Tuesday, 24 November 2009

When things go wrong: Human errors

Preventing errors by good decision making is not easy. Our brains aren't computeres; they are poor at calculating probabilities, thinking of different possible outcomes and holding lots of information. Situations that are complex, or constantly changing, confuse us even further.

Our 'natural' decison-making processes are often false friends in business. To help our brains get to grips with uncertainty, we have to create mathematical and logical structures. The fact that these are hard to understand indicates how 'unnatural' they are for us. Our brains are designed for self-preservation -taking decsions quickly, under pressure - to ensure survival. To do this, we take 'cognitive shortcuts' that allow us to cut through the information we're facing and reach a decison. The problem is that we often make the wrong choice.

It's the same story with error prevention. When things go wrong, many 'natural' responses, such as blaming others, are self-preservation impulses. They won't help us to learn from our mistakes or share learning with others. To do so, we have to overcome our 'natural' responses and adopt approaches that can, at first sight, seem counter-intuitive.

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