Incident Prevention Magazine

Dave Sowers is the director of performance improvement at Knowledge Vine LLC (www.knowledgevine.com), a human performance training and consulting organization. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear power program. Sowers has more than 25 years of industrial experience gained through his work in the military, semiconductor manufacturing,...

Dave Sowers is the director of performance improvement at Knowledge Vine LLC (www.knowledgevine.com), a human performance training and consulting organization. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear power program. Sowers has more than 25 years of industrial experience gained through his work in the military, semiconductor manufacturing, commercial nuclear power and hydro-electric generation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in resources management and a master’s degree in both management and emergency management and homeland security.

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Dave Sowers

Recognizing Summit Fever in the Utility Industry

“Summit fever” is a mountaineering term that describes the drive or compulsion of a climber to reach the summit of a mountain no matter what the cost. The climber has invested time, energy and resources into their goal, and by the time they have the summit of the mountain in their sight, they are so close to accomplishing the feat that they allow their judgment to be impaired. They make choices toward the top of the mountain that they almost certainly would not have made earlier in their journey.

There are two factors that contribute to this impaired judgment: physical environment and psychological impact. How a climber responds to both can be the difference between life and death.

Both the environment and the physical state of the climber change throughout the climb. Toward the top of the mountain, the air is thinner, affecting the climber’s breathing. The physical exertion of climbing itself, in combination with the thin air’s impact, causes the climber’s body to become fatigued.

From a psychological standpoint, the more time and energy a climber puts into the climb, the more invested they become in its completion. Lower on the mountain, when their time and energy investments are not as great, it’s easier to turn back in the face of changing conditions or emergent risks. But as the hours – or sometimes even days – pass and it seemingly becomes much more difficult to make up for any lost time, the climber may start to feel the impact of schedule pressures. Almost everyone is influenced by the need to finish a task, a compulsion that can lead to risk-taking and dangerous or even deadly results.

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Dave Sowers

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Early in my marriage, my wife asked me to pick up some groceries on my way home. This task seemed easy enough; after all, I had been feeding myself for years. How hard could it be? We needed food and the grocery store had food for sale. The path to success appeared to be pretty well laid out. All I needed was a method of payment and a shopping cart with four functioning wheels.

As I negotiated my way up and down the aisles of the grocery store, I put great thought into what I added to my cart. I made sure to get the basics, including bread, milk and eggs, and I rounded out the cart with some other reasonable dining options. Mission accomplished – or so I thought. When I returned home and we began to unload bags full of bachelor staples, such as chicken wings and Cap’n Crunch, my wife came to realize that my future trips to the grocery store would require more specific guidance. It was clear that my idea of “mission accomplished” was vastly different from hers.

How did a task that seemed so simple go so wrong? Why was it that my wife’s job-specific expectations did not align with my understanding of how I should successfully complete the task? Was this misalignment a failure on my part or was poor communication to blame? When I was given every option in the grocery store to choose from, could my wife truly be upset when I filled in the blanks and chose the options that looked right to me?

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