Fukushima – a man made disaster

July 6th, 2012  |  Published in Innovation

A few words from Kiyoshi Kurokawa – chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission – to sum up the insights derived from his inquiry: “for all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan’. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”

Now, you might want to contrast this perspective with the conclusions reached in this report, published in Septmeber 2011, by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations which, by way of contrast with the cultural and mindset references made above, point at the less risky territory of technical and regulatory issues:

Conclusion FR‐1: Consideration of the accident at Fukushima‐1 against the ONR Safety Assessment Principles for design basis fault analysis and internal and external hazards has shown that the UK approach to identifying the design basis for nuclear facilities is sound for such initiating events.

Conclusion FR‐3: The mandatory requirement for UK nuclear site licensees to perform periodic reviews of their safety cases and submit them to ONR to permit continued operation provides a robust means of ensuring that operational facilities are adequately improved in line with advances in technology and standards, or otherwise shut down or decommissioned.

Conclusion FR‐6: The Industry and others have responded constructively and responsibly to the recommendations made in our interim report and instigated, where necessary, significant programmes of work. This shows an on‐going commitment to the principle of continuous improvement and the maintenance of a strong safety culture.

Is it possible that the proposed parliamentary review into the Barlcays LIBOR situation will stay safely within the narrow confines of the technical rather than straying into a potentially riskier examination of the mindset that created the conditions for the situation? Maybe we’ll be deflected from the opportunity to conclude that the Japanese commissioner has hit the spot at a more general level, so would it be fair to say, for instance: “the fundamental causes of the situation in investment banking are to be found in the ingrained conventions of western management culture: reflexive obedience; a reluctance to question authority; a devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; groupthink; and our insularity.”

Or given these introductory words in the 2012 Global Innovation Index: “…[this report] explores how an ancient model of collaboration—the public-private partnership—is being applied in novel ways to address some of the large-scale challenges faced today. The reality is that no organization, no government, company, research institution, or nongovernmental organization (NGO)—by itself can solve our biggest problems, such as the economic crisis facing Europe or the massive emerging ecological threats. They must partner. They must collaborate. In many cases, this means working very differently than they ever have before. It means forging much closer ties between previously distinct sectors than ever before. It means sharing resources and responsibilities, depending on others to do their part in the collaborative action, and embracing these interdependencies.”…would it be fair to assume that the fundamental causes of lack of innovation in organisations are to be found in the ingrained conventions of western management culture: reflexive obedience; a reluctance to question authority; a devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; groupthink; and our insularity?

One problem with wondering if there is a mindset issue with western management is the possibility that we might have to look at the people who have been shaping the landscape of management thinking for the last few decades…I think we need to look at ourselves and confront the the harsh possibility that, as consultants and trainers, we’ve been barking up the wrong tree with leadership development. Does change start with us rethinking what we’re up to? Maybe the way to encourage leadership in others is to work on our own behaviour as leaders as opposed to telling others how to behave. I have a feeling many learning opportunities are on this path…

These thoughts prompted by conversation with Brian in the Narrow Boat in Skipton – rightly famous for its fish finger sandwiches. Brian thankyou for the conversation – and the sandwich!

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