Why is personal change so hard? Consider the Endowment Effect

Humans are complicated.  While some of our base emotions and behaviors are easy to understand, there are times when we appear to make irrational decisions when faced with personal change.  For example, behavioral economists have identified a specific instance when we apparently place a very different value on something depending upon whether we own it or not.  Consider the following scenario.

Imagine a team performed an analysis on the layout of a work area.  The team concluded that a significant amount of waste of motion and waste of transportation would be removed if the work stations in the cell are re-arranged.  With a proposed new floor layout, each of the operators would walk shorter distances as they moved among the stations.  It would make it easier for them to accomplish their work each day. The location of the new work stations would be comparable in every way to the existing workstations – tools, space, lighting, climate, proximity to the work. This sounds like a positive outcome for everyone!

However, when the proposed plan is shared with the crew, it is met with surprising resistance by some of the operators.  This would seem to be an illogical decision.  These operators would rather walk further (and therefore work harder) than accept these minor personal changes to their work flow!  How can this be?

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Leverage opinion leaders to make change happen

Many people believe you must persuade the majority in order for change to occur. This is a myth. Instead, leaders should focus their efforts on a small but influential subgroup known as opinion leaders to get a new idea adopted.

[The post below is an excerpt from my book, Safety WALK Safety TALK ].

We accept change at different rates

opinion leaders

Everett Rogers originally published his theory on the Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. It is a theory that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. The book (now in its fifth edition) says diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. The innovation or idea must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain.

In his book, Dr. Rogers tells a fascinating story of how he was prompted very early in his career to study how new ideas were adopted by the masses.

Immediately after graduating with a Ph.D. in sociology, Dr. Rogers accepted a job working with an agricultural extension service in Iowa. His primary responsibility was to work with the local farmers and encourage them to use newly developed varieties of corn which were proven in field tests to produce crops with higher yields, as well as being more disease-resistant. As a result, these strains of corn were more profitable than the current varieties.

Unfortunately, Dr. Rogers quickly learned he couldn’t connect with the farmers. He was a college-educated young man who had never plowed a field or planted corn. All his academic knowledge didn’t mean anything to the farmers. He lacked credibility.

He realized he needed to convince at least one farmer to try one of the new strains. That way, he reasoned, once this crop was proven to have higher yields, all the other farmers would follow suit and adopt the new innovation in corn seed.

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How Locus of Control Can Impact Injury Rate

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr)


Perhaps you know of someone who considers that most things that happen are caused by chance. Or they seem to accept that whatever significant events occur in their life, it was fate or luck that determined the outcome.

On the other hand, some people clearly believe that they control their own destiny. Their belief is that whatever happens to them is mostly due to the choices they make or the actions they take.

These disparate belief systems represent opposite ends of a continuum that social scientists refer to as Locus of Control. A person’s Locus of Control is where someone places the primary causation of events in his life. Those who believe their life is largely controlled by outside forces (externals) are on one end of the spectrum. Those who believe they control their own lives (internals) are on the other end of the spectrum.

Locus of Control is a psychological construct. This simply means that it is an instrument that can be used to describe a group of attitudes or behaviors.

Julian Rotter is credited with introducing the concept of Locus of Control. He based much of his research on the work of Albert Bandura, who developed social learning theory. In his seminal paper published in 1966, Rotter explains that people can interpret events as being either a result of one’s own actions or external factors. Rotter developed a scale to assess whether a person has a tendency to think that situations and events are under their own control (internal influences) or under the control of someone or something beyond their control (external influences).

Listed below are a few of the paired statements from the original Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale:

1a. Becoming a success is a matter of hard work; luck has little or nothing to do with it.
1b. Getting a good job depends mainly on being in the right place at the right time.

2a. Many of the unhappy things in people’s lives are partly due to bad luck.
2b. People’s misfortunes result from the mistakes they make.

3a. One of the major reasons why we have wars is because people don’t take enough interest in politics.
3b. There will always be wars, no matter how hard people try to prevent them.

5a. Many times I feel that I have little influence over the things that happen to me.
5b. It is impossible for me to believe that chance or luck plays an important role in my life.

4a. In the long run, people get the respect they deserve in this world.
4b. An individual’s worth often passes unrecognized no matter how hard he tries.

Since Rotter’s original work, many other researchers have studied Locus of Control, often seeking to determine if it can be used to predict outcomes in more targeted domains. Here are a few examples of Locus of Control scales that were developed for specific purposes:

The Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale is used to assess an individual’s belief in what influences their health.
The Drinking Locus of Control Scale is focused on alcoholics and those who regularly consume alcohol to assess whether the person believes they can control their drinking.
The Headache Specific Locus of Control Scale targets chronic headache sufferers and whether they seek treatment or not.
The Parental Health Belief Scales are used to assess the extent to which a parent believes they have control over their child’s health.
The Economic Locus of Control Scale is used to assess an individual’s belief in how much control they have over the work and money-related aspects of their lives.
The Traffic Locus of Control Scale was developed to investigate possible links between driver Locus of Control and risky or unsafe driving behavior.

John Jones and Lisa Wuebker co-developed the Safety Locus of Control Scale. Let’s describe some of their research and summarize the important findings. Continue Reading

Your dangerous wandering distracted mind

wandering mindDistractions are everywhere in our world.  We can be distracted while driving, while working, or while doing any number of routine tasks. In the work place, incident investigations reveal that tens of thousands of injuries each year occur when people are not focused on the task at hand.

Most everyone recognizes the dangers associated with being distracted while driving a motor vehicle.  Distracted driving is a leading contributor to automobile crashes.  For example, here are just a few statistics from several organizations dedicated to stopping texting and driving injuries and deaths:

  • Every year, about 421,000 people are injured in crashes that have involved a driver who was distracted in some way.
  • Each year, over 330,000 accidents caused by texting while driving lead to severe injuries. This means that over 78% of all distracted drivers are distracted because they have been texting while driving.
  • 1 out of 4 car accidents in the US are caused by texting while driving.
  • Texting and driving is 6 times more likely to get you in an accident than drunk driving.
  • It takes an average of three seconds after a driver’s mind is taken off the road for any road accident to occur.
  • Reading a text message while driving distracts a driver for a minimum of five seconds each time.
  • The chances of a crash are increased by 23 times when you are texting.

Error Rate and Distraction

A recent Michigan State University study provides supporting evidence that being distracted significantly increases human error (which can result in an accident).

Participants in this study were asked to perform a series of tasks in order, such as identifying with a keystroke whether a letter was closer to the beginning or end of the alphabet. Of course, a certain number of errors were made even without interruptions.

Occasionally the participants were told to input two unrelated letters — which took about 3 seconds — before returning to their task. These slight interruptions led to participants making twice as many mistakes when they returned to their sequencing task.

In addition, there are a number of studies and/or exercises which prove that humans cannot consciously complete more than one task at a time.  Indeed, one author has labeled the so-called skill of multi-tasking as “worse than a lie.”  No matter how you look at it, being distracted (for any reason) significantly increases the risk of making a mistake and/or being injured.

Unfortunately, we are not only distracted by something in our environment, but simply by the way our minds operate!

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How can we get employees to speak up (when they see risky behavior)?

Speak UpVictor has over 20 years experience in the warehouse.  You have a few years of experience and were just hired a few weeks ago.  Today, you are working as a team, unloading pallets of packaged materials that were delivered from the dock. As both of you approach the first pallet, Victor takes a position directly in front of the strapping that is straining under tension.  You see that this puts him in the line of fire. Instinctively, you take a step back when Victor pulls a pair of snips from his pocket to cut the strapping…

Do you speak up? Do you stop him?  Are you sure?

Perhaps you would say something.  But a surprising number of people in this situation would stay silent. Their thought process would be something like, “Surely he must know how to perform this task safely. He’s done it thousands of times.  I’m the rookie here.  Who am I to question his experience and job knowledge?”

Peer pressure is a powerful social influence.  Most of us are fearful of being considered an outcast if we are the dissenter, especially if we have less informal authority than other people in our natural work group.

You may think of peer pressure as overt statements from co-workers. “Look, this is the way things are done around here.”  But this is not always the case.  In the scenario above, Victor did not have to remind you about his seniority and experience.  It was implied and understood.

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Control or Caring? What is your motive for a safety conversation?

Most organizations that seek to achieve safety excellence realize that this performance level can only be attained with strong leadership.  When it comes to safety, there are two prevalent leadership philosophies. There is a stark contrast between the resulting safety cultures. We can better understand the differences by realizing that each is grounded in very different motives.  One approach emphasizes control, while the other starts with caring.

Control = Compliance

Some managers define “strong leadership” as carrying a big stick.  These managers believe that any time there is an injury or near miss, their principal responsibility is to hold people accountable.  In practice, this means that the primary reason they have any safety conversation is to exert more control.

These managers believe that if people would simply comply with the policies, rules, and procedures, then no one would get hurt.  Armed with this reasoning, they strive for greater control by criticizing actions that are inconsistent with established policies.  Safety conversations center on correcting errant behaviors through counseling or discipline.

Culture of ComplianceThis safety philosophy leads to a Culture of Compliance.

The graphic shown here demonstrates the actions which lead to this kind of safety culture, which is summarized in the following statement:

If the reason (Why) you have any safety conversation is to exert control, the approach will be to criticize (How) and seek compliance through correction (What).

A Culture of Compliance results in a false sense of improved safety performance, because many incidents are driven underground.  The official safety numbers may look good. However, the number of unreported near misses and unrecorded minor injuries are indicative of an insidious safety culture. Because the causes are never acknowledged and addressed, they accumulate until a significant event occurs. Continue Reading