Why Do People Make Mistakes?


Saturday, 8.26pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We learn from each other. We learn from others’ mistakes, from their experience, their wisdom. It makes it easier for us to come to better decisions in our own lives. – Adrian Grenier

LinkedIn as a social network is turning out to be a good place to learn new things. Perhaps it’s the nature of the network I’ve been connecting with but I’ve been seeing some useful and interesting ideas and concepts surfacing on my timeline.

For example, I recently learned about human reliability – it turns out there is a whole field that studies how much you can depend on people to do things right. And here we were just blaming it on incompetence. But then, you know that old thing about the world being full of bad drivers and on some days you’re the bad driver.

The aircraft industry is one that takes human reliability very seriously and seems to have done a lot of work to reduce the chances of a mistake being made. I remember this from the few flying lessons I did – how we followed a set process to walk around the aircraft and check everything, from the condition of the wings to the colour of the fuel. Then we followed a checklist to go through the steps from starting the engine, taxiing, a full power test and then onto the takeoff.

There are hundreds of reasons why people make mistakes but The Dirty Dozen is a starting point, a distillation of the most common mistakes people make at work. Now, the list is pretty self explanatory as you can see from the image above. If you look at the way in which air accident investigators approach a study of an incident – they start by looking at the facts, they analyse their findings, come to their conclusions and then summarise the causes and contributing factors. Some of these may be technical and require changes to equipment and material. And then there are the contributing human factors, which are often from the dirty dozen list.

Now, if you are a manager and need to get others to do things then it’s interesting looking at this list and asking yourself how aware you are of how your colleagues feel about these factors. Do they feel under pressure, are they struggling with inadequate resources, are they scared to speak up because of the norms and culture in the organisation? Or are you doing really well, scoring highly on all these factors – but does that mean there is a danger that you’re becoming complacent?

The takeaway here is that if something goes wrong, this list may act as a useful checklist to look at contributing human factors. More importantly, however, it also gives you a list of things to look out for and try and head off proactively.

The thing you have to remember is that most employees are in a situation where they may feel these things and find it affects their work. The people with the power to change things, however, are the managers and leaders and if you are one of them it’s up to you to change the conditions people are working in so that the risk of a mistake being made due to one of these factors is reduced. After all, what else are you there for other than to try and get the best out of the people who work with you?


Karthik Suresh

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