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Property Casualty

Safety Professionals — Are You Using Type 1 or Type 2 Thinking? It Matters!

Larry Poague
Larry Poague
Sr. Risk & Safety Consultant, Property Casualty

Research form Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” provides several examples that the human brain is operating with 90-95 percent Type 1 thinking and only uses Type 2 thinking 5 percent of the time.

Now, you may be asking, “OK, Larry, but what does this actually mean and what’s the difference between the types?”

I’ve got the answer for you!

  • Type 1 thinking — This type of thinking is thought to be inherently flawed in its decision capabilities. Type 1 thinking is often fraught with cognitive bias and simple, incomplete answers to complex issues.
  • Type 2 thinking — This type of thinking is considered the superior space to make decisions, and studies do prove that Type 2 thinking often results in long term positive results.

Knowing 90-95 percent of our brain is functioning with Type 1 thinking — and that’s the thinking that’s flawed — it’s a bit scary, don’t you think?

I’ve been teaching my 14-year-old to drive, and as we go through the process of learning, I’m often drawn back to Kahneman’s research. If we watch an MRI whenever someone learns something new, we see that many segments of the brain are engaged simultaneously. As I teach my teenager to go through the steps of getting ready to drive, more of the steps become habits each time and less brain power is needed to get the car ready to go.

As adults who have been driving for many years, we might consider ourselves experts. The scary part of releasing any new driver on the road is they are just developing the basic habits; they haven’t yet experienced the variables that occur once they are out driving — variables like rain, snow, and not-so-expert drivers. Traffic circles seem to throw a lot of experienced drivers off their game.

While I agree with Kahneman that we should strive for more Type 2 thinking, even he admits there is limited brain capacity and scarce resources to make this happen all the time.

Create Habits that Contribute to Safety Success

As a safety professional, I need to accept the fact that my employees are often going to be operating based on the habits they bring to the workplace and the habits we teach them during their orientation.

Think about my young driver again. We need to frequently and repeatedly instill key habits for success — like setting up your mirrors correctly, checking your tires, using your signal, keeping your following distance, and minimizing distraction.

I like that our state requires young drivers to spend considerable time driving with their parents before they are allowed a license. This really gives you time to imbed those habits, but this may be especially difficult in the workplace if someone arrives with bad habits.

Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” outlines steps for overcoming bad habits or developing new ones. We must make the new habit:

  • Easy to follow
  • Give signal cues to remind us to engage the new habit
  • Provide some sort of immediate positive reward for performing the new habit

Introduce Variables in Training to Combat Issues in Real-Life Scenarios

The last part of our orientation is a little more difficult. We must find ways to demonstrate at least some of the variables that may occur.

For my driver, I take them to the empty school parking lot on a snow day so we can practice stopping in the snow and recovering from a skid. In the workplace, so many accidents occur when the variables pop up, but if we haven’t created habits for the employee to fall back on to handle the variable, we’ve set them up for failure. Teaching employees habits through various scenarios with operations activities can help develop appropriate responses when an event occurs and prevent it from becoming an emergency.

As safety professionals, we must accept that our employees are operating in their Type 1 thinking space and the more fatigued, distracted, or variables they deal with, the less likely they will have an ideal outcome.

It’s the habits we help the employee develop that will ensure we reduce the possible variables that can go wrong, and if things do go wrong, the employee will have a habit to fall back on.

I encourage all you to apply a little Type 2 thinking and start developing the habits you want in your workforce, and if you want help creating them, just reach out to us.

Also, please stay safe out there on the road as my driver will soon be joining you!

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