was we created this safe haven, this reporting

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program where employees could report into a program that was

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collaboratively managed regulator, airline and labor and

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from that we changed the culture virtually overnight. And we

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started getting reports not just of events and violations, but we

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started to see risk below the waterline in the every day

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successful outcomes that posed significant risks. And that's

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one of the central messages for any business that most

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businesses measure results. Not At the risk involved in those

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results, if all we're doing is measuring outcomes, we're

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restricting our visibility to what we see above the waterline.

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And the real risk. And the real opportunity lies in the everyday

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systems and the everyday activities of our people that

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are sometimes risky. But when we get positive results, we we turn

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a blind eye to the risk taking behaviors and the risky systems.

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So you just talked on this for a second. And

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I want to come back to that from a leadership perspective. You

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mentioned creating a culture where people were willing to

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come forward with concerns around risk per se. So I love to

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hear, how do you culturally, from a leadership perspective,

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help your people embrace that

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K. Scott Griffith: You must build a trusted program, I had

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one leader it I won't mention the name of an organization, we

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were talking about the issue of employee burnout. And it's a

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significant challenge, particularly coming out of the

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pandemic, we see a high degree of burnout in a number of areas,

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but I had one when senior leaders say to me, Oh, my

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employees come tell me when something's wrong. Every year, I

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have a holiday Christmas party, and they come up and they tell

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me and I challenged him to say, well, they may not be coming

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forward every day, they may not be coming forward with their

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real concerns. So what we did, which was unique was we built

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that trusted system into a program. And that program was

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actually described with a set of rules and conditions, if you

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will, that described how the program would be managed. And it

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offered employees a guarantee that if they came forward in

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good faith, rather than being punished, that we would work

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proactively to address the risk, whether that risk was in the the

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behavior of the employee, or whether that risk was in how

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that employee was trained, or whether that risk will lay in

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the system and the environment around the employee. And from

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that we started to, I guess another metaphor is we pulled

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back the curtain on risk that was taking place every day that

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we weren't, hadn't previously been able to see. So I developed

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something. And I mentioned this in the book called The sequence

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of reliability. And the first step in that sequence of

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reliability is to see and understand risk. In most places,

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when things go wrong. The first place organizations look is the

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behavior of the individuals involved. And that's really too

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late in the process. The risk has been there for a while, but

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we haven't seen it because we haven't seen bad outcomes. Think

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about driving our car, just give us an example we can all relate

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to. Let's play a little game. Do you have a car? Do you have car

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insurance for the car? You drive? 70? Idea? Yes. Okay, so

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I'm gonna pretend like I'm your insurance agent. Would you agree

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that if we could find out how you drive every day, day in day

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out, that would give us a better profile of the risk of you

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driving a car than if we just look to your recent accident

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rate? Or record? Check. So the game I want to play is would you

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do me a favor? Would you call me anytime you go over the speed

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limit? Or would you tell me when you're talking on the phone? Or

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you get distracted? And maybe you even text while you're at a

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red light? Would you just call? Let me know. So I can build a

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profile on you to understand how risky you are? I'm going to say

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no, you're gonna say no, most people aren't going to come to

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their boss at the end of the day and say, let me give you a list

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of all the risky things I did. Because the way you're going to

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measure me is on outcomes. If I get the job done, and I get I

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get rewarded, sometimes for risk taking behavior, because my boss

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can see what I do day in day out, they only see the results I

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produce. So I'm incentivized, most people are incentivized to

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get results. Now, we're not saying results don't matter.

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Absolutely, results do matter. But we have to be careful that

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we're not building excess risk into our system by rewarding

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people for their outcomes.

Stephanie Maas:

Very interesting. I think from a

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human perspective, we all want to be that way. But when push

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comes to shove, and something goes wrong, those are usually

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the first couple things. They go out the window, especially

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compassion. So talk to me about that.

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K. Scott Griffith: Yeah, so So compassion I mentioned in the

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book as a as one of the attributes, particularly in

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fields like health care, but any any service industry, if if, in

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the work that I do, Stephanie really is under I guess the

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category of I help organizations become highly reliable. And if

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you say to me, Well, what does high reliability mean? I can

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define that as consistent high performance over an extended

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period of time, in a small number of attributes, and by

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attributes, I mean, the field that I started my career was as

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a Chief Safety Officer. Sir, is a very important attribute for

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any service industry, whether you're Disneyland or an airline

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or a hospital, being safe is is essential to being reliable.

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That that's not simply enough, because if you're a patient in a

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hospital, and they are highly reliable at keeping you safe,

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but they treat you with disrespect, or they don't treat

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you with the compassion that you deserve, you won't consider that

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to be a reliable organization. So there's a really small subset

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or set of what we call attributes of high reliability,

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that are universal, you have to be safe, you have to care about

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people's privacy, you have to pay attention to infrastructure.

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So if you're a hospital, a safe hospital, but you get shut down

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by a cyber attack, everything you do is going to be affected.

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So infrastructure is important. Equity, Diversity, belonging,

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it's not enough just to be reliable with one segment of

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society, we were open to the public, so we have to be

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equitably reliable. So there's a small set of attributes that we

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define. And so compassion plays into that, when we start to work

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with organizations, where they typically typically look for

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results like safety, we say, let's broaden that perspective

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to look at what are the attributes that you have to be

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good at, in order to be considered reliable, and

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therefore to be a sustainable business?

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So is that this term, which I'd never heard

Stephanie Maas:

before, socio technical improvement?

Stephanie Maas:

K. Scott Griffith: So I have to tell you, I'm a geek by nature.

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So that's a term that, that comes natural to natural to me.

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But when I looked at the first time, I didn't understand but a

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socio means people from the Latin and technical, we would

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say, applies to systems and the the environment that people work

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in. And in today's technologically advanced world,

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whatever business you're in, you have people working inside in

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with systems. Now, when things go wrong, where do we typically

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turn the human, even though that human is working with

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technology, or working in an environment, in a culture, what

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organizations find challenging is how to unlink or separate the

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system contributors from the human contributors. And we often

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do that in the wrong way, we often just strike at the

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behavior. And instead of looking at the system that we put in

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place to manage the risk and the opportunity. So sociotechnical

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is a geeky word for people working inside systems. And you

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have to be good at both. If you put outstanding people in a poor

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system, you won't get great results, you could take a great

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actor and give them a lousy script, or a pro quarterback and

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put them in a system that's not very well developed, you won't

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get great results than the contrast, if you take an average

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individual and put them in a very well designed system,

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you'll get better results than others will get. And so the

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second step in what I have called the sequence of

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reliability, after we look to seeing and understanding risk is

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to build reliable systems. And we do that because now once we

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have seen and understood stood the risk, built a reliable

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system. Now we can focus our attention on making the human

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reliable that the employees reliable. And we do that through

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something called performance management, where we train them

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and we help develop their knowledge, skills, abilities,

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and proficiencies. And then we focus on those factors that

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influence their performance, the system, personnel factors, the

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environment and the culture. And then finally, we then focus our

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attention on their behaviors and behaviors come in two

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categories, errors and choices. And guess which one poses the

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greatest risk in our daily lives, the errors we make, or

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the choices we make? Which would you think is most consequential

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to the outcomes?

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Well, I've got two teenagers right now. So I'm

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going with choices.

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K. Scott Griffith: Absolutely. Choices, absolutely choices.

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Now, people tend to think that it's the errors we make, think

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about how many risky choices we make every day, specially

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teenagers, and most of the time, our risk taking choices turn out

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to be good results. So What lessons do we learn when we

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drive over the speed limit? What lesson do we learn when we talk

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on the phone? Mom, I don't have to wear a helmet when I ride a

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skateboard because I've been doing this for two years, and

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I've never fallen? Yep. Oh, by the way, here's an interesting

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statistic that we should all pay attention to the way our society

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manages the risk of drunk driving is through the legal

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system, the legal system, as privileged as we are to work in

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a nation of laws. Our legal system is not designed to manage

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risk, because in order to enter our legal system, either as a

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plaintiff or defendant, there has to be evidence of harm.

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That's a terrible way to manage your teenager waiting for harm

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to have And therefore you step in. So the way we manage drunk

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driving is a police officer will pull you over if they suspect

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that you're driving intoxicated, or there's a car crash where we

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take your blood alcohol level. Well, on average, the National

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Highway Traffic Safety Administration told me that on

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average for every drunk driver arrested, they have driven drunk

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ADA times previously without having been caught. So most of

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the time in our society, that risk is out there interacting in

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the socio technical world, and we don't see it, man. That's a

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stunning statistic, isn't it? One thing we all have in common

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is that we all make mistakes, and we all make risky choices.

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The funny thing about the human brain and this gets into

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neuroscience is that we learn most from our most recent

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experiences. So when we do something, no matter how we were

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trained, when we get by ourselves, and no one's watching

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in, we cut a corner, and nothing bad happens. Oftentimes, we

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learn the wrong lesson from that successful outcome. We do these

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things repeatedly, because we don't see and understand the

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risks. And we learn the wrong lessons from our successful

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outcomes. And so we end up surprised when catastrophe

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occurs.

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So where did your passion for all of this

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come in?

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K. Scott Griffith: I mentioned that I was a geek and I is an

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example of that. Have you ever heard of a TV show called The

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Big Bang Theory? Absolutely. I watched it for two years. And I

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thought it was a documentary. I didn't know. Those were my

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people. So in addition to being a pilot, I had been in graduate

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school as a physicist, and in 1985, I was doing a walk around

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inspection on a boat, a walk around inspection is a preflight

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activity that pilots take on before they get in a plane to go

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fly. So they literally walk around it to make sure that

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there's structural integrity on the airplane. I'm walking around

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this airplane, and I look up in the sky, and I see another plane

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adult, a wide body jet coming into land, and it's in distress,

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and it gets so low that it hits on top of a car on on highway

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140. It bounced, and as it's coming into land, and next thing

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I see the wingtip strikes at above ground water tower and the

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plane cartwheels and it just explodes. You know, I was

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stunned by that. A few moments later, I was knocked down by a

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gust of wind. Several seconds after that there was a torrent

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of rain, and I ran back up on the airplane, and the plane is

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rocking, and people are starting to panic. And so what happened

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was, that plane encountered a deadly microburst, which is a

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downdraft of wind, that the pilots couldn't see, because it

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was separate from the clouds and separate from the rain. It was a

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clear threat. So I took a leave from the airline Long story

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short, spent about a year working on a contract for NASA,

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as a physicist to build the first airborne prediction laser

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system known as LIDAR to scan in clear air what the Winfield was

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doing. So the reason that plane crashed was because the pilots

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couldn't see. And they didn't understand the risk, we could

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only manage what was in front of us that we could see. And all we

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could see was the tip of the iceberg.

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What a crazy intense thing to experience.

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K. Scott Griffith: It was crazy. And in most businesses, most

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organizations, particularly those that are regulated, we

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hide our risk from the regulator, because we don't want

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to be sanctioned. We don't want to be fat. It's like when we're

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driving down the road, Stephanie, what do we do

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instinctively, when we see the police car, instinctively, we

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slow down. By the way, on any given day, studies have shown

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that only 90% of us are driving the speed limit the rest of us

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are driving over. That's our norm normalization of deviancy.

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It's normal to deviate in our society. But I have found that

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to be generally true in every industry, in every business I've

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worked in. It's not that we're bad people. It's that we're

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living with competing priorities.

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So what would you say to encourage leaders

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that, you know, look, some of us quite frankly, ignorance is

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bliss. What I don't know, is it going to hurt? And I'll deal

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with whatever happens when it happens. What do you say to

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leaders who want to stay ignorance is bliss?

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K. Scott Griffith: Well, that's probably the best question I've

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heard in all year. Stephanie. And here's my answer, talking to

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a leader, particularly a CEO. And I understand CEOs have

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people who handle risk management, what CEOs are all

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about our opportunity and sustainable success. If you're a

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CEO, you want to go out and capture the art you want to

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build a business. And once you build it, and take advantage of

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those operate market opportunities, you want to be

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able to sustain it. The world is filled with successful

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businesses. They crashed because they couldn't see the risk

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ahead. Edyta, we've seen businesses not adapt. And we're

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not saying be risk averse to the CEO. We're saying be risk

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intelligent, go grasp the opportunities in an intelligent

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way. And so to do that, you have to be good at some of the things

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you're not known for, you're not good at as a business. So if

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you're a company that depends on technology, and you're out there

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providing some product or some service, and it is not your

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specialty, you hire people to manage it. But if you don't

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become reliable with that platform, everything you do is

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in jeopardy. You have to be risk aware, which involves

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situational awareness, positional awareness, cultural

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awareness, so you have to see and understand the environment

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you're in, then there's something called risk tolerance,

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you have to assess where your tolerance level is for risk. I

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mean, there's a financial analogy here when you're young,

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and you can afford to take risks, because you have a

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lifetime ahead of you to recoup it. When you get to be my age or

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older, you may be more risk averse in that respect. But in

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every business, there is risk that's in front of you that you

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may not be able to see, one of the things that leaders face,

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which is often and troubling is that they are surrounded by

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people that often tell them what they want to hear they want to

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be paused, right. So you want to empower employees and managers

Stephanie Maas:

who will see risk differently. A frontline manager has experience

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and expertise, but only the frontline employee is the one

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that seeing the risk on the assembly line, for example, it's

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the frontline employee that is exposed to the risk, you want

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them to be able to share it, and it filter its way up to the top

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leadership. But to do that, you have to have a culture that

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supports it. And most business books, stress the importance of

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leadership and culture. Well, you can be a strong charismatic

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leader and lead an organization in the wrong direction. And what

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do most CEOs not all, but most CEOs, when they come in, they

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want to set a new tone, there's a new path here, they want to

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make their mark, which may be different than the previous

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CEOs. But what we all want, and particularly shareholders is

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sustainable success over the long term. And to get that you

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have to go beyond leadership and culture into building systems

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that become reliable. And that each manager each CEO, inherent,

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reliable systems, again, you put great people in a system that

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breaks down, you won't get great results. So there's a sequence

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to it, let me just summarize it step one of the sequence of

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reliability is see and understand risk. You can see a

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risk and not necessarily understand it. Or like our drunk

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driving example, we can understand it, but not

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necessarily see it when it happens, you have to do both

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seeing and understanding risk is step one, building reliable

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systems is step two, helping people to work to reliability is

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step three. And the fourth and final step is hardwire

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organizational reliability. Most business books start with the

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last step first.

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It's so cool. It's almost almost like we're

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seeing this evolution of leadership. And to your point in

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the past, we've always seen leaders hailed for their

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charisma, their ability to rally, but I bet if we went back

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and really studied super successful leaders, this risk

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intelligence, risk awareness, all these things, they were also

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super successful, because they were able to manage that as

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well. super interesting. Okay, in the spirit of time, I'm gonna

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shift gears. So I'm gonna call you the risk guy. So you're this

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risk guy? When does this side of you get on your nerves? Oh, have

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I just shut my brain off for 10 minutes? Let me eat this two day

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old sushi, but I can't because I know the risk.

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K. Scott Griffith: Oh my gosh, well, I was talking to my son

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last night. And we were talking about the foods we eat. That's

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another example that I think anyone can understand. Right?

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We, you know, we're trying to manage our health through our

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diet, you know, and food is part of our well being right the

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foods we eat have dramatic effect on our health and how we

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feel and how we act. And and I tend to focus in, at my stage in

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life at at trying to encourage those around me to make smart

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choices. Now, that's hard because the science keeps

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evolving and changing. Remember when red wine was thought to be

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great for coronary artery disease. And I was really

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rattling around that right now. The latest research is saying

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yeah, there may not be a safe level of alcohol consumption

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now. We were eating a dinner last night and the food that I

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wear it came with rice and I looked down at the food and it

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was white rice instead of brown rice was as you know, as a whole

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grain. And my son said you're not gonna eat that. Are you

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dead? And I said, Well, probably Nobody said, You gotta lighten

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up. He said, You got to enjoy your life a little bit. And so,

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okay, we see it that we understand it, and we're going

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to do it anyway.

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So it's the natural deviation, right?

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K. Scott Griffith: That's right. Teenagers are a good for helping

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you keep a perspective on on that.

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I love it. Thank you so much for walking us

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through this

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K. Scott Griffith: Stephanie, I would just say thank you for the

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opportunity to speak to you and your audience today, it's been a

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pleasure, I would say the most important message I would take

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away from our conversation is that risk is all around us in

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our life, it's a part of life. And bad things don't just happen

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randomly. The technical term for how bad things happened is

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they're probabilistic, meaning there's probabilities associated

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with the randomness in our lives. But with a little bit of

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effort, your life can be so much better balanced, when you see

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and understand. And again, you're not going to avoid eating

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white rice. But you're going to understand the risk and

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everything you do. And you'll build systems in your manage

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people. And ultimately, the organizations you build and work

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for, will become more successful. So with a little bit

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of effort, it's almost like Maslow's hierarchy of needs when

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you understand that this sequence can transform your life

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or your business in a positive way. And it applies to the the

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big issues of our day, like climate change, and all the

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other risks that we face. But if we if we work collaboratively,

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those challenges can be overcome and we can live better lives.

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Thank you so much.

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K. Scott Griffith: Oh it was a pleasure. Stephanie, you're a

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great interviewer too. It was a lot of fun. Thank you.