Archive for month: December, 2015

We Need Communities and They Need Us

 As Hugh McKay reminds us in his book, The Art of Belonging;

We rely on communities to support and sustain us, and if those communities are to survive and proposer, we must engage with them and nurture them. That’s the beautiful symmetry of human society; we need communities and they need us.

(McKay, 2014, p.1)

We know that as humans we are social creatures and being part of a community gives us meaning and purpose. Communities are about connecting and being with others and we strive to ‘belong’ as isolation can be the hardest emotion to deal with. When we are in community with others, we give as well as receive and it seems that we need communities and they need us.

I wonder though if at times we use the term ‘community’ too easily? Do we reflect enough to consider what we mean when we talk of ‘community’? I thought of these questions as I shared in community over the past few days.


We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

Author:         Robert Sams

Phone:            0424 037 112



Facebook:      Follow Dolphyn on Facebook

Dolphyn Newsletter #6 – Reflecting on 2015

“Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis”

Etienne Wenger
Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge
2015 was an exciting time for everyone involved with Dolphyn. For our ‘Community of Practice’ we completed our post-graduate program in the Social Psychology of Risk. This has been a wonderful ‘learning adventure’ which provides some great insights and understanding of ‘why we do what we do’, along with the importance of understanding how social arrangements are critical in our decisions and judgments about risk.

We were also fortunate to work and share experiences with some wonderful people and organisations throughout the year with many highlights, some of which are outlined below. We thank everyone who has been part of our 2015, and look forward to continuing to connect and learn with you all in 2016.


I Just Don’t Know

I Just Don’t Know

I was talking with a friend recently who works in risk and safety. They shared a story about how a relatively serious incident had occurred at their company and despite a very thorough and detailed examination of the events that lead up to and followed the incident, the reason(s) that it occurred could not be found. It was a complete mystery as to why the things happened the way that they did. My friend said to me “I just don’t know how this come about, it’s got me buggered”.

I remember reading in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow his theory about how if people don’t know the answer to a question asked of them, one option they can take is provide an answer to a different question on a topic that they do know about. Politicians, through spin, are obvious examples of this, but Kahneman’s point is that this is something that we are all prone to do at times, particularly when there are social pressures in place that make it awkward not to provide no answer.

In your work in risk and safety, have you ever felt the pressure to provide an answer in a tight timeframe? Have you ever provided an answer that was plausible and ‘could be’ right, but you weren’t quite sure, because you didn’t have the time to think things through, if it was?

Have you ever made stuff up just to complete a report on time? Stuff that might have been right, sounded like it was right, and to others could be right, but to be honest, you couldn’t be sure? These may be challenging questions, but we can learn so much by reflecting on them and it can be useful to further examine the social arrangements and context in which we may make such decisions.

It can be a challenge in risk and safety at times to say “I just don’t know”. There are often social, cultural and organizational factors and expectations that ‘answers will be found’. Systematic and linear approaches to incident reviews are often mute on such factors and expectations, the focus is usually “Just Get to the Bottom of it”. When this is the focus, when our incident reviews are solely systematic reviews, do we limit opportunities for learning from the incident? Could it be that the more mechanistic our response, the less we ‘think’ and reflect humanly about what has happened?

So why is this? Why do we find it terribly difficult at times to say “I just don’t know”.

Read the full article that I first published here.

Work-Life Balance – What’s The Message?

Work-Life Balance – What’s the Message?

I first published this post HERE

There is a lot of talk these days in organisations about ‘work-life balance’. You can attend training courses (short online courses are the best I find if you want to make major changes in your life J), participate in coaching programs and even enroll in courses run by universities. There seems to be a myriad of help available if you want to find the right balance in your life between work and life.

But what is the real message when organisations talk of ‘work-life balance’? Is it some magical formula for better time management? Is it better organising things so you spend more time doing the things you enjoy? Is it about ‘choosing’ life rather than work at important times?

Or, is ‘work-life balance’ just another slogan developed with the aim of pretending that the health and wellbeing of people is a care for the organisation? I do wonder when I hear of how some leaders in organisations talk of ‘work-life balance’.

For example, I recently came across this article from the Business Insider Website which is titled 17 Highly Successful Executives Explain How They Balance Work and Life. In particular, I was struck by one of the ‘solutions’ to ‘work-life balance’ offered up in the article by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who described one key strategy in achieving ‘work-life balance’ as:

Marissa Mayer took only two weeks’ maternity leave when her son was born. But she didn’t compromise on spending time with her newborn: She had a nursery built next to her office.

Of course not everyone has the opportunity to bring their children to work. For those workers, Mayer offers a simple suggestion: ‘Find your rhythm.’

So, ‘work-life balance’ is really easy, you simply build a nursery in order to take care of the challenges of looking after a newborn child, or if for some strange reason this is out of reach for you, an even simpler suggestion is to ‘find your rhythm’. There you have it, work-life balance’ achieved in a couple of simple steps. I wonder why we complicate things in life sometimes when simple answers are right there in front of us.

I wonder what message this CEO is trying to portray in sharing this story? Is it that if she, as a busy CEO with a newborn child, can get her life ‘balanced’ and in control, so should you? I didn’t hear a story of ‘work-life balance’ when I read this article, instead I heard a story of control, wealth and power. Funny how we can say one thing but really mean another.

Another example of organisations talking ‘work-life balance’ but really meaning something different is within a large organisation in Australia. I was talking with one of their managers this week and they told me how they “continually bang on about work-life balance, but nothing really changes”. When I asked them what this meant, they said there were no changes to the requirement to work six days per week and 12 hours per day and no changes to the mandatory taking of leave when it suited the organisation, just a mantra that everyone must take ‘work-life balance’ seriously. I really have no idea what this organisation means when they talk of ‘work-life balance’, but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with looking after the health and wellbeing of people working in it. Maybe what they really mean is that they need to better ‘balance’ their leave liabilities?

Maybe ‘work-life balance’ for senior leaders in some organisations is just another myth that they want to believe in and perpetuate through their organisation? Maybe one of the sacrifices one needs to ‘make it to the top’, is a life with little ‘balance’ between work and life?

I’m reminded of the story of Brenda Barnes who was the President of Sara Lee Corporation during the time I worked there some years ago. Brenda visited Australia in 2009 for a series of meetings where she shared updates on company performance, talked of plans for the future, recognised achievements by our local team and fielded questions from the staff. I asked Brenda a question about how she goes about achieving ‘work-life balance’. So how did Brenda answer my question?

One might think that she would come out with an amazing array of time management techniques that she employs and talk of discipline and order. How wrong was I to think this is how she would answer. Instead, in a pleasingly honest way Brenda responded by saying something like: “For me, there is no such thing as work-life balance. In times gone by I used to play golf on Saturday’s but that’s now gone. My daughter is taken care of by a Nanny, and I barely fit in exercise between the hectic schedule of work that includes so much travel. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but as the President of a large corporation, work-life balance just doesn’t exist.”

While a little shocked at first, I later reflected on Brenda’s answer and though how refreshing it was to hear honesty and frankness; there was no spin in her answer, just rawness and reality. There was no talk of how amazing she was and making those listening feel less adequate, in fact, the impression she left me with was that it was a hard slog and instead of balance, she actually compromised, and compromised a lot. It was different to the story of the other CEO.

I left Sara Lee soon after this and I was surprised to learn that not too long after meeting Brenda that: “In May 2010, Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes was at a Tuesday-night training session at a gym in suburban Chicago. She stepped away from the bench press, dragged her left foot, and collapsed to the floor. She couldn’t get up.” (source –

It seems those compromises had an unfortunate impact on Brenda’s life. Her many years of travel and hard work resulted in a serious illness that she is still dealing with today. Could it be that the stroke made Brenda’s life better, as it has been reported that; “Today Barnes is in some ways healthier than she’s ever been. “I may not be able to move every part of my body, but I feel great,” she says. She is sleeping 10 to 12 hours a night instead of six. Sleep is such a healer.”

When organisations talk of ‘work-life balance’ what is the real message? What is the discourse? Is there action accompanying the message or is it just rhetoric? If organisations cared for better ‘work-life balance’ would they talk more of autonomy support (Deci) and allow people to have more control and choice in what they do?

I wonder whether instead of talking of ‘work-life balance’, our focus should be on what brings meaning to our life, including work? Are organisations interested in this, or is the focus on efficiency? Should we spend more time critically thinking about what our purpose is and what we can do to achieve it? Is life really balanced? Or, is it a constant journey where we have to navigate through ‘messiness’, learning and discovering things as we go?

What does ‘work-life balance’ mean for you?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

Author:          Robert Sams

Phone:            0424 037 112


Facebook:      Follow Dolphyn on Facebook


Zero Harm, Santa Claus and Other Such Myths

I first published this post HERE

Zero Harm, Santa Claus and Other Such Myths

It’s beginning to look at lot like….. well you know the song. It’s that time of the year where you can’t take a trip to the shopping centre (mall) without the sounds of carols and other Christmas songs dominating the airwaves. It’s also that time of the year where Children may start to ask questions and challenge ideas and beliefs they have held throughout their formative years.

We recently had ‘that’ conversation with our daughter who has grown to an age where it’s no longer plausible to her that some guy can make enough toys for all the kids in the world and deliver them in one night. The spin of “oh that’s just one of Santa’s Helpers” that we have preached for years when asked about how there can be so many ‘Santa’s’ just no longer washes with a 12 year old who is now more capable of critically thinking and questioning. Of course, she has probably not believed in the myth of Santa Claus for some years now, but playing along with a myth for a while is part of the deal, right?

When kids get to this stage in life, the relationship between child and parent changes. On the one hand it feels special as we become closer because we now share something that was previously a secret. At the same time, it’s a little sad because there is less fantasy and innocence and a sign that she is growing up and asking more questions and exploring things for herself, she is becoming more independent. It can be a challenging time as a parent. I certainly feel less in control and my parenting style must move to one based much more on faith, trust and support if I want my daughter to grow up and learn things for herself. I’m not that into ‘Bonsai Parenting’, just like I’m not that into safety….

But there is another side to the myth of Santa Claus that I think is worthy of further exploration. While the man in the big red suit can stand for joy, happiness, hope and of course gifts for children, there are other messages in the myth of Saint Nick. A message of control, fear and individualism. How many parents use ‘the big fella’ as a way to effectively blackmail kids into behaving with threats such as “if you don’t clean your room (insert any other chore here), then Santa won’t come to you”. Or, that old chestnut “have you been naughty or nice?”. For some, the end goal for being obedient is gifts from Santa Claus, not caring and sharing with others.

Like most things in life, the more critically we think about them, the more we can learn and understand. When we think about some of the social psychological lessons of the semiotic of Santa Claus, he may not just be the nice guy he’s made out to be. There is so much we can learn from the unconscious messages that a ‘father figure’ dressed in a red suit and who demands obedience must do to children. Obedience comes from control and fear.

If we really care about others, whether that is our children or people we work with, we need to resist the temptation to think that we can control their every thought, their every move and prevent them from making mistakes (or experiencing harm). If we truly care for others, like so many in risk and safety profess they do, shouldn’t our focus be on freedom rather than obedience and control?

I thought of this as I watched this video recently from a company that preaches Zero Harm for all of their people. In the video the spokesperson for the organisation claims:

“Over the past five years, all of the 6000 people at Aurizon have come to believe that we can achieve Zero Harm and that we can eliminate all injuries in our workplace”

While I don’t know of this company personally, and nor do I know of the person talking in the video, I can’t help but hear the non-conscious messages blasting out at me as I listen to this statement. The message that is crying out to me is something along the lines of; “if any of the 6000 of you think for a minute that you can have an injury and the associated freedom to live your life as you wish to, you just don’t belong here, so don’t even think about it. No-one has an injury here OK. No-one, not ever!”.

I wonder if this is much different to the threat of; you better clean your room or else…..? Maybe Santa Claus is the perfect metaphor for Zero Harm companies. Have you been naught(y) or nice? Life is black and white in the world of Zero Harm and for Santa. Both can sound romantic and ideal, but of course both are not quite real. Both Zero Harm and Santa are myths.

Zero Harm is not about care and freedom, it is instead about control. There can be no freedom when the goal is perfection and where the aim is to oppress and restrain, not live and to ‘be’. Zero is Zero, not ‘kinda’ or ‘sorta’ zero, it’s an absolute. Absolutes = perfection, no debate, no discussion, just Zero.

But what is wrong with having a goal or aspiration where no one is harmed or injured? For example, the same company also suggests that:

“The focus of course is eliminating all injuries”

While it is easy to jump to the conclusion that this is the perfect aspiration for an organisation to publically profess, like all decisions and judgments we make, it comes with trade-offs and associated by-products. When our goal is for no harm, no risk and where mistakes are tolerated, this also means that there is stifled learning, reduced freedom and suppressed thinking.

I have struggled for a while now about why it is that as humans we find it hard to deal with the idea that harm and pain can only be negative? I suspect from my discussions with many in risk and safety, that I am not alone in this struggle. Harm, injury and pain are not easy concepts to think through. While pain can hurt, whether that is for ourselves, or others, it can also help us learn, and build resilyence and understanding. So how can this be?

On the recommendation of a close friend, I’ve recently been reading a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross called On Grief and Grieving. This is a book that can help with an understanding of what it means to suffer and grieve as a human. Kubler-Ross suggests that;

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.”

I suspect that Kubler-Ross’ book would certainly be a challenge for many who work in risk and safety and especially those who espouse ‘Zero Harm’. If we believe that harm and pain can only be bad, perhaps we have restricted our view too much? Perhaps our hanging onto this belief is no different to a child who knows that Santa can’t be true, but believing and continuing with the myth is easier than facing reality?

I remember when I first came to the wonder whether my favourite toy was chosen by my parents and not Santa, it was difficult to accept. I was in a state of, “hhmm if I speak up, it will upset my parents, but at the same time, it also seems like such a silly idea, but… maybe it is true?”. It can be like that feeling of ‘mental gymnastics’ that we feel when something challenges a belief that we have held for a long time, and we can see a point with it, but it’s a real struggle to let go of what we have believed for so long, and we don’t want to upset those who espouse the myth. Talk about tension…!

Perhaps Zero Harm is the same? Now that we are a little older, more mature and wiser, perhaps it’s time to get on with things and accept it for the myth that it is. Believing in Santa Claus at age 41 just doesn’t make sense to me anymore, ditto with the mythology of ‘Zero Harm’. When we wish for no harm, we also wish for no learning, no risk and no discovery. It is restrictive, controlling and dominating. As Kubler-Ross says;

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”

It can be so easy to be seduced into ‘protecting’ in the name of care, but there are also trade-offs and by-products, some obvious, some not so. Let’s see the ‘true beauty’ in people, not their ability to obey.

Zero Harm is not a model of leadership; it is a model of ignorance, a model of control, a model of obedience and is dehumanising by restricting freedom. Just like Santa being used to blackmail kids to behave, the fear of being injured also conjures obedience and subsequently an obeyience culture.

To live a life with the delusion of no harm is not to be human, it is to be controlled. To behave as a child because of the fear of no presents is perhaps no different. It’s a difficult tension we face in risk and safety, accepting that someone may be harmed while on the way to freedom, doesn’t seem to roll comfortably off the tongue, but we must explore this further. We must challenge ourselves to let go of control and embrace freedom.

Otherwise, we may as well continue to think that Rudolf and his mates ate all of the carrots and milk we left at the front door when we were kids.

And finally…. for all those who are now saying, “so, you don’t believe in zero harm, how many people do you want to injure tomorrow?” I’m just not into binary thinking.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

Author:           Robert Sams

Phone:             0424 037 112



Facebook:      Follow Dolphyn on Facebook