The Yo-Yo Delusion and Conversations About Risk

Originally posted on July 25, 2015 @ 11:57 AM

The Yo-Yo Delusion and Conversations About Risk

iyoyoWhen we were kids we used to love the yo-yo craze. It was a time when a particular soft drink company got plenty of free promotion and yo-yo champions dazzled everyone. To view a recent yo-yo champion see here ( Since the 1960s the design of yo-yos has improved and the champions of today seem to be able to do anything with that spinning object. The yo-yo craze typifies the way humans become fascinated with objects and things and, we use the idiom of the ‘yo-yo’ to talk about fads and trends. Then when the next yo-yo craze comes we fall in love with the yo-yo again. Image Source

The word ‘technology’ is often incorrectly attributed to objects and things. Technology comes from the idea of ‘technique’ and is about design and the creative process. The famous French philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul makes the point (The Technological Bluff) that people tend to believe that all technique is universally good and positive. This is often because people can’t see beyond the object to the hidden philosophy embedded in its design. In order to best understand the distinction between design and object I will use Ellul’s word ‘technologie’ to indicate object and design. When we admire an object, we are admiring technologie (the object itself and embedded philosophical purpose).

So, we now have the most amazing gadgets and tools in our hands, tools we thought were science fiction when we were kids in 1960. When Dick Tracey talked visually to someone else on a wristwatch, we thought that would be amazing. Little did we know that such an object would exist in our lifetime.

Recently the Riskex blog introduced us to Google Glass with the caption, ‘new safety technology’. I think we need to be a little cautious about what we attribute to technologie. The belief in the universal good of technologie creeps in with ease. However, let’s consider a few questions. What is Google Glass designed to do? What uncertainties are created by the ability to create it? How will it enhance human relationships and human engagement? What is the hidden trajectory of this object? How will it create safety? How will it generate human understanding and management of risk and learning? The purpose of a yo-yo is to entertain and distract and it does a great job of that but how does it create relationships and well being?

I have designed and delivered supervisor development programs for many years and without doubt the major issue for supervisors is effective communication skills. Many supervisors are promoted quickly to supervision and yet receive little skill development in communication skills. Many supervisors are expected to assist in the understanding and management of risk but lack the skills required to communicate and consult about risk. There is a handbook (HB327:2009 Communicating and Consulting About Risk) that accompanies the Risk Management Standard AS/NZS ISO 31000:2010 but very few supervisors have seen it or been trained in it.

So whilst we have beaut iPhones and iPads, computers and safety simulators, many supervisors lack the fundamentals in motivating, inspiring and engaging with others in risk. Indeed, organisations offer heaps of safety training for supervisors with little focus on how to best engage others, conversations skills, motivation skills and learning. Indeed, in zero harm organisations (yet another fad) the focus is on counting not learning. The preoccupation with everything zero primes humans to calculative reporting and thinking. Zero primes a punitive mindset, any number other than zero is failure to achieve the goal.

The crazy thing about technologie is that despite all claims that it creates ‘the paperless office’, we now have more paperwork than ever before. Despite all claims made about social media and improved communication we have just as much loneliness, anxiety and depression in our society as ever indeed, indeed, these are on the increase. So we can skype across the world but can’t get along with our neighbour. Whilst we may delight in Google Glass, many people still don’t know how to undertake an effective risk walk and conversation.

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