Can we learn better about our operations? What if we learned, to learn better?
Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Welcome to you, you’re in the right place. If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
My guest today is Andy White, a superbly intelligent, caring, and insightful safety professional. An engineer by training, he morphed into safety given what he learned about managing actual safety managing construction projects. Andy is a lifelong learner, in both the experiential sense and the academic sense. He has worked in Antarctica as Safety Manager with the New Zealand contingent down there.
He’s been the Head of safety innovation for one of Canada’s largest infrastructure construction firms. Now based in NZ he’s turning that wealth of international experience and knowledge into supporting professionals and organisations in successfully implementing emerging safety philosophies and theories through innovative practices and tools. Andy has been such an impactful peer, and teacher for me, so it’s quite exciting to share him with you.
Now the internet connection wasn’t fantastic, so we’ve tried to clean it up as best as possible, but it’s not perfect. Not sure whether the internet struggled with the 45 degrees Celsius I had at my end, or the -13 degrees C Andy has at his end, or the 16,000kms between us, or all of it. Anyway, it’s still a great conversation to listen to.
Here’s Andy:

After we stopped recording, Andy remarked that he still learned a lot from that conversation, despite the fact that this guy is a real guru when it comes to operational learning. I couldn’t agree more. We created a container for learning to occur, and despite our planning, it happened in a different way, revealing different things to all of us.
After we stopped recording, Andy remarked that he still learned a lot from that conversation, despite the fact that this guy is a real guru when it comes to operational learning. I couldn’t agree more. We created a container for learning to occur, and despite our planning, it happened in a different way, revealing different things to all of us.
Here are my three takeaways from that chat with Andy White:
Takeaway #1: Create containers for learning to happen. The idea that learning happens when one person bestows knowledge on another, is an outdated and often ineffective approach. You don’t need to be a know-it-all to be effective. You can, as Andy suggested, become a facilitator of learning, a host, creating containers in space and time for learning to emerge. It might be new, as a learning team or after-action review or everyday work investigation. But it doesn’t need to be new, you can tweak what you are already doing to be more learning-friendly – think meetings, conversations, pre-starts, risk assessments – all of these can be reengineered into containers for learning if that’s the purpose you set out with.
Takeaway #2: Move to learn from a sporadically-episodic event to more regular habits towards continuous learning. Andy and I kind of intimated that learning is a discrete thing, with a label and an intention. Learning is already happening all around you. The question is how can you understand what learning is working well and amplify it, and where can you stimulate new or improved learning where it is lacking? This is our opportunity to shine. Andy’s suggestion that we can all ask better questions is perfect. Can you ask better questions in every single interaction you have? How many per day would that be? How can you stimulate better questions in your managers and leaders and frontline people? If that’s all you focus on, you will do well.
Takeaway #3: Start with the principle, and the process will reveal itself. What principle drive your work? Let’s take avoiding negative outcomes. If you focus on negative outcomes, you will undoubtedly miss learning from the far more numerous positive outcomes that happen all the time, thus be interested in studying normal work. If the principle is having resilient systems, how can you understand where there is flex, where there is a capacity for things going wrong which don’t end really badly? Thus you may explore layers of defence, of planning for failure but failing safely. We struggle with the process when we don’t invest enough in principles. The process becomes really easy, flexible, and impactful when the principles are clear for everyone involved.

This operational learning thing can be difficult. One of the difficulties is that there aren’t many people and organisations doing it well, so it’s hard to copy. Another challenge is these principles before process approach – that can be tricky to navigate, especially when you are trying to get buy-in from your leadership, a sponsor, trying to get both attention and budget on that basis that we don’t quite know what the end product will look like. I get it, and that’s why I love working with leaders like you to navigate through things like this. You don’t need fancy programs or big consultancy engagements, you need a guide, a sherpa. I would love to help you boost how your organisation learns to improve, if you want to talk about how we might work together, send me an email,, with the subject line SHERPA, and I can fill you in.
On that note, do you know how much I love hearing from you? It’s useful to remember what a podcast is – a tiny number of people creating content, for a vastly bigger audience of listeners. This podcast succeeds because of both it’s quality, and how accessible it is – but the trade-off is that most of you are nameless, faceless numbers on an analytics dashboard. Am I curious about the statistical edges, like the single individuals who have listened to one episode, one from Bermuda, one from Lithuania, one from Georgia, one from Sudan? Yes, because one is the most important number because it is a person with a name and a story and challenges and experiences I might learn from. But I’m equally excited about the 10’s of thousands of you from Australia, the US, Canada, and the UK – not because you are more numerous, but because each of you is exactly the same singly important unique human being. Hello to Marcus, to Stuart, to Werner, to Sue, to Greg, all of whom have been in touch recently.
So, wherever you are listening, whoever you are, I see you. But I don’t know many of you. Why not drop me a note, on Linkedin, leave a comment in the show notes of any episode at, or send me an email I’d love to get to know you.
Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!