The Awesome Power of Hindsight


Hindsight - isn’t it a wonderful thing? Being able to look back at an event with knowledge of the outcome and knowing what went wrong and where… even why. Knowing which action, decision or sequence of decisions led to something going right or, more commonly, wrong. Everything is easier with the benefit of hindsight.

'the understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed'

But, is it really that simple? Does hindsight actually help us understand?

It’s so obvious… its just the 3 x table… the answer was screaming at them… how did they not see/hear… the label clearly states… we have procedures in place for this… if only I had known… Etc etc. We have probably all said some these things when looking at the actions of others and possibly even ourselves when things have gone wrong. But how helpful are these statements when we try to understand the WHY behind an incident?

When looking back at a set of events with the luxury of time, resources and a knowledge of the outcome it becomes increasingly difficult to put ourselves in the position of those involved. Statements such as ‘how could they be so stupid?’ or ‘how could they not see it coming?’ are common when looking backwards but do little to address the reasons people did the things they did.

We have all had times when things didn’t work out as we expected them to or, more luckily, worked out favourably despite our actions. When you were in the moment looking forward, considering your options and deciding a course of action, would you have continued with your plan if you had known the outcome wasn’t going to be favourable?

If you want to understand the WHY and stand a chance to prevent a repeat occurrence you must consider the individual(s) point of view during the unfolding scenario and look at the whole system within which they were working – what else was going on at the time, were there competing priorities, did they have time, how did the information present itself etc?

If we can understand WHY someone did what they did, why it seemed right to them given what they knew at the time and under the same/similar circumstances we may be able to prevent a future occurrence. If we just use hindsight to pinpoint a specific failing and then apportion blame we do little to further the safety/efficiency of our people/operation/industry.

How do you manage/oversee investigations into incidents within your organisation? What perspective do you take when considering the actions of those trying to [do their best] work within your system?

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