Motivation, Learning and Risk

Motivation, Learning and Risk

imageMotivation, like learning is not a neutral concept. How one thinks motivation and learning work, is directly connected to ones’ worldview, psychology of goals and one’s theory of knowing (epistemology). For example, if one holds a behaviourist view about motivation one believes that humans are motivated simply by inputs to create outputs. This mechanistic worldview creates a system based on this belief and then wonders why is rarely works. Once the worldview has been normalized as it has been in safety, it creates enormous pressure (cognitive dissonance) to reject such a view or even question it. Indeed, what Safety does is demonise any view other than such a view under the rubric of compliance/engineering and by making the framework for learning binary, stifling learning and open enquiry. The binary ideology of zero is the greatest inhibitor of learning indeed, learning can never advance in any organization anchored to zero.

This has huge implications for understanding why people do what they do. More so, in the risk and safety world we see how this has shaped event explanation and how such a view rationalizes decision making. What follows is an investigation method developed on the basis of a behaviourist assumption that fits the nature of events to its assumption. Most safety investigations methods work like this. Most safety investigation methods shape the messiness of human activity to a construct order and linearity that doesn’t exist, but it makes for a quick and tidy outcome that most often misrepresents what happened.

The first question we need to ask of any investigation method is: what methodology of motivation and learning is assumed in the method?

There are numerous theories of motivation eg. Moslow’s, Herzberg’s, Expectancy Theory, McGregor’s, Moskowitz’ and Higgins. Similarly, there are many theories of learning as represented here: I have discussed this before in relation to investigations methodologies ). Most in safety would be surprised that there are so many contested methodologies associated with motivation and learning. Just read any safety work on learning and you will find a simplistic assumption that learning is singular, objective and uniform. All of this ‘wickedity’ about learning and motivation is 101 for the Education profession indeed, such knowledge is essential for professionalism. Putting one’s head in the proverbial sand of simplistic wishful thinking is not being professional.

So, when Safety talks about learning or motivation the first question should be: what theory of learning and motivation are you referring to? You won’t hear this question being asked in safety.

Unfortunately, you won’t find any sophisticated discussion of motivation or learning in Safety. Such is the dynamic of behaviourism ( ) in the safety industry that it holds back any approach to advance understanding of learning and motivation. A behaviourist method gets a behaviourist outcome but it in no way represents an open enquiry.

In the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) we approach learning and motivation from the perspective of Socialitie, the assumption that human persons operate in relational dialectic with themselves, others and the environment. Persons, regardless of reward and punishment, are much more motivated by meaning, purpose and relational control. As a good start is to read Higgins, T., (2012) Beyond Pleasure and Pain. Oxford. London.

However, some things are quite sure about popular beliefs in safety about motivation, these are:

  • People are NOT motivated by paperwork!
  • People are NOT motivated by injury rates!
  • People are NOT motivated by policing!

Yet what does Safety most do? These three things. How does this make sense?

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