The solution you propose will turn people into ‘unthinking robots’

Rob Sams wrote about an important concern he had with our solution. Here’s what he said and my response is below. This is one of the most important comments we have received so far. He is spot on with his concerns. Rob, thank you again for the incredibly important contribution to the conversation.

Rob Sams April 24, 2014 at 2:35 PM

Dayna – you have taken time and effort to reply and respond to the comments made. I look forward to your thoughts after you have read Paul Slovic’s work, I feel this is a very important piece of the pie that you have missed in your research. I expect your whole approach will change once you have read this.

Your approach of “deeply caring about each construction worker going home safely” is admirable; there are a lot of people who get into the safety and risk industry for this reason. My question is why do you feel you can, and that it is your place to ‘fix’ things for others? Please let us make mistakes, let us be free, trial things, and learn. The alternative is that we ‘dumb down’ people, encourage them not to think because the engineering/technology solution will do that for them, and turn people into ‘non-thinking’ robots. That is a world I’d hate to see which is why I am so opposed to your approach.

Matt’s comments about zero harm are spot on. If you want to read another book which will challenge your thinking on this, give Muskowitz’s The Psychology of Goals a crack. You’ll learn about priming and by-products of goals.

If you still hold the view that zero harm is achievable, and appropriate after reading that, then we will have to agree disagree on your approach and I bid you all the best.


Hi Rob Sams,

We have already begun to read Paul Sovic’s works. You are correct in that his ideas contribute significantly to the “pie”. We may even have time to add a few of his ideas (cited, of course) in the big book (out at the end of the year) for technical professionals and visionary leaders. Because the audience is different, we can be a lot more scientific in our writing. I think you will enjoy that book more than this one, which is for workers and frontline supervisors.

We first wrote the book for technical professionals and visionary leaders. But during the innovation process (the big book is an example of stepping people through the innovation process using this topic to demonstrate) we discovered some things that made us realize that we had to write a book for workers and also one for management/owners. They needed the paradigm shift, too. We did a lot of research into the communication strategies needed to engage with construction workers, management, and public policy makers. The one big book became three. We started with the workers, in part because it was the most difficult to write. We had to pare down the information and make it more assessable. In other words, we had to leave out a lot of the supporting technical and scientific supporting information.

Now, on to point TWO: The reason we want to ‘fix’ things for others is because people die. If people were not dying or getting seriously injured, believe me, we would be on to other projects. You make a tremendously important point! And a subtle one that others may miss so I’m going to restate it again. [If] “we ‘dumb down’ people, encourage them not to think because the engineering/technology solution will do that for them, and turn people into ‘non-thinking’ robots.

I am so impressed that you get it so thoroughly, Rob. Okay, so here is the deal. We have to end the deaths and injuries. We can no longer stand it, all of us authors. So we developed a solution, but that solution has real issues that need to be solved and you have just identified one of the most important ones. We bring it up in the book. We even give some things workers can do. The big book contains much more information. But there is not a clear and decisive path to solving that contradiction (safety along with productivity but at the cost of meaningful work for all). So now the question is, do we stop the safety solution until we figure out the other?

I don’t know. We had a stalemate when we voted.

  • One said “Absolutely not. Safety first!”
  • One said, “I’ve seen this happen too many times and it is devastating to the workers. People need jobs, too. It is just as important as the other stuff. We could spend another year and make a better path for workers. Let’s take a little more time and address this issue, too.”
  • My vote was the deciding vote. I voted to move ahead; get started and save lives; build momentum and then deal with the “don’t turn people into ‘non-thinking’ robots” issue once the safety solutions started to roll ahead like a moving train.

But I have fears that we might not catch up once this gets started. Maybe we should have worked for another year on that issue to solve it more thoroughly.

At least we gave the workers a head start. The management book will not be out for another few months. The technical book – the hardcore, how-to book – will not be out until the end of the year. That gives us time to innovate some solutions before the big book is out. We could even delay the big book a few months if we had to in order to address this more thoroughly.  This is not a promise, but an idea worth looking into.

Do you want to help with that?

P.S. Thanks for the suggestion about Muskowitz’s book, “The Psychology of Goals”. You said we would learm more about priming and by-products of goals. This may offer insights into the contradiction that may be invaluable. May I check back in with you after a month or so? It will take me a while to read all of the books people are recommending. In your opinion, do you think this one is more important to read first, before Paul Slovic’s book?