Does this sound familiar?

“Tried it before, and it didn’t work”.


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.

“Tried it before, and it didn’t work”.

These words do not describe what actually happened.

They never describe what actually happened.

These are the words that we have all said to dismiss something out of hand, to reject a very broad or general idea or approach or suggestion (the ‘it’ we are talking about when we say ‘we tried ‘it’).

You and I say things like this because we are trying to avoid wasting time, we are trying to extrapolate our experience to a more general statement about the way the world works.

But it’s still an incorrect statement.

We can choose our words better, which means everyone learns more and is more informed about our experience.

So let’s try this on for size instead: “When I/we tried [this specific thing], it didn’t work for us/in this specific circumstance or context”.

Be specific

We cannot learn from our experiences unless we are specific about what we tried, what we thought would happen, and what actually happened.

That is the essence of learning which drives performance. This kind of conversation has happened a few times recently with me.

Conversations about changes that I am involved in with clients.

When we changed the conversation from “Tried it before, and it didn’t work” to “When I/we tried [this specific thing], it didn’t work for us/in this specific circumstance or context”, things got really interesting.

In one instance, we realised that ‘it didn’t work because we didn’t have the right people involved. Now we have something practical to work with: we should only try ‘it’ again if we spend the time getting the right people involved, and that becomes our decision criteria to proceed or not.

For another client, we realised that our ‘it’ was too broad, too general. ‘It’ was a mixed bag of results. The baby was at risk of being thrown out with the bathwater. So when we took the time to describe ‘it’ better, we were all clearer that X and Z parts worked well, but Y didn’t, so we need to work out why.

(see what I did there?! #punny)

And in a different situation again, someone asked me “how is ‘it’ going? And I responded by saying that it was not working as well as I would like for this kind of client, but it seems to work marvelously for that kind of client, so that’s where I’ll be focussing my attention now.

This is the opposite of dismissing things out of hand because they remotely look or sound like a less-than-deal experience we’ve had in the past.  Or worse, that we’ve heard about secondhand from someone else. 

We can improve more when we are clearer about what exactly we can learn from our experience.

And that means choosing our words more carefully.

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?

Before you go, keep listening for a few words about the work which makes this podcast free for you.  Seeya!

You’ve probably heard me talk about learning teams, and might be wondering what’s that all about. Learning teams are an increasingly popular practical activity to help your organisation to learn better, in order to improve performance.

It’s not an investigation, it’s not a risk assessment, and it’s not a committee meeting – but a learning team approach can help to learn from the past, to anticipate the future, and to engage effectively with people all over your organisation or supply chain.

There’s not one way to do learning teams but some critical principles which will enable you to facilitate better learning whatever your situation.

I’ve created a few short videos which explain What is a learning team? If you’re interested visit

Here’s your FREE reflection worksheet from this episode.

And here’s your FREE download of the full transcript of this episode.

Feel free to share this with your team/colleagues!