In the UK yesterday there was a devastating bombing incident where 20+ people were killed. It happened during a concert in the city of Manchester. If you live in the UK and have accessed the media in the last 24 hours, it is very likely that you already know. And if you do, how does it make you feel? Angry? Afraid? Sad? Uncomfortable? Is this knowledge likely to affect future decisions about going to concerts or even going to Manchester?

Like many others, I have tapped into social and commercial media and experienced the media magnification of information about an event which is, fortunately, extremely rare. My brain, however, can only act on and make decisions about the information it senses, based on the accumulation of its previous experience. This is known as the Availability Heuristic; Cognitive Rules of Thumb which allow us to quickly make epicurean (pleasure or pain) decisions. This enabled our ancestors to, for example, remember where a predator’s lair was and to avoid it. Useful. However, with media magnification, our availability heuristic can get distorted.

Let’s take another example: the decision to ride a bike without a helmet. If you are an occasional cyclist, think about how you would feel if you were to choose to ride everywhere without a helmet. Got that? As bike accidents are, again, fortunately uncommon and usually not portrayed in the media, your brain may sense that there is less danger in helmetless cycling compared to visiting a friend in Manchester or attending a concert. However, if we look at the risks based on readily available statistics, we reveal a somewhat different picture. According to Wikipedia, 81 people (including the 22 yesterday) have been killed in the UK in terrorist bombings since 2000, an average of just under 5 per year. tells us that the general risk of injury of any severity whilst cycling (probably one where a cycle helmet starts to become useful) is 0.05 per 1,000 hours of cycling.

So, let’s do the maths: the UK population is around 65 million. This means that the likelihood that you will be killed by a terrorist bomb in the next 12 months in the UK is:

5/65,000,000 = 0.00000008

Vanishingly small.

Let’s say that you are an occasional cyclist, covering 200 miles per year. The likelihood that you suffer an accident, the impact of which would have been lessened by wearing a cycle helmet is:

To put it another way, you are now upwards of 10,000 times suffer a more serious cycling injury if you don’t wear a helmet than to be killed in a terrorist bombing.

How uncomfortable do you feel now about the two examples?

You can apply the same approach to your working environment. Stuff happens: people get hurt, injured and killed at work. In some companies the risk of stuff happening is less than others. As a stakeholder in a work operation, your brain again relies on the availability heuristic to decide how comfortable to feel. Generally, any information that the organisation makes available to its stakeholders is in its best interests. Safety processes and practices are developed and implemented over time as a reaction to the organisations experience, usually to maximise the return to their shareholders. However, as a stakeholder, with a few clicks you can enhance and, if you like, leverage your information availability. You can ask questions of the organisation based on your new perspective. And if you’re not comfortable with the responses, you can decide to take your stake elsewhere.

In a brave new business world, I believe that there will be an agglomeration of larger companies and an atomising of the remainder of the workforce into highly skilled and well connected individuals and clusters. And if you strive to become one of the latter, you will have less fear of asking questions of the former and walking away if you don’t’ like what you hear.

Become your own media magnifier. You may thank yourself.

bike accident