Why doubt is essential for learning? An eight part series with Dr. Robert Long on culture and learning (1/8)

June 8, 2023



A podcast on understanding culture, safety culture and how we as human beings learn with DrRob Long.

In this podcast, Dr Rob Long and I explore why doubt is essential to learning? Have you ever paid close attention to how we speak? What is the language of risk and safety? In this podcast, we discuss why the language of doubt and uncertainty is essential to learning.

Further information


Rob Long, Nippin Anand


Nippin Anand  00:00

Hello and welcome to embracing differences with me Nippin Anand, founder of novellus, a podcast series dedicated to understanding different perspectives about how we as human beings, or rather, social beings make decisions.


Nippin Anand  00:18

The podcast series draws from different disciplines including religion, mythology, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, biology, neurosciences and stem, making it truly transdisciplinary meaning transporting her rather travelling across disciplines. The idea is not to claim that one method or discipline is superior to the other, but to hold competing disciplines, competing values, diverse perspectives, intention. And when that happens, we create space for doubt and reflection. The idea is to enjoy travelling, and the ambiguity that comes with it. Experiencing dissonance, discomfort, how else do we learn? This is a podcast on understanding culture, safety, culture, and how we as human beings learn, together with Dr. Robert long. In this podcast, Dr. Robert long, and I explore why doubt is so essential to learning. Well, I think if you pay close attention to your language and risk and safety, you would realise what kind of words we speak. What is the language of risk and safety? What is the language of understanding human decision making. And in this podcast, we discuss why our language must include doubt and uncertainty, which we believe is essential to learning. I hope you enjoy this podcast.


Nippin Anand  01:57

The way I understand faith is that, you know, when we were seafarers, and we used to go inside the tank, and we we didn’t have risk assessments at that time, we got paperwork, we had everything, just like we have today. And I’m talking about what 20 years back. But we were trained, that even though you’ve done your paperwork, you’ve done your risk assessment as you climbed on the ladder, because this could be at 20 years old ship, you give a nice, nice kick to the next rung on the ladder. Because who knows, as you give it a jerk as you give it a cake it might fall down. So the next step is always in doubt. You know, although you’ve done all the risk assessment and and that doubt and that faith in your in your paperwork, which is, you know, a little bit of doubt all the time about what lies ahead is what makes you safe?


Rob Long  02:44

Yes, say yes. And the word doubt is another word that the risk and safety industry is afraid of. And lots of companies I work with, who have, they’re looking for a motto, safety motto, I’ve got one mining company that does work using my work. And their motto is entertain doubt, not believe not be doubtful, but entertain the possibility. And this idea of entertaining possibilities, doesn’t close the door to something that could go right or wrong. But the trouble is in this industry that is absolutely fixated on objective certainty. There is no possibility that this could go wrong. We don’t entertain the possibility. One of the interesting things about the notion of faith is that you know, it’s faith. And you know, you can be disappointed by it. You know that things can go wrong, you know that it is faith, when you stop using that word. And you start using other language that imagines that the system is not fallible, that the humans are not fallible, and you start using language like there is no faith, then you move to this nonsense of prediction, you move to this language of, of certainty. And then everyone’s wonders why everyone’s so surprised when the wheels fall off. Whereas if you knew you were trusting in faith and had hope in a system, you would not be so disappointed when it fell over. And so from the failure of faith comes resilience. But But safety won’t even say the word fallibility they won’t even say the word. So all this language then becomes language which gets we moved here. It’s all silent. We’re silent about faith. We’re silent about trust. We’re sorry. I learned about hope. We’re silent about subjectivity. We’re silent about fallibility. I don’t get it. And yet when something goes terribly wrong, and I often get called into an organisation, I get absolutely hit in the face with everyone using the language of faith. Yes. How did this happen? This doesn’t make sense. We did everything right.


Nippin Anand  05:27

And I think by using the word faith, the other thing is an entertaining doubt, as you said, you create the possibility of a transformation within the opening up your of your own perspective. Yes, because you always but unconsciously, or consciously you acknowledge that my understanding of the world was incomplete and will always be incomplete, correct, right. Because when you use the word faith, you are opening up yourself to better learning yes to more open mindedness, salutely, better perspectives, more perspectives? That is fascinating. Yes, what we need when it comes to learning


Rob Long  06:02

very much. And that’s the very meaning of the word risk. Risk is you don’t know. So why do we run around? We will say, Oh, I know. I know. I know. No, you don’t know. Why is he so afraid to say? I don’t know. It’s a risk. Why are we is I don’t get it. I don’t get it. And so after we finish a risk assessment, and we produce some document, everyone holds up the document. Just like we saw today in temples and cathedrals, the same thing, we hold it up, and we say, oh, here is the certainty here is the great certainty, really, you know, I could hold up my marriage certificate to you right now and say, Oh, here it is. My wife will never be unfaithful to me. That marriage certificate is not a proof of anything. It’s a document we signed. Faith is the unseen. i That document proves nothing. It doesn’t prove love. It’s a document we sign as a legal commitment. The real faith is from my heart to her heart, and from her heart to my heart. Why have we lost this in the way we work relationally with people. And so in social engagement, you know, even when I have faith in a captain to do something, or I have faith in a worker to hold the ladder, or I have faith in why are we running away from this word? It in fact, our fear of the word is completely irrational. And that there’s nothing to be afraid of. But but


Nippin Anand  07:45

that’s interesting, Rob, because if your language is is is driven by the notion of certainty, then from everything what we’ve been talking so far makes no sense to anyone. But if your language is underpinned by uncertainty, welcoming, uncertainty, entertaining doubt, yes. And everything makes sense. Yes. Unless you make space for doubt, unless you make space for uncertainty is what you’re telling me? Is that that you know everything? Yes, yes. Yes. You know, everything. So So where is the learning? And this is where maybe we should now talk about the whole idea of learning? Yes, because I think a lot of us for us, you know, we read accident investigation reports, and we talk about learning organisations and we talk about learning, but nobody really talks about the actual meaning of learning.


Nippin Anand  08:35

Do you have any questions, any feedback, any comments, any criticism, you can always write to us? You can write to me personally, at support@novellus.solutions. You can also leave a message for us on our website, novellus.solutions you can email me personally at Nippin.Anand@novellus.solutions and you can find me on LinkedIn. Until then, have a good day. For those of you who are interested to understand cultural safety, culture and the concept of learning, or rather how we as human beings learn, we have a workshop coming up in Stavanger and Norway, from the fourth to the sixth of October. The idea of this workshop is to give some practical methods and tools using the framework of social psychology of risk to help people become our I would say rather say leaders become a little bit more deliberate and strategic about understanding and influencing culture. So you can expect a lot of practical exercises, group work tools, methods that would actually help you to understand culture. I hope you can join us there is all the details on our website novellus.solutions/events please check it out. And we hope you can make it and we would love to have you with us.