Fukushima: a lesson for us all

2012

So, the outcome of the enquiry into the Fukushima disaster has now been declared.

"It was a profoundly man-made disaster — that could and should have been foreseen and prevented," said Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the commission's chairman, in the report's introduction. "And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response."

In 1978, a book entitled, Man-Made Disasters by sociologist Barry A Turner was published.

Based on his PhD thesis, "the Failure of Foresight", this was the first work to state that any organisation that seeks to "achieve a minimal level of co-ordination by persuading their decision-makers to agree that they will all neglect the same kind of consideration when they make a decision is building-in catastrophic potential."

Many of us are likely to have had personal experience of "a complex situation in which a number of parties handling a problem are unable to obtain precisely the same information about that problem so that many differing interpretations of the problem exist."

We also know that "when problems have vague, non-quantifiable goals and lack available routines for their solution, relying instead on ad hoc procedures, a variable disjunction of information is likely to be found."

Clear though these signs may be, most of us accept whatever company view we have been given and feel it inappropriate to think matters through for ourselves. Even if we do think for ourselves, we are not prepared to VOICE any misgivings because that would make us seem out of place - even though, should a disaster occur, 'out of placeness' is going to be the new reality for everyone involved.

Barry A. Turner was my husband and all sections in quotation marks in this article are from his book and the result of meticulous research into certain disasters that had occurred before the mid seventies.

Thirty five years later his stating that, "the more extensive a negentropic order-seeking system becomes, the greater is the potential which it also develops for the orderly dissemination of unintended consequences" should be blindingly obvious. Yet it describes exactly what so recently happened in Japan.

With this in mind any member of any organisation - particularly if it is large and has the reputation of being high reliability - should:

  1. Make the effort to find out where they are supposed to fit in and seek to fit in even better.
  2. Speak up against hierarchical practices that support individual hubris and limit company growth
  3. Speak up against self seeking that destroys trust and openly question societal and cultural practices that do the same
  4. Find out and keep in mind what has gone wrong before, so as to avoid the same thing happening again by default.
  5. Be prepared to be blamed and shamed for speaking up and pointing out problems if the alternative is the destruction of all they hold dear not to mention that of everyone else.
  6. Never assume that something which is part of company history - however obvious or major - is known and understood and doesn't need re voicing from time to time .

Information is vital to the well being of any company, and as many people as possible should be 'in the know' about why they are doing what they are doing and how to connect easily with others doing very different tasks.

I write about this today, because my own work has been profoundly influenced by Barry's way of thinking.

Based on the premise that no one way of saying something can be clear enough for varied audiences to understand. I stress that it is essential that presenters first find out and understand for themselves the information they want to share and then voice it clearly and cleanly in ways appropriate to the audience being addressed.

To gain and maintain audience interest I suggest that clients speak powerfully using a full range of pitch and volume. Shouting should only be used to gain instant and full attention in an emergency.

To ensure that as many recipients as possible get chance to understand the information being conveyed, I ask clients to make sure that different vocabulary be used and different slides prepared for different audiences - no matter how time consuming and inconvenient this may seem.

The sole purpose of all images should be to cement information in listener's minds no matter how tempting it may be for presenters to prepare slides merely as aides memoires for themselves.

All of us are communicative components in a machine that is essential to the smooth running of human existence. Though one duff presentation based on misinformation may be a terrifying ordeal for just one individual, multiply that one by the number of such presentations being delivered around the world and you get personal disasters a plenty.

The simple recipe that Barry Turner provided for us all is that disaster equals energy plus MIS-information.

The sooner we all become seriously intent on coupling energy with VALID-information the sooner the world can become a safer place.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.