Scoring 100 Percent Safe Work

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Lily Pads

Clean Line Projects

A Leadership Secret to Success in the Utility Industry

By Matt Forck

Can you answer these questions?

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Next, if it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

Finally, in a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

Congratulations, you just completed the Cognitive Reflection Test, or CRT. The CRT is the brainchild of Yale professor Shane Frederick. And the purpose of the test is to measure ones cognitive abilities in a simply, fast and fun way vs. the traditional tests that come with hundreds of questions and take hours to complete. To prove his point that this is a "worthy" test for cognitive ability, Fredrick gave his test to several college students across a diverse set of college campuses.

Fredrick gave the CRT to students at nine American colleges, and the results track pretty closely with how students from those colleges would rank on more traditional intelligence tests. Students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, perhaps the brainiest college in the world, averaged 2.18 correct answers out of three. Students from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, another elite institution, scored 1.51 right answers out of three. Harvard students scored 1.43; the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor scored 1.18; and University of Toledo .57.*

If you wanted to improve test scores, what do you think would be the best option? Make the test easier, right? Actually, if you wanted to improve test results, you would make the test a little more difficult. Princeton psychologists Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer did just that, they made the CRT just a little more difficult by printing it in a hard-to-read font. Those taking the test had to read then re-read the questions. It was this small but meaningful change that improved results. Scores for students at Princeton, for example, went from 1.9 on average for three questions to 2.45.

Some of the most difficult, complex and unusual work in the utility industry is during storm recovery. Whether it is in the aftermath of a hurricane, a tornado or just a typical thunderstorm, utility work is the most difficult and hazardous in these situations. And it traditionally is the safest in terms of fewest injuries. Why? The fact that it is a little more difficult does several things for utility workers. Workers plan better. They communicate more effectively, and overall safety awareness is much higher. As Alter and Oppenheimer said, "Suddenly you have to work to read the question—think more deeply about whatever they come across and use more resources on it; they will process more deeply and think more carefully."

By contrast, we also know that some of the most simple and mundane utility jobs have led to catastrophic injuries and even fatalities—because just like these three seemingly simple questions, we don't stop to think. What Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer discovered is that putting a simple step in place, the difficult font in the case of the CRT, to make people think for just a second longer than they would otherwise, improves results. The same is true in utility safety.

By the way, the correct answers are, (1) five cents (not 10), (2) five minutes (not 100), and (3) 47 days (not 24). Put something in place today to make all utility workers think just a little longer about the work at hand. If you do, they will score 100 percent safe work!

*References: Gladwell, Malcolm; David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Little, Brown and Company, 2013

Matt Forck, CSP and JLW, is a keynote speaker and writer specializing in the field of worker safety. Matt serves clients across the United States and more than 10 countries. He lives in Columbia, Missouri, with his wife and two children. Eliminate shortcuts today with Bucket List. Learn more at

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