Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian activist who was the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule during the first half of the 20th century. While there is no evidence that he came up with ‘be the change you want to see’ epithet, it succinctly paraphrases what he actually said:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

However, he was himself admirably succinct in the following quote:

“The future depends on what we do in the present.”

One of the tenets of his activism was acting where there is slight personal detriment in order to engender societal benefit. Taking positive action against a negative externality (in Economic Theory, a negative externality is a cost that is suffered by a third party as a result of an economic transaction). And here I can offer a personal example:


In September 2017, the Guardian newspaper reported: ‘A fatberg weighing the same as 11 double decker buses and stretching the length of two football pitches is blocking a section of London’s ageing sewage network.’


According to Wikipedia: A wet wipe, also known as a wet towel or a moist towelette, or a baby wipe in specific circumstances, is a small moistened piece of paper or cloth that often comes folded and individually wrapped for convenience.


Until recently, when I used wet wipes during personal hygiene, I flushed a wet wipe down the toilet. I then discovered that a major and essential component of fatbergs are the very same, non-biodegradable wipes. Accordingly, to help prevent fatbergs, I have started to discard wet wipes in the bin. A small discomfort for me (bin emptying, temporarily lingering bodily fluids) and a minor benefit for society. The interesting thing was that my initial malaise soon completely dissipated as my brain became inured by habit.

Segueing to Process Safety, the negative externality of not doing the right thing is increased likelihood of consequence (loss of containment of flammable gas which, upon ignition, could lead to multiple fatalities - a likelihood change which, I would argue, is not tangible) rather than a gradual accretion of fatberg (which can be perceived or even witnessed and can therefore be gratifying/disturbing). How can we address this situation in meaningful ways to be able to save future lives?

One route is to start by examining why we often fail to do the right thing even though we recognise it. When we succeed or fail in a task, our brains react in different ways.

When we experience even small amounts of success, our brains release dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation. With time and repetition, this signal morphs the brain’s structure and chemical configuration to embed the behaviour which led to the success. Biologists call it the Winner Effect. And if we have overcome something, it leads to personal satisfaction.

It’s doppelganger, the Loser Effect is equally cyclical: contrary to Nietzsche's adage, what doesn’t kill you often makes you weaker. Failure, or fear of failure, leads to stress - a biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat that we feel we do not have the resources to deal with. Stress doesn’t feel good – it’s designed not to, so that you change your behaviour to protect yourself from the perceived threat, either by flighting, fleeing or freezing. In turn, you are likely to be warier of and therefore avoid the scenario in the future.

Accordingly, we are inhibited from doing the right thing, especially if the company culture is one of ‘production primacy’. We fear that our entreaties will be rejected, so we don’t make them and are decreasingly likely to make them in the future, thus enhancing the status quo. In this, we are simply following Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Type 1 thinking (fast, intuitive and unconscious). However, as higher-level primates, we also possess Type 2 thinking (slow, effortful and conscious), which endows us with ‘Free Won’t’, or the ability to override our type 1 instincts. It seems to me that Type 1 is linked to gratification (and avoidance of pain) while Type 2, satisfaction (and the avoidance of regret).

So how can we move from a failure to success cycle. One route could be the following:

  1. Break your goal down into winnable tasks
  2. Execute the most winnable of the tasks
  3. If successful, repeat until embedded. Move to step 5.
  4. If unsuccessful, try another of the tasks.
  5. Execute the next most winnable task. Repeat.
  6. Look back and bask in the transition you have made

In this way you have the best opportunity to minimise your pain, normalise the behavioural change and catalyse your satisfaction. You have now completed your failure to success cycle transition. So much for the theory – can this be made to work in our industry in practice?

Indeed it can. A good example is my Qatari based client RasGas, which was absorbed by Qatargas at the start of 2018. RasGas produced seven LNG trains have a total capacity of 36.3 million tonnes of LNG per year. There was, as usual, a strong correlation between production and profit. The company management saw that the workforce was reluctant to intervene to stop production when they perceived dangers associated with production. Knowing that failure to intervene could lead to an extremely costly escalation, they wanted to get the operators to act on their instincts where appropriate. However, the goal was challenging with a high risk of failure (thus embedding the behaviour they wanted to eliminate). They decided to break the goal down to winnable steps:

  • Communicated the goal to the operating teams (including examples of where intervention had been successful elsewhere)
  • Encouraged the Supervisors to empower their teams to stop production if they sensed danger.
  • Monitored the teams’ activities.
    • When an intervention was recorded and investigated, they highlighted and praise the action.
    • If an intervention was avoided, again they highlight but this time reproved.
  • Repeated until new behaviour is normalised.
  • Periodically publicised the interventionists and their actions

As American author Mark Twain said, ‘You’re never wrong if you do the right thing’. Let’s try to make it satisfying to do the right thing as well.