Culture and Risk Workshop – Feedback

imageWe recently completed a 5-session workshop on Culture and Risk with 50 highly experienced risk and safety people from across the globe. The program served as a taster for how SPoR understands culture. Normally the program delivery for the program is 3-5 days.

The program commenced by each participant watching a 3-day video series on an introductory culture program delivered to a Building and Construction Company in Sydney, Australia. From here there were a several readings that were critiqued from recent safety publications including deconstructing the common and popular mythologies that dominate safety.

Whenever or wherever you see the nonsense phrase: ‘culture is what we do around here’, you can be guaranteed whatever follows is NOT about culture.

Most safety publications on culture are NOT about culture but rather systems and behaviourism. This is why safety loves this dumb definition of culture (what we do around here).

Many of the publications in safety on culture are written by engineers or from an engineering mindset, and are not about culture. This is why there are some who command Safety not to talk about culture. Apparent culture is too hard, too confusing and ‘cloudy’. This is head-in-sand safety on full show.

So, after deconstructing the large volume of Safety mis-information about culture got each participant to explore what language and paralinguistics they associated with culture. Then through process of compare and contrast discovered that Safety doesn’t speak much about any of the things the participants associate with culture. Surprise, surprise. Indeed, even when Safety declares it is somehow ‘different’ it remains silent on culture or simply replicates traditional safety mythology about culture. BTW, apparently mythology is not a part of culture either.

Once we worked out that there is little alignment between a Safety understanding of culture and a common understanding of culture, we were able to leave Safety behind and focus on: experiential, embodied, semiotic, Poetic, Indigenous, aesthetic, Religious, mythological, gestural, linguistic, paralinguistic, ritual, affordant, hegemonic, metaphorical, mimetic and Transdisciplinary approaches to understanding culture.

The moment we left Traditional Safety behind we were then prepared for some heavy unlearning and re-learning about culture. Once one is prepared to leave behind the myths of Safety one enters a very steep learning curve.

So, instead of stating much more I will allow some of the feedback from participants to do the talking.

There is much to learn if one is prepared to take a leap of faith out of Traditional Safety and embraces Transdisciplinary/SPoR engagement with learning. Such learning is positive, constructive, practical and enlivening.

If you want to learn through SPoR about culture you can enrol for the online coaching program is you want:

See below a selection of participant feedback:

“Cultural Importance and its wicked problem. One that highlights living and being, unmeasurable but certainly felt” Your sessions have lifted my thinking, and strangely through unlearning have encouraged my deeper listening. My knowledge bias was having a stunning effect on several fronts. With a new learning in SPoR, coupled with a collective coherence and now looking to make the invisible visible. I am in a far better space of understanding. Certainly, true that, “If you don’t feel it, you don’t get it”.

Robert Kaye


Engaging with the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) has proven to be a thought-provoking experience. The process of learning and unlearning, as well as suspending my judgement, has been a rewarding challenge, especially when examining culture through this very distinctive perspective.

The realms of semiotics, linguistics, and the complexities of culture have significantly broadened my understanding of how cultures must be ‘felt’ as much as learned. By learning to analyse the underlying factors that are not readily visible, controllable, or measurable, we can all develop a deeper comprehension of risk and human fallibility. A highly recommended course should you wish to learn what you don’t learn in safety school.

Garry Mansfield


Great session – many thanks.

  1. People and culture are complex. Methods that seek to solve, measure, control can’t account for this reality.
  2. Culture is a wicked problem, hence can only tackle, not solve.
  3. Much of traditional safety may be effective for issues that can be physically engineered out, but have no relevance to the complexity of people and culture – e.g. Hierarchy of control.
  4. The application of systems/engineering/ control and policing approaches to cultural issues, can in fact drive further distance between sub-groups.
  5. There is so much happening unconsciously that drives human decision making – that is never considered in traditional approaches to safety – but is happening right now in every work site
Andrew Thornhill

What an incredible exciting journey to study culture in SPOR for just 5 short weeks.

My mind is full of new ideas about the future and what can be learned through a new lens… a different worldview for sure, one that involves:

Conversations, Walking with people each day, Building relationships, Listening, and Caring.  My job has seemed to change from measuring and counting to facilitating, stimulating, and motivating in my work.  Each day now is more relational and social and focused on the language used by all and helping others by facilitating consciousness.  I know that my work is so much more meaningful and complete because of my learning in SPOR.  It is interesting how SPOR changes work and home perspectives and creates an excitement that wasn’t there before.  The foundation to better understand culture has been laid.  I must walk with others arm and arm to experience culture fully.

Thank You Rob for beginning the process of creating in me a better way to tackle risk and safety – I feel I am entering into the cloud just a little bit!  Just a little!!

Billy Snead


Thank you for your time, patience and for facilitating my never ending journey of learning with SPoR. I know it’s become a cliché but I do wish I had come across SPoR and yourself years ago. The biggest accolade I can give you is, that my understanding and articulation of  learning is becoming intuitive.

I have behind me a lifetime of “safety” un-learning and an on-going learning about Risk.

Within my small sphere of influence the overriding feed back from the “shop floor” is a buy-in to a lack of teaching, telling, and a one size fits all generic view and preaching about safety, regulations and compliance. This has been replaced without exception to one of listening, confidence, relationship, ownership and risk awareness. Along with how they relate to each other under the influence of workplace cultural social arrangements.

David Floyd


I would like to emphasize the importance of the 5 sessions I attended on Culture, and how much we don’t know… the “behavioral” traps, the “human factors” traps, and the “risk perception” trainings that are brought by the safety area as a caring perspective, the importance of being… Nothing is further from real care, from listening. Understanding that knowledge is created from ignorance, mystery, and not from indoctrination or control over others. Recently, in a conversation about the possibility of a new program focused on listening, with people listening to other people, the first question that comes up is, “if the listener identifies something wrong, can they intervene right away?” It always comes back to “control”, there is no understanding of just going to listen and help. I have had the opportunity to participate in other modules, which greatly facilitated connecting the dots. I understand that this module, Culture, can be followed without the need for previous modules, as long as one is prepared for unlearning, prepared to face ignorance as something positive, and to face life and culture as a mystery.

Gustavo Saralegui


The five sessions on Culture and Risk were rich in new perspectives. Among other things, I really liked the SPoR approach and  used it to review past risk management contexts. I believe that this approach overlaps well with the needs of ethical deliberation in conflicting issues. With regard to culture, the discussion on the precedence of processes over culture, or of culture over processes particularly resonated with me. In the nuclear industry, safety culture assessments are primarily based on processes, but in a context where these processes derive from a culture that has developed over five decades. The intersect with national cultures explains why adjustments should be made to reach the same safety goal. Thanks for feeding our thoughts.

Georges Loiselle


I had not thought about the connection between how we understand culture and the way we think about the brain. I thought cognitive psychology was better than behaviorism because it got away from stimulus response. I knew Argyris had left out the emotional component, but I didn’t put the emotions together with culture. They are also connected with identity and persona. That makes so much sense!
It makes intellectual sense that our perception of risk is cultural, but the emotional piece is what gives it real power. It also explains for me why there is so much diversity within the same culture. I still believe that power relations is the main visible player but it wouldn’t be without the emotions.
So Mr. Spock was right and wrong. The eradication of emotions would end conflict, but we wouldn’t do much of anything without them.

Rosa Antonia Carrillo


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