• Swiss cheese defense: More firewalls are better than one

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    AFTER Steve Harvey’s blooper live on international television by announcing the wrong Miss Universe 2015, netizens and Jurassic-mongers alike went abuzz about the unforgiveable blunder that left countless aftershocks and humiliated nerves.

    Suddenly, countless people became experts on public speaking—except it’s not about public speaking.

    I’m reminded of the Philippines’ wrath over the past few days, as I’ve fielded only one prescription over the social media on how we should learn from the mistakes of Harvey, a popular American TV host and comedian. With my kaizen-mindedness, I figured that the best solution is how to mistake-proof the judges’ card.

    If you’re in the continual improvement advocacy, the first thing that comes to mind is the application of what the Japanese call the “pokayoke” or how to design a low-cost system and the form that include the host’s card so much so that mistakes are systematically-prevented from happening.

    But a great advice comes with a great responsibility. To do just that, I’ve invested a bit of time and effort to discover that aside from “pokayoke” there’s another potent buzzword solution that complements it. I’m referring to the Swiss cheese model. In management risk analysis, the principle behind the Swiss cheese is to have it in multiple slices, stacked side by side, so that each layer provides another wall of defense, in case a threat or a mistake manages to elude the first line of defense.

    Also called the “cumulative act effect,” the Swiss cheese concept was proposed by Dante Orlandella and James Reason of the University of Manchester to prevent a single point of weakness to be breached. If you have a series of defenses, like the layers of “cheese,” mistakes can and will be prevented.

    Looking back at Harvey’s cue card, one can get easily confused with its wordings, given the frenzy and stress happening on stage, even the stage veteran Harvey has proven that he’s also capable of committing a serious blunder on live TV, before millions of viewers around the world.

    Always, the lesson is clear. If you tend to complicate things, you’re bound to commit a mistake. Take Harvey’s cue card. For one, it contains the word “elminination” – a misspelled word for “elimination.” Why use that word when they’re talking about the results? Wasn’t it better to simplify it by having the words “Miss Universe 2015 Official Results” printed on the card?

    You can just imagine the further confusion if you’d have to read the words “show finals” and “3 to 1” on the card. What do those words mean? Even the terms “2nd runner up” and “1st runner up” are grammatically wrong, when they should be spelled with a hyphen. These may be minor things to some people, but it caused the greatest humiliation for Harvey in hosting an international beauty pageant.

    My pessimism and critical-mindedness are two of my greatest management assets. Since time immemorial, I have trained myself to pay attention to details, at times, to a grievous fault. But that’s the point of learning. Paying attention to details is excellence, even if they appear to be inconsequential to non-kaizen people.

    The combination of “pessimism and critical-mindedness” is giving me a lot of ideas on the what, when, and where of saving a lot of money. They’re valuable that sometimes I think they’re very valuable to be given out for free here. We’ll, at least you’ve to subscribe to The Manila Times.

    The “pokayoke” and the Swiss cheese model can become irrelevant, if you will only use practical thoughts and common-sense approach to everything. It doesn’t matter if it has become uncommon to many of us.

    Smart people really learn from their mistakes, but geniuses learn from the mistakes of others. Again, the lesson is clear. Mistakes are bound to happen, if you complicate simple things. But the truth of the matter is that there’s a bigger lesson here: If we don’t learn from our mistakes, they become the foundation to utter failure.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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