Why we need imagination for tackling risk?

January 5, 2024



Why do we need imagination in tackling risk?


It’s the start of a new year and I thought it would be wonderful to start off on a positive note. The topic of this year’s first podcast is imagination.


What is imagination? Why do we need people to be more imaginative, more creative in the risk and safety industry? And do we really need people to be imaginative in a compliance driven industry with strict rules to follow? What about the (unintended) consequences of thinking ‘outside the box’ in a high risk environment?


These are some of the questions Dr Rob Long and I tackle in this conversation.


Further information



Nippin  00:53

Welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin Anand, a podcast aimed at understanding and promoting transdisciplinary ways of living and thinking, meaning, assimilating different viewpoints, different subjects, different disciplines, but focused on a very simple question. How do we human beings learn? Unlearn, relearn, and make decisions? And how can we tackle risks in an uncertain world? I kept this very special podcast for the new year, a new year, a fresh start a different way of looking at the world. I thought it’d be wonderful to start with the topic of imagination and creativity. What is imagination? What is creativity? Why do we need people to be more imaginative, more creative in the risk and safety industry? Do we really need people to be imaginative when we have strict rules to follow? And the stakes of being imaginative in a high risk environment can be very high? Those are some of the questions, Dr. Robert long, and I tackle in this heart to heart conversation during my last trip to Canberra. Yes, it’s been about four months now. A very Happy New Year to the listeners of embracing differences podcast, I hope you enjoy listening to this podcast, and makes you think, and do something imaginative, something creative, at the start of the year.


Nippin  02:27

If you want to learn more about how we can use imagination, in risk and safety, to do investigations, audits, inspections, or simply have a better conversation with your colleagues, check out the link to the IQ method below, which is nothing but a way of visually mapping conversations, and applicable to a wide variety of things. And if you’re up for a treat to take your imagination to the next level, we have a workshop coming up in London, on culture and risk intelligence, you will become so much more imaginative, and learn how to see the world and new with better imagination, you will be able to conduct culture audits and observations in a much more creative way. What’s our question?


Rob Long  03:21

Well, one of the things that I get mystified by important word is, I see so little imagination and creativity or even a hunger for imagination and creativity in the world of risk. And it’s quite fascinating, because every time a group of workers or a group of people or Group of Supervisors get together, and they do a risk assessment, they’re trying to imagine what could happen. Well, that’s interesting. So risk assessment is an imagination exercise. Look anywhere in the world of risk and safety, for any document or any discussion, any debate, or even any book written on the importance of cultivating the imagination. In fact, I’ve never seen anywhere where it’s even defined. I see people talk about it, but they don’t define it. And I actually don’t think they know what it is. So being an educator, and a person who has had a whole life and career in education and learning. The human imagination is absolutely foundational to learning. And in fact, some of the most wonderful times I have in my life today is being with grandchildren and playing imagination games. And I see in five year olds and six year olds, far more imagination. I’ve ever seen in a CEO or a general manager far more. And I find it in Risk and Safety nearly non existent. And yet people get safety awards for this and safety warfare. And this so unimaginative imagination requires bold boldness requires faith, it requires creativity, it requires a quest for discovery, all of these words are missing, or people in Risk and Safety do not talk about these words. Which is a shame. Because from the very start, I was drawn into the safety industry by mistake. Before I worked in risk and safety, I was I was education educationalist. I worked in schools, universities, special programmes, all sorts of places, for my expertise in learning and education. I come into the risk and safety industry, I don’t know one single person who knows what learning is or what, what education is. In fact, it’s mostly confused. So many people think that training is learning. And that training is education. And it’s simply not the case. Because without imagination, it’s just training. And so we are actually training, a training, not educating, we’re actually training all the people in risk and safety. We’re training them to do risk assessments. And at the same time, we don’t even talk about imagination, I find that one of the most bizarre things, I actually think the industry is afraid of the imagination. Because when you use your imagination, you often noncompliant. When you use your imagination, you’re actually drifting away from orthodoxy. And, of course, I’ve been an ink, very imaginative person from a very young age, sometimes through music. And I was encouraged to be creative. And when I first encountered risk and safety, the first thing I started to do was to create an imagine, I started to create an imagine an industry that actually cares for people. Because it didn’t, and still doesn’t. And I started creating an imagining methods and tools that would help people be better at what they did in managing risks through imagination and creativity. Because it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist, there’s no discussion. And so I created the social psychology risk, because there was such an emptiness in this industry, that couldn’t even do it. I mean, I sometimes find it nearly comical. I see all these, you know, these comments about thought leaders and imagination, and there’s nothing it’s just it’s just empty words. Indeed, there is no, you know, I look at some of the things that have been developed in risk and safety. And it’s just more of saying more systems, more routines, more mythology, more rituals, and nothing is changing. Nothing. Even though people are saying, Oh, this is the most creative thing is just another app on the phone that does nothing. And,


Nippin  08:28

and you know, Rob, just listening to some of the educationalists like Ken Robinson and Guy Claxton. Oh, wow. It just, maybe it’s a good place to begin. But what is imagination, what is creativity and to me, imagination is bring to your mind that which you cannot conceive through your senses. So, it comes from the unconscious mind, it cannot come from the brain centric mind. Rational, it


Rob Long  08:56

has come from through your whole body. I know people who dance Yeah. And that’s where their imagination comes from. Yes. Walk Oh, you know, some of my little grandchildren. Their artwork is where they work their imagination, they think of things that cannot be and then they draw them. So I think brain centrism is part of the problem of a lack of imagination, rationality, measurement, all these things, stifle the imagination.


Nippin  09:26

Absolutely. And so So what is imagination is basically that which cannot be conceived to the five senses, which is from the garden from the heart, it’s it has to come from emotion, it has to come from feelings. I


Rob Long  09:41

think it’s both. I think you use your five senses in the imagination. You have to feel it, touch it, and be moved by it. Because learning is about embodied movement. And so it must involve it doesn’t cut one out from the other. So your emotions are involved in A range of things. And then that’s where your senses come in. So imagination is not separated from the senses, it actually participates in the senses in a very holistic way, indeed. So I think some people think the imagination is here, it’s in the brain, and then it gets transferred to your fingers. My wife is a brilliant piano player. And she’s at the highest level of piano. And she plays the piano by feel. We’re talking 1000s and 1000s of notes, which cannot be memorised in your brain. And she plays with her fingers. Her fingers do the thinking. And she plays at such speed, there is simply no time for the message to go from the finger to the head and back again, you have to play with what the scientists know as muscle memory. And so I think the imagination is a whole body and embodied process, not separated from the senses, but includes every sense,


Nippin  11:02

which is what we call one brain and three minds. And so to cycle well risk in


Rob Long  11:06

a social psychology risk, we actually call it embodied learning. And the embodied learning involves head thinking. So we don’t take that away, but involves heart thinking and gut thinking. And that, again, that’s a holistic approach. It even goes beyond that Nippin There are non material head, heart and gut things, there are unconscious things, which which we actually can’t explain. There’s a wonderful piece I wrote in my book on embodying risk. And there are several brilliant musicians and someone asked Paul McCartney once, where did that song Yesterday come from? And his answer was, I don’t know. Yeah, I do not know. And yet, he talks in so does other musicians about it’s kind of a spiritual epiphany. It’s beyond the head, heart and gut. It’s beyond the senses. It’s in somewhere out here. And it comes into me and then I play yesterday, probably the greatest Beatles hit of all time. And even the person who made it can’t tell you how he got it. You think of the you think of the imagination of Paul McCartney, and and John Lennon. Astounding. Astounding, indeed.


Nippin  12:18

And what’s interesting is and then creativity is putting that imagination into practice. So isn’t that so fascinating that even in the way we have conversations is complete denial of imagination. Oh, yeah. So tell me why have you done it this way? What would you like to share it? Or not even worse? Why did you not do it this way? You’re correct. Yeah. So approaching everything from very rational empirical lenses is a complete denial of imagination. Yes. So now that we understand what imagination is, why should the Risk and Safety world care about imagination because in some ways, you want people to follow the processes? Why you don’t want them to be magic?


Rob Long  13:07

No, you don’t know because the favourite word is risk and safety as controls and compliance great, but some of the best things that have been brought about, about people who can step out of orthodoxy stepped out of tradition. And so you know, I love these artists like Salvador Dali, you know, the Spaniard? Who, who, who paints stuff, and you think, was this guy on drugs? How did he get this? You know? And it is, it is the art community. Love it. Right? So those people who are outside of that rational, brain centric view, in dance and music and art, and that’s all poetics, they get it, they get it, they understand it. And they know it’s not measurable. They know that you can’t even give it a value. And maybe the best value is you cry when you see it, or the value is your your humanly moved when you see it. You know, we talk about emotion, the energy of motion as a critical part of movement and learning. And when you’re drawn and move towards something that’s Dali’s imagination resonating with me. And I don’t even know why I love it. I don’t even know why I’m moved towards it. So imagination is is a mystery in many ways. We don’t know why and how we do it. But we know it enlivens our lives it brings us alive. And it’s why so many people. You know, if Paul McCartney comes to Australia next year, he’ll be to packed out auditoriums all over Australia. I mean, the man’s 81 years old. Yeah, yeah, he’ll bring a band with him. He’ll play Beatles songs and all that kind of stuff.


Nippin  14:55

I get it. But my question is, why would you want your people to be in originated when there are strict procedures to follow. Because


Rob Long  15:03

there’s no life in procedures. And the trouble is life changes. That procedure is only good for the moment it was written. That procedure is only good for the moment that that activity is required. But there’s no ad activity. There’s no adaption in that activity. So the moment the time a day changes, you have to adapt the procedure, the moment the wind changes, you have to adapt the procedure, the moment a different person comes into the team, you have to adapt the procedure, the moment the procedure itself is moving, you actually have to see that it’s moving. And so you complete the procedure as normal. And then I’ve seen this often, some people are killed on the job because they followed the procedure. They can’t imagine that it should move. So without imagination, is you’re not necessarily safe, just because you’re following the procedure. In fact, I would like work teams to be able to think imagined leave, so they can imagine. And Professor Carr work was fantastic at this, you have to imagine you have to think about managing the unexpected. You have to think in faith about what might happen. That is foreign language in tennis, foreign language.


Nippin  16:15

I’m just thinking from a from a terminology perspective, which is that, would you want an airline pilot to be imaginative and creative as he’s flying with? 400 lives right behind? Absolutely. Okay.


Rob Long  16:27

The story of Sally falling out the sky. Without his imagination and his unconscious, those 400 people would have died. So sometimes you follow procedure, I think on my red steps, my orange steps and my green steps in my model of maturity. Sometimes, yes, procedures perfect. Yep. But sometimes, it’s the last thing you want. If we can’t move and adapt to those things, and we move in adapt through the imagination, we don’t move and adapt because we get more rigorous of the procedure. And so, you know, if you’re in Canberra here, and the speed limits it, that’s great. If it’s summer, it’s no good if it’s winter. Now, if I ever got to Scotland, I can imagine in Scotland, your roads would be treacherous in winter. And even the speed limit would be way too fast for the road. So I adapt my speed down to what I imagine is the right speed.


Nippin  17:29

So what you’re saying is it’s the uncertain and the unknown nature of reality, that that invites imagination is the must live imagination in order to tackle risk. Yes,


Rob Long  17:41

yes. Even my little grandchild draws things. You know, even when it looks silly. Here’s the chuck with the pig’s head on top. All that’s funny, isn’t it, Granddad? Look at that. I’ve drawn a pig on a chucks body. Yes, yes, yes. Okay. But even that ridiculous. Projection is funny in learning. Yes.


Nippin  18:03

You know, Rob, it’s so interesting. You say that, because I used to work as an auditor. Many, many years ago, I would go on ships. And I would ask people that you do your risk assessment, do whatever you want before you start a high high risk job. But let’s just take a blank sheet, which we now call the IQ. Yes. Let’s take a blank sheet and give me how you would actually do the work. Yes. And suddenly you see imagination pouring in. Yeah, that’s right. That’s when opposing Yeah. And what do you have given them? A, what you have done is you’ve just removed all the constraints around thinkers. And you’ve given them something that triggers imagination. Yes. And so I found and then they go back to the templated risk assessment and is miles apart from anything that I think in that sense, a semiotic or a visual and verbal way of doing activities like we do, yes, it really triggers imaginations


Rob Long  19:00

that does, and when you get a collection of people together, and they’re all not afraid to talk, they’re not afraid to listen, and they openly bring a visual verbal approach to what they imagined could happen or might not happen, then they’re not afraid to say to somebody, you know, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and Something here doesn’t make sense to me. And they can’t even explain what their intuition is telling them. Oh, let’s write that up. This is


Nippin  19:31

interesting, because when you said that, when the other person turns around and says, I don’t know, most people don’t know how to react to that question. Is that that is that is the most powerful thing I’ve seen. You ask a question, and the person says, I don’t know. And you don’t know what to ask next. That’s wrong. Because they don’t know. Most people you’re working with who have worked their word in the profession for 2030 years. They don’t know from a they don’t come from a position of knowing it’s all in the mighty nation. The


Rob Long  20:01

faith in procedure in the risk and safety industry is absurd. Yeah. It is only good for while everything stays static. Life is not static when things move the imagination must come in. Absolutely. But we are this industry more than anything discourages that is and so why do people get hurt on ships and why to get the hit people hurt on building sites


Nippin  20:26

because we stifle imagination stifle the imagination.


Rob Long  20:29

Yep. Great.


Nippin  20:30

Thank you. This has been a great discussion. Good. It’s a few you enjoyed listening to this podcast. Many more podcasts are available on our website novellus.solutions/knowledge space. The podcast embracing differences is available on Spotify, pod bean, Apple podcasts and anchor. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel team developers. That way. Every time we publish a new podcast, you will get to know you want to find out more about our work, visit us at novellus.solutions or simply write to us at support@novellus.solutions. Thank you for wanting to learn more than you knew yesterday. And until we meet again. Goodbye and have fun