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How Much Better?

A Little Can Mean A lot

Our Being Better Program focuses on several areas of human performance, but a pillar of the program is to help reduce human error. We have fine tuned human error reduction even further to pinpoint error reduction in high-stakes industries and activities. These include aviation (both personal and professional), human and veterinary medicine, fire service, pharmaceutical manufacturing, petroleum refining, and more.

Human decision making is an extremely complex process. Decisions are made in the unconscious mind as well as in the conscious mind and highly influenced by a variety of factors. Some decisions are made extremely quickly while others are processed much longer. But regardless of the process, some decisions are flawed and result in an error being made. It seems logical that improving our decision making could reduce the number of our errors.

Behavioral scientists believe that an adult human probably makes about 35,000 decisions per day. But let's take a look at a moderately complex operation such as making a short flight in a small airplane, performing minor surgery, or performing a procedure in a high-stakes manufacturing operation. For our example, we will assume that this operation will require 2,000 decisions.

For many things, being correct 95% of the time is considered to be good. But in our operation requiring 2,000 decisions, that means that we will be make the correct decision 1,900 times and therefore make the incorrect decision 100 times. That's not what most people hope for from their surgeon.

So what if we can improve our decision making? We will never achieve perfection because we are human, but let's see what some small improvements can do. If we could improve our decision making to 99% correct, we would drop the number of incorrect decisions from 100 down to 20. If we could improve further just another 1/2 percent to 99.5%, we could get the number of incorrect decisions down to just 10. That's much better, but still a bit scary for a surgeon. If we could improve our rate of being correct to 99.95% we have reduced out incorrect decisions to just 1. Still not good enough? If we improve to 99.9% our incorrect decisions drop to 0.2, or with rounding, to zero!

That may seem like a lot of improvement, but we have only improved by 4.9 percentage points, going from 95% to 99.9%. Improvement in our decision making by less than 5% statistically reduced the number of errors made in our example operation from 100 to zero.

Of course, not all errors are critical. But by reducing the number of errors that are made, the likelihood of preventing a critical error is improved.

Let's look to the "Being Better Program" to help us be better at everything we do.

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