Some may wonder why the 14th banker is talking so much about BP. It is because I see in BP what I see in big banks. The failures of the company are well documented already and will be exhaustively documented over time. This article talks about systemic failure in the BP organization as evidenced by its response to safety issues among those involved in clean up efforts.
The article states matters is pretty straightforward ways. Let me color them a little differently. What is happening in our large corporations is a magnification of what happens in society in general. In general, humans are fallible. Some things are done right, some things done wrong. Right and wrong are judging terms and get all caught up in moral passions, so sometimes the terms skillful and unskillful are used. It might be said that something that has been done right, has been done skillfully. An error may be doing something unskillfully. Being unskillful is not as harsh a description as saying something has been done wrong. However, that does not relieve the unskillful action of its consequence. In large corporations, there is a tendency for more things to be done unskillfully. Now I know some would argue that to the death. They would say that in a large corporation there is more expertise, training, specialization, resources, mentoring, etc. Those things are all true but they refer to narrow job skills, not to life skills, emotional skills, social skills, ethical skill, and yes, moral skills or cognitive skills. You might say in regard to the oil spill, they are the skills that kill.
BP said it’s deployed 22,000 workers to combat the spill, which experts now estimate has spewed 37 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico . At this point, much of the oil remains offshore.
What is BP saying here? That they have done enough? BP is operating within its paradigm, which says, if we respond according to industry protocols we will be effective in mitigating this disaster? Also, how do they define the disaster? Is it primarily an environmental disaster or a financial disaster?
“The organizational systems that BP currently has in place, particularly those related to worker safety and health training, protective equipment, and site monitoring, are not adequate for the current situation or the projected increase in clean-up operations,” Michaels said in the memo.
“I want to stress that these are not isolated problems,” he continued. “They appear to be indicative of a general systemic failure on BP’s part, to ensure the safety and health of those responding to this disaster.”
With all of BP’s problems, would they consciously add to their problems by neglecting to provide for reasonable safety for responders? There are two possible answers. Yes, and no. If yes, it is because they are making rational decisions that this is the lesser of two evils. They need the PR benefit of showing all these workers out there more than they worry about the sickness of the workers. Probably, this is based money centric decision-making. I heard yesterday on the radio about a worker that went through training, was called up to work, and decided to quit instead of working because the pay was not worth it. So for perhaps $5 extra per hour BP wasted the training and had an empty safety suit instead of a worker. Spend an extra $10 million and put people to work safely.
If no (remember the question) then they are simply unconscious regarding the matter. Can this be possible? Cognitive Bias would say yes. This is a way big list on Cognitive Bias on Wikipedia. The problem with big corporations including BP and large banks, is that they reinforce cognitive bias and make individuals unskillful. Revolutionary idea? I live it.
Graham MacEwen , a spokesman for BP, maintained that his company is being responsive to any problems as they develop.
Ask the people of Louisiana about this. Confirmation Bias. Normalcy Bias, Belief Bias.
— Concerns that BP’s manager of workplace safety “does not appear to operate with the full support of the company, nor does he seem to have the authority necessary for the job which he has been tasked.”
BP obviously has a bureaucratic process based on Illusion of Control.
“We strongly suggest that BP place someone in this position who has the authority and the ability to make changes expediently in order to address the safety and health of cleanup workers.”
— BP not addressing concerns about heat stroke. “There continue to be multiple heat-related incidents each day, some of which have been serious.”
Wishful Thinking, Optimism Bias
Jordan Barab , deputy assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said that OSHA is doing what it can to urge BP to release more data, and so far doesn’t think that cleanup workers needed more extensive training.
“From what we know now about the hazard the workers are facing, we think the four-hour training is adequate,” he said. “That being said, we are constantly reassessing what’s going on down there.”
On part of government, possible Expectation Bias, Normalcy Bias, Neglect of Probability, Optimism Bias
So this is a quick look at the notion, rather obvious I suppose, that unskillful thinking is the norm in relation to most crisis. In fact, research shows that under pressure, cognitive biases become more dominant. This is why different perspectives must be brought into crisis scenarios. The tendency to gather around existing supposed experts to solve problems they created is self-defeating.
Simon addresses the same matters today in regard to the Treasury being stuck in its current thinking. One of his links in the post is this one on Cultural Capital, which is another form of Groupthink.