By @SimonCocking review of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson. Available from Wiley here.

Conquer the most essential adaptation to the knowledge economy

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth offers practical guidance for teams and organizations who are serious about success in the modern economy. With so much riding on innovation, creativity, and spark, it is essential to attract and retain quality talent—but what good does this talent do if no one is able to speak their mind? The traditional culture of “fitting in” and “going along” spells doom in the knowledge economy. Success requires a continuous influx of new ideas, new challenges, and critical thought, and the interpersonal climate must not suppress, silence, ridicule or intimidate. Not every idea is good, and yes there are stupid questions, and yes dissent can slow things down, but talking through these things is an essential part of the creative process. People must be allowed to voice half-finished thoughts, ask questions from left field, and brainstorm out loud; it creates a culture in which a minor flub or momentary lapse is no big deal, and where actual mistakes are owned and corrected, and where the next left-field idea could be the next big thing. 

This book identifies a really relevant problem that exists in many institutions, often with fatal consequences where there is a culture of people being unable to articulate fears or concerns due to a hierarchical and top heavy work culture. The space shuttle explosion, the biggest ever civil aviation crash, and numerous patient deaths have all resulted from the inability of junior team members to articulate their concerns. Avoidable accidents have happened time and time again due to a lack of ‘psychological safety’ as Edmondson has described it. The human preference to defer bigger, but more abstract safety issues, over an unwillingness to risk annoying their immediate superior which could result is more trivial, but more immediate negative consequences.

The first section of the book describes well how due to a series of unfortunate events things have gone catastrophically wrong, with terrible consequences. Fortunately, the next section then details other incidents where appropriate communication and emergency management processes were implemented. To create a more open culture where junior team members were empowered to feel able to voice concerns. The dialogue of the Hudson River incident where Captain Sullenberger ‘Sully’ successful landed the plane onto the water with no fatalities is showcased as a positive example of what can be achieved and avoided. The dialog is still spine chilling in it’s brevity and yet deep understanding of the issues faced and the importance of allowing knowledge and evaluation to trump ego or emotion.

There are many other positive examples too, from Uber, Pixar and other organisations which have wrestled with these challenges. It is a topical and relevant book for all organisations to embrace and assess their own management processes, one to read asap.


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