It’s Knowing ‘Y’ That Matters

Dolphyn recently launched our new brand and website ( This involved a change not only to our name, but also the focus of what we do, which is supporting people and organisations to better understand and deal with risk. We do this by developing and implementing programs where participants learn how people make decisions and judgments about risk.

At Dolphyn, we believe that it’s knowing ‘Y’ that matters.

When we focus our attention and effort on supporting people to better understand ‘why’, they will have a better chance of being able to do what we would like them to do because they may learn about a particular matter or process rather than simply repeating or regurgitating what you have told them.

‘Knowledge’ and ‘knowing Y’ though, are complex subjects. In my experience, particularly in the risk and safety industry, they are often not well understood or considered. There seems to be little time in risk and safety to think about ‘knowledge’ and I hope through this Blog, and Dolphyn’s renewed focus on this topic, that we can slowly work on changing this.

I’ve observed already that ‘knowledge’ is a complex topic, so we can start exploring it by looking at a definition.

Let’s first consider the ‘Wiki’ definition which is; “Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning” (

This means that knowledge is not just about remembering numbers, quotes and citations (facts), it is not just about intelligence and awareness of ‘stuff” (something), it is also that familiarity, awareness and so importantly an understanding of ‘someone’ (people). Knowledge is as much about understanding people than it is about having an understanding of facts, objects and things.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding knowledge. Through my studies in social psychology, I’m learning so much more about ‘Epistemology’ which is the study and exploration behind the philosophy of ‘knowledge’. This Blog, and my limited knowledge, doesn’t allow for any commentary on epistemology, however, it is something that I am learning to understand better and recognize the importance of.

So what has this to do with how we deal with risk and safety? Why is it important to understand that it’s knowing ‘Y’ that matters?

As I’ve noted above, on the whole I believe that knowledge is something that is not well understood in the risk and safety industry. I regularly see very simplified definitions of what ‘knowledge’ means and how it should be applied in our industry. It is worth pausing for a moment to consider this further.

One example is the recently (2012) introduced concept of ‘Due Diligence’ in Health and Safety law in some States of Australia . The laws state that there are six ways that organisations and key people (‘Officers’) can demonstrate ‘Due Diligence’. One of those is to “Acquire and keep up to date knowledge of WHS”. So let’s explore what this really means?

If we look to the website for the NSW regulator (see – (WorkCover NSW Due Diligence Guide) we see is that they outline these six steps and provide some (minimal) guidance on what each of the six steps means and how people can actually demonstrate them. There are the key steps that WorkCover describe as examples of how to keep up to date with ‘knowledge’ on WHS matters include. Each of the five points are about facts, objects, law and publications. Not one mention of ‘knowing’ people or anything about them!

Safe Work Australia (SWA) in their SWA Interpretative Guide explain that ‘knowledge’ means ‘knowing’ “what the WHS Act requires and the strategies and processes for elimination or minimisation of hazards and risks so far as is reasonably practicable”.

Again, the focus is on law, objects, hazards and nothing about people. Even where SWA do attempt to mention people (SWA Presentation) they do this in the context of people being part of a system.

People are not objects that should be considered part of a system. People think, they feel and they make decisions and judgments. We are all different in so many ways. When we try to fit people into the construct of a system, these factors (thinking, feeling and decisions) are often not considered as we attempt to simplify and control how people behave. Enough of that for now, that’s the topic for another post.

So if ‘knowledge’ of people is just as important of knowledge of objects and laws, what does this mean for people in the risk and safety industry and how can we go about this? Here are a few tips that you may want to consider in improving your ‘knowledge’ of people:

  • Firstly, recognise that having ‘knowledge’ of people is not possible without first having relationship with a person. In order to ‘become familiar’, ‘be aware of’ and ‘understand’ people, we need to have effective conversations. We need to listen to them by asking good open questions, and we need to suspend our own agenda in order to better ‘know’ more about the other person.
  • We also need to be aware of, recognise and understand heuristics and biases and the role that these play in decision making. Without understanding that people have biases, we can be quick to jump to conclusions about them and give us a false sense of ‘knowledge’ about them.
  • We need to know more about ourselves so we can learn about others. One way to do this is to understand Personality Type (see – Dolphyn Services – MBTI) and understanding more about how different ‘types’ of people act and gain their energy in different ways.
  • A final tip is that we need to be aware that people have ‘bounded rationality’ (you can read more about this here – Dolphyn Blog – Flooding) and that ‘flooding’ people with information is one of the greatest causes of incident because they become distracted with so much detail. We need to think about how people ‘sift’ through all of the information that is provided to them and consider how they ‘discern’ what knowledge is valuable and what is not?

These are just a few tips and areas that you might like to explore. The subject of ‘knowledge’ is detailed and complex. My concern is that if we stick with the simplified approaches to ‘knowledge’ that are currently adopted in risk and safety, that we will continue to focus on objects, laws and process and not understand people any better.

So ‘knowing’ is more than just objects, laws and science. It is about people.

At Dolphyn we are intrigued about ‘knowledge’ and we continue our quest to learn more about it. We enjoy helping organisations understand that It’s knowing why that matters, and we hope you enjoy us sharing this story with you.

Author:   Robert Sams
Phone:     0424 037 112

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