A few months ago, I visited a ship all excited to put my knowledge about ‘learning from what goes well’ into practice. I thought I knew perfectly well what I needed to make it work. Instead of focusing on accidents, I will focus on everyday work, pay careful attention to the context, observe the gap between documented manuals and ‘real’ work and encourage people to talk about what really works. Simple.
Like an overzealous inspector, I approached an able seaman and asked, “Raymond*, can you talk me through how you lower the lifeboat from the start to the end?” After a long and uncomfortable silence, Raymond replied, “I will tell you everything about the lifeboat, but I want to share something else first if it’s OK, sir. The company has introduced a new tax on our earnings. As seafarers, we never had to pay taxes on our income before and it’s not small money. It’s almost 30% of our earning, and it puts us in a very difficult situation.” Raymond continued for a few minutes while other crew members joined us in the conversation. By now I was starting to get irritated. This was not really my question I said to myself. I was there to learn from what goes well.