High Reliability in Practice, with USN Rear Admiral Tom Mercer

Weick, K.E. and Roberts, K.H., (1993). Collective mind in organizations: Heedful interrelating on flight decks. Administrative Science Quarterly, pp.357-381.

with Special Guest: Thomas A. Mercer

Based around a classic work by Weick and Roberts (1993) on Collective mind in organizations - where the authors observed and analyzed the way people on the deck of an aircraft carrier function in a collective manner - this episode brings you a discussion of how concepts of High Reliability (see also Episode 11) flesh out in real life!  

As stated by Weick and Roberts, the collective mind is “a pattern of heedful interrelations of actions in a social system” (p. 357). These “heedful interrelations of actions” purportedly allow near error-free performance within a given environment. One of the key aspects there is considered to be knowledge integration between, and among, a group people performing complex, high-risk, interdependent yet diverse work in close proximity to one another. Knowledge integration based on these mechanisms suggests that repeatability is a core characteristic, but, the repetitive nature of these mechanisms does not necessarily imply that patterns of knowledge integration are exactly replicated over time. This was one of the key questions tacked by Weick and Roberts - how do people re-enact the work of this nature time and time again and what happens when (if) they fail.

Joining us for this episode is a very special guest - Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier on which Weick and Roberts performed their study, Read Admiral (retired) Tom Mercer! Tom is an extraordinary individual and a highly experienced leader, bearing responsibility for a multidisciplinary organization of 6000 people working everything from munitions and aircraft to baking bread and producing television. This is a must listen for a grounded, empirically saturated representation of the theoretical concepts of High Reliability Organization, and general management as such, that we cover on this podcast!

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