CCRM Presentation

Center for Catastrophic Risk Management Presentation Well-Received

April 10, 2019 I was invited to give a presentation to the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management on my work over the years helping people and their organizations become more reliable and resilient. A recording has recently been edited by social media gurus at v191& associates and posted on You Tube at:

“David, I want to thank you for a wonderful presentation! You really did pull things together and have read more than most of us at the table have read. Thank you very much!”
Karlene Roberts, Ph.D., CCRM President and Founder

A Lessons Learned Center Creation

By David Christenson, Retired Assistant Manager and current CEO of Christenson & Associates, LLC, April 15, 2019

April 10. 2019 I spoke to the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management about my personal professional journey. A question arose, “How did you build the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center?” I promised I would write about it. This is my response.

I had the honor and privilege of helping to build the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center from its beginning. Two of us began in 2002 to gather ideas and experiences of other LLCs. We visited the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) and contacted the US Coast Guard LLC as well as the Department of Energy (DOE). We learned that many LLC architects in previous decades originally had the belief that if you put together a data base of lessons people would use it. About 80 % of those efforts failed unless they changed their approach to supporting groups of people that had already demonstrated a sincere interest in learning and continuous improvement. Those LLCs evolved beyond a focus on technology and became sustainable when they engaged the people in their organizations and asked them to help build a useful learning center.

We began to seek information on becoming a “learning organization” with the personal help of Dr. David Garvin, a Harvard University Business School professor that had studied many organizations in multiple domains. His 2000 book, “Learning in Action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work,” gave us a valuable approach to building LLC foundations, understand types of learning, and appreciate leading learning. He defined a learning organization on page 11 as one “skilled at creating, acquiring, interpreting, transferring, and retaining knowledge, AND at purposefully modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” 

We had a blame culture that shamed people for getting hurt or killed, so people were reluctant to share accident reports, admitting failure. The community had to learn to share experiences and learn from events of all kinds in new ways. The previous learning focus only on failure to avoid failure, was expanded to creating a safe place for people to discuss how work really takes place by the experts, the people that did the work. Ideas and knowledge were exchanged openly and operational intelligence began to create improvements.

Partnering with like-minded efforts, like leadership development, the LLC was able to challenge legacy systems where policies and procedures needed to adapt to the new philosophies. Systems began to evolve from a focus on compliance to rules, to risk-based dialogue, and eventually organizational learning evidenced by continuous improvement. After Action Reviews became more of an opportunity to learn and improve. Staff rides often become a joint project organized, carried out and supported by both the interagency leadership development group and LLC staff. 

Managing the Unexpected workshops with High Reliability Organizing (HRO) academics and practitioners were provided at national and regional venues. These often included serious accident location staff rides. HRO processes began to be taught by LLC staff in Incident Management Team education and advancement courses for certification.

The initial investment in 2002 of two fulltime staff positions with an annual operating budget of $200,000 has evolved to fulltime staff of 5 that serves about 300,000 people in an interagency, multi-facetted community of Federal, state, county, municipal, and volunteer firefighters. They draw and contribute lessons and effective practices in fire aviation and land operations for individuals, small teams and large-size, long-duration incident management team events. 

  • The online incident review database contains hundreds of reports and learning reviews. 
  • Thequarterly newsletter brings stories from across the country of successes, challenges to assumptions, and ways to improve. Ideas and knowledge flowing into the LLC are transferred to large training facilities as well as small unit leaders for implementation in briefings and local exercises. 
  • A rapid lesson sharing programspeeds lesson distribution to less than 48 hours making valuable information almost immediately available. Contributions from the field are analyzed by LLC staff familiar with the processes and follow up questions are asked if needed within 24 hours. A short lesson product, often including pictures to help illustrate the concern, tip, tactic or procedure, is generated and quickly posted on the website.
  • Information collection teams sent out by the LLC visited several large wildland fire and non-fire events during their operations to quickly collect knowledge from multiple teams assigned to incident management teams while the stories and memories were fresh.
  • Communities of practice passionate about a sub-area of interest, skill development, or training and education are able to congregate virtually to continue developing relationships begun at meetings, incident responses, or exercises.
  • A Deep Smarts Team collectedinterviews throughout the wildland fire community asking people recognized to have special expertise how they did what they often referred to as “just their job.” The collection is a substantial contribution to the LLC’s You Tube channelof video learning products.
  • Podcast audio recordings, Blog discussions and TEDed videos have been added to the suite of learning products through the LLC in recent years as technologies evolved and customers expressed an interest.

Located physically at the National Advanced Fire & Resource Institute, the LLC is actively involved in the many training and education courses offered at the institute. Recent, as well as historical case studies, are included and keep course content fresh. Return on the investment in the LLC is published annually to the interagency National Wildfire Coordination Group.

The US Wildland Fire LLC ( has been studied by other nations involved in wildland firefighting and crisis management. The Australia, New Zealand Bushfire CRC and LaTrobe University researchers found several lessons in how to create and sustain a LLC through our experience (Bushfire CRC 2007). Eventually they created their own LLC system for all their emergency responders. Canadian and European firefighters have visited the US LLC website regularly. Our LLC is also connected to the US Department of Homeland Security Lessons Learned and Information Sharing (LLIS) website for knowledge transfer across all US emergency response agencies.

Probably the most significant accomplishment has been a change in our culture. The wildland fire community in the USA eventually began to recognize that learning and continuous improvement was more than just nice to do if, and when, people had spare time. Beyond taking formal training classes on tactics and procedures, people realized that informal communications, peer learning, coaching and mentoring must also receive much more opportunity in psychologically safe learning environments. Products from the LLC are used. People report their professional lives have changed and continually improved. Learning and improvement have become a critical component of the way the community operates all of the time.

Relationships Before New Wineskins

Integrity Compass


Work On Relationships First!


We know we can’t just stand still. The world around us requires that we adapt to changing conditions and we sometimes struggle to just keep up, much less get ahead of things. Since before the turn of the century, the “new normal” has been described as volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and sometimes threatening! Our people truly are our greatest asset, especially in a VUCA-T world. To cope, we want to increase collaboration, cooperation, and coordination inside, and between our organizations. We also know our people want to excel and grow their capabilities. We look for those traits when we hire them. Relationships are critically important!



Changing everything all at once is unrealistic, so where do we start? What does the research say? Are there success stories relevant to our organization? What does right look like for us?

Some will recall I wrote in a previous blog post titled Mixing Old With New regarding the principle of not putting new wine into old wineskins; “Mixing old familiar ways with new ideas to address new situations like change, may seem like a good idea, but that might not be the best way. A more thoughtful approach might be better.”

Many of us are in traditional system architectures, work processes, and roles already, so starting where we are is the only realistic place to begin co-creating a new future. Building that future together is required today as no one individual is able to completely comprehend what is happening, much less intervene effectively in sustainable ways. The days of the individual super-hero decision maker are long gone. People need to effectively work together more now than ever before.


People interested in improving their organization’s performance are often relieved to discover that the problems they see are not the result of having hired “bad people.” Naming, blaming, shaming and firing the “bad apple” is not the way to correct dysfunctional momentum in our organizations and eliminates learning opportunities. Many proponents of a New View believe, “Our people are not problems to control, but resources to harness!” Often our people know how things really work well most of the time in spite of the pressures our systems place on them. That knowledge is extremely valuable.


People, Structures and Processes

“The Relational Model of Organizational Change, first developed by Amy Edmondson, Ed Schein, and Jody Hoffer Gittell, proposes that three types of interventions—relational, work process, and structural—are needed to transform role relationships in a positive and sustainable way.”[1]


Organizational structures contribute to siloed knowledge and isolate ideas. Structures can be redesigned to enable collaboration, cooperation, and coordination, but interdependent parts that influence our interaction goals and objectives are prolific!


Processes are the ways we have been doing things, often for years or even decades, and many people feel heavily invested in “how we do things around here!”


Organizational change research indicates that just changing structures or processes are not sufficient, premature, and often counter-productive.


Transforming ourselves first, and our relationships with each other, are alternative places to start that are usually more effective and sustainable. As we build relationships, trust, understanding and confidence in each other emerges. Then we can have those crucial conversations that try to answer very important questions together. Where are we now and where do we want to end up? How do we get there from here?


These relationships are the new, high quality wine that we now need to create the new wineskin containers for. New ways to treat each other, new language and ways to talk with each other, new ways of seeing our possibilities combine to develop our personalized New View Approach. Developing high-functioning work processes and high performance supportive structures require positive working relationships!


Together we can dream, design and develop new systems in a holistic way that appreciates one another, our roles and responsibilities, builds upon our combined strengths and co-constructs ways to move forward out of outdated structures and processes.


Become Informed

Beginning with eventual collaboration in mind, we can start immediately to manage our mindsets. Make time to think about our intentions, what is actually capturing our attention, and what assumptions we are making along the way. Look at our normal workin a thoughtful way. We don’t have to wait for things to go wrong to learn. There are many more learning opportunities in what we do together every day when things mostly go right!


Study what the policies, rules and guidelines say and why. Then, along with others, really attempt to capture how things actually work and why. Continually scan what is really happening. What conditions are in play that require people to adjust their activities to meet dynamic demands? Try to understand what is actually happening and why before you start changing structures or processes. This is a reluctance to simplifyand sensitivity to operationsthat help people see problems coming before they get big and difficult to solve. Collective awareness is increased so we can anticipate things breaking down beneath the surface. Managing our mindsets is a cultural maturity that begins to make high performance and high reliability possible, especially under varying conditions.


Dialogue Is Key

Our intentions, attentions, and assumptions are real. Try to articulate them in dialogue sessions with coworkers. Ask them in 1-to-1 conversations about what they think, see and perceive to be real. Insure that they feel heard, respected and appreciated. Seek mutual understanding of differences and commonalities, not necessarily consensus on all things right away. Be patient and kind to one another. Agreements and new ways of doing things will emerge eventually from those understandings.


Relational interventionsinclude creating a safe space to reduce the risks associated with trying out new role relationships, then diagnosing current relational patterns to open up a dialogue, learning among participants, supported by coaching and the role modeling of positive relational behaviors by leaders and change agents throughout the organization. Work process interventionsinclude the use of process mapping, role and goal clarification, and structured problem solving to support changes in the work itself. Structural interventionsinclude the implementation of cross-cutting organizational structures to hardwire the new teamwork dynamics into roles, to achieve sustainability. The Relational Model of Organizational Change illustrates how these three types of interventions together can transform the dynamics of relational coordination, relational coproduction, and relational leadership, thus increasing the capacity of organizations to meet the performance pressures they are facing.”[2]


Seek Positive Relationship Examples

Co-constructing new ways of going on together are very possible. Others have done it. Search them out in your area of endeavor. Look across at other domains experiencing positive change. Learn from their successes. Read up on them. Introduce yourself to people in those organizations and ask them for their stories. “How did it happen? How did you get started? How have you seen return on those investments in each other?


Build efficacy throughout your relationships from the success stories of others that do similar work. An attitude of “We can too!” will eventually emerge in your organization.


[1]Hoffer Gittell, Jody. Transforming Relationships for High Performance: The Power of Relational Coordination (p. 91). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.


[2]Hoffer Gittell, Jody. Transforming Relationships for High Performance: The Power of Relational Coordination (pp. 93-94). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Article by: David A. Christenson, MA, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate
CEO and Founder, Christenson & Associates, LLC
DBA Organizing For Resilience

Emotional Social Intelligence Foundations

Emotional Social Intelligence

Emotional Social Intelligence (ESI) are a group of cornerstone capabilities and critically important set of skills for effective leadership. 2018 began with Daniel Goleman publishing an excellent leadership article on Linked In. I suggest we all make the time to read “Emotional Intelligence in the Heat of Wildfires” published on January 9 several times!

Emotional Intelligence in the Heat of Wildfires

Extensive Research of ESI in Emergency Response

Dr. Goleman co-authored leadership effectiveness research with Dr. Richard Boyatzis from Case Western University’s management school and associates at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana. Together, they analyzed 60 critical incidents and published their article in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.


My Personal Wildfire Leadership Connection

It is my personal belief that Emotional and Social Intelligence are foundational to Human Organization Performance Optimization. I built this perspective during my decade of work with the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center at the National Advanced Fire & Resources Institute. While studying the practical application of High Reliability Organizing with Dr. Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe, Ph.D., authors of the Managing the Unexpected series of books, I also had the opportunity to serve incident management teams (IMTs), the same organizations that Dr. Goleman writes about.

My Personal Research

It was an honor and a privilege for me to work with interagency IMT’s Command & General Staff leaders, as well as hotshots, smoke jumpers, aviators, and several other specializations engaged in serving together on several wildfire, and non-fire, crisis events from 2002 to 2014. Eventually I was able to interview 15 Incident/Area Commanders from multiple national-level IMTs and Area Command Teams for my Master of Science degree in Human Factors and Systems Safety thesis. I used Appreciative Inquiry to discover what they they believed was important for “Increasing Resilience through Conditions that Enable Informal Learning for Incident Commanders.”  What they believed was important to lead IMTs effectively surfaced in five primary themes.

I’ll save the results from my research for another blog post after you’ve read Dr. Goleman’s article though. We’ll compare findings later!




Resonant Leadership

Negative emotions generated by humiliation or ridicule are visually evident!
Negative emotions generated by humiliation or ridicule are visually evident!

The original and most important act of leadership is a primordial emotional role. “All leadership includes this primal dimension, for better or worse. When leaders drive emotions positively… they bring out everyone’s best. We call this effect “resonance.” When they drive emotions negatively…leaders spawn “dissonance,” undermining the emotional foundations that let people shine. Whether an organization withers or flourishes depends to a remarkable extent on the leader’s effectiveness in this primal emotional dimension.” This is the way Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee write about this critically important topic on pages 5-6 in their 2013 book titled Primal Leadership: Unleashing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence, published by the Harvard Business Review Press.

Inspirational Leader… or Autocratic Bully?

The approach you use not only needs to make sense when we connect effectively with people during implementation of “New View” relational leadership, but also has sound foundations in the latest neuroscience! The fMRI’s (functional magnetic resonance imaging) used to capture effects helping scientists visualize what happens when positive or negative emotions are attracted are very telling.

fMRI Positive Negative Emotions
fMRI of different effects on the brain under influence of negative and positive emotions

Inspiring people to see their real self, and coaching them with compassion toward their ideal self, instead of coaching for compliance, is an art worth cultivating. You can do this. This is some of the most rewarding work you’ll ever do!

Getting Started

Acting our way into more effective behaviors will help us to recognize the positive improvement in relationships and organizational results even before we are convinced that resonant leadership is a better way. “We see it when we believe it” is the way Karl Weick, PhD, describes this experiential reality in his book The Social Psychology of Organizing. Try becoming an inspirational leader, you might like it!

Learn more…

The free 8-week course on Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence on is well worth the time and effort for those leaders wanting to learn more.


Written by David A. Christenson, MA, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate
CEO Christenson & Associates, LLC DBA O4R: Organizing For Resilience


Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., and McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

Weick, K. E. (2001). Making sense of the organization, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Massachusetts.

Weick, K. E. (1979). The social psychology of organizing, 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York.



Mixing Old with New

Mixing Old with New?


Mixing old familiar ways with new ideas to address new situations like change, may seem like a good idea, but that might not be the best way. A more thoughtful approach might be better.

Traditional change management borrows from traditional scientific research methods that have been successful in the past. It seems logical to continue to use the process of defining the problem, asking a good question worth researching, and developing a generalizable solution that predictably fixes the problem. Mixing traditional processes to solve today’s new problems seems efficient. Is there a trade-off sacrificing thoroughness?

In his book, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again, Bent Flyvbjerg, Ph.D., begins to help us see that a different approach to social science is available, albeit forgotten, and necessary. Instead of trying to emulate the natural sciences and create a kind of general theory, he argues the strength of the social sciences lies in their rich, reflexive analysis of values and power.

Organizations are not machines, but sociotechnical systems filled with human beings in relationships with one another acting together for a purpose. It has recently been discovered that social science itself, trying to emulate natural science to produce explanatory and predictive theory is an impossible task. A comparison of natural science with social science is misleading. Each have their respective strengths and weaknesses along fundamental different dimensions, the social sciences are strongest where the natural sciences are weakest.

Reframing our perspective, shifting the focus and language from deficits and problems to one of hope and possibilities based upon strengths and what is already working, adjusts the spirit of inquiry away from “fault finding, harsh judgment, or culpability to what might be if changes were made” (Elliott 1999, p.51 in Preskill and Catsambas 2006, p. 26). When organizations use traditional problem-solving approaches to address challenges and issues, they make several underlying assumptions. “According to Watkins and Mohr (2001, p. 196), these assumptions include:

  • There is an ideal way for things to be.
  • If a situation is not as we would like it to be, it is a “problem” to be solved.
  • The way to solve a problem is to break it into parts and analyze it.
  • If we find a broken part and fix it, the whole will be fixed.

And, most problem-solving approaches involve several more common characteristics according to Preskill and Catsambas (2006, p. 27):

  • Identifying what is wrong
  • Analyzing the causes
  • Deciding on goals to fix these causes
  • Making a plan that will achieve the goals
  • Implementing the plan
  • Evaluating if we fixed the problem

Problem-solving approaches are effective in some contexts. For example, if your complicated vehicle’s engine starts to sputter, you have a problem in need of solving, so you want fault-finding, fault-analysis, and fault-fixing for that mechanical system.

But this approach is not the best or only way to address critical issues in our organizations. “Cooperrider (quoted in Zemke, 1999) suggests that the problem-solving approach is painfully slow, asks people to look backward at yesterday’s failures and their causes, and rarely results in a new vision…[They] are notorious for placing blame and generating defensiveness. They sap your energy and tax your mind, and don’t advance the organization’s evolution beyond a slow crawl” (Preskill and Catsambas 2006, p. 27-8).

Discussion of problems will surface and don’t have to be avoided, but several authors recommend replacing deficit-based problem talk with positive language and possibility talk.

The traditional approach of problem solving in developing a research question, is reversed in my approach to relational leadership research using Appreciative Inquiry, that is, looking at solution processes to develop a question that merits investigation. Traditional problem solving is usually a deficit-based approach that begins with seeking out the problem, the weak link in the system, the gap created by what we don’t have. Cause analysis often then leads to a diagnosis and alternative solutions are recommended. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) “challenges this traditional paradigm with an “affirmative” approach, embracing an organization’s challenges in a positive light beginning with what we do have and want to study to have more of. AI offers an alternative – to look for what is good in the organization, its success stories.

More on AI and the New View (NV) in my next blog post.


Written by David A. Christenson, MA, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate
CEO Christenson & Associates, LLC DBA O4R: Organizing For Resilience


Flyvbjerg, B. (2001). Making social science matter: Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Preskill, H. and Catsambas, T. T. (2006). Reframing evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand oaks, California, USA.

Watkins, J. M., and Mohr, B. J. (2001). Appreciative inquiry: Change at the speed of imagination, Josey-Bass, San Francisco, California, USA.

Context, Mindfulness & Relating

The context of people going to work everyday.

Context, Mindfulness and Relational Leadership

Let’s begin with thinking about context, “Why I believe this information is valuable and not just more stuff to think about.” Some people are only “getting on the company bus” every day going through their lives without really paying much attention beyond where to get on or off, not giving or needing from each other much more than a polite hello, and just waiting for the weekend.

But I think that the rest of us want to really live 24/7, continually improve, and connect with others in our teams, organizations and communities. Many of us realize that we need to engage in order to cope in today’s crazy world. In fact, we’re pretty sure we’re not going to be able to go it alone very well. We sense it. We need each other. Our relationships are really important to our “live long and prosper” objectives!


Conditions in Context

You may have heard that many professional people describe our world today with the acronym VUCA. The US government is good at coming up with acronyms. This one arrived after the fall of communism and “the notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, multilateral world which resulted from the end of the Cold War. The acronym itself was not created until the late 1990s, and it was not until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that notion and acronym really took hold” (Lawrence 2013, Kinsinger & Walch, 2012).

I have had the honor and privilege to work with wildland/structural firefighters and law enforcement officers since 2002. Many of those people serve overwhelmed communities and regions on incident management teams (IMT) that respond to wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks and more. My experience working with emergency response organizations has provided the special opportunity of engaging amazing people dedicating their lives to the service of others in need. I admire them. They have a genuine outgoing concern for others that deserves the best of what can be created for their teams and organization’s functioning. They tell us that the VUCA world is reality, and not only that it isn’t going away, in many ways it’s getting worse.

Much of their management and human performance interest has been based upon Taylorism and hierarchies designed to produce efficient command and control. For example, firefighters created the Incident Command System (ICS) in the 1970’s to help them interoperate effectively in these environments. Predictability and the removal of uncertainty is the temporary impact, and often illusion, they strive to produce in complex and ambiguous environments.

“The VUCA Prime [model] was developed by Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future and the author of Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. Johansen proposes that the best VUCA leaders are characterized by vision, understanding, clarity, and agility – the “flips” to the VUCA model. The VUCA Prime can be seen as the continuum of skills leaders can develop to help make sense of leading in a VUCA world” (Lawrence 2013, p. 6). I wrote about developing vision in a recent post about creating a connection culture. Let’s press on with looking into developing understanding, clarity and agility for a few minutes.



Many emergency responders have studied the writings of Roberts, Weick, Sutcliffe about High Reliability Organizing processes creating mindfulness. “Good management of the unexpected is mindful management…people organize themselves in such a way that they are able to notice the unexpected in the making and halt its development…[or] focus on containing it… [or] focus on resilience and swift restoration of system functioning. By mindful, we also mean that systems strive to maintain an underlying style of mental functioning that formulates increasingly plausible interpretations of the context, the problems that define it, and the remedies it contains” (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2015).

Some firefighters also have Dekker, Woods and Hollnagel on their professional reading lists to learn more about developing and integrating advanced risk competencies through Safety Differently, Just Culture, The New View, and Resilience Engineering.

Through The New View and Resilience Engineering we hope to discover that there are more ways to see and learn than what one initially perceives. Second and third-order learning activities not only look at “how we are learning from failure,” the second-level of maturity (Dekker 2006, p. 220, 2011), but we should also expand upon that idea by appreciating what is best about our approach.

Most of the time people are very successful in creating safety in the midst of uncertainty (Dekker 2006, p. 16). “In a world of finite resources, of irreducible certainty, and of multiple conflicting goals, safety is created through proactive resilient processes rather than through reactive barriers and defenses” (Woods & Hollnagel, 2011, p. 3). There are many more learning opportunities in events where things could have gone very badly but did not because people intervened to protect other people, system processes and products. Their stories of effective adaptations to threats in the environment contain practices worth noting. Since the exact same series of events is unlikely to reoccur, even more important lessons lie in the conditions that enabled people to anticipate, maneuver, adjust, and recombine their resources in resilient ways. Purposefully developing and continually enhancing capacities to try to create those conditions within individuals, teams and organizations are worth the effort to learn from all of our activities, not only when things had bad outcomes.

Like many organizations, the wildland fire community has had a singular way of looking at failure to solve failure. We have used a deficit-based approach to create change.

“…in the error counting paradigm, work on safety comprised protecting the system from unreliable, erratic, and limited human components (or more clearly, protecting the people at the blunt end – in their roles as managers, regulators and consumers of the systems – from unreliable other people at the sharp end – who operate and maintain those systems)” (Woods & Hollnagel, 2011, p. 4)

We have focused our efforts to learn primarily from retrospective investigative reports of failures in which hindsight has had the very durable effect of quickly making paths to error in events very linear and narrow. Fortunately, we are now moving toward a very different, holistic approach to learning from events through the Learning Review and Coordinated Response Protocol.

Ellen Langer wrote, “To treat information as context-free, that is, independent of circumstances, places us at risk for mindless thoughts, decisions, and behaviors. Placing information within context leads to mindfulness” (Langer 1997, 1989).

Mindfulness welcomes new information. It becomes curious about the process used and the environment actors are in, rather than only on the outcome. Both continual scanning and peripheral sight of what is actually happening can increase one’s understanding of the situation and help us change our interpretation of the context we experience. Sharing those perceptions with others we trust and can confide in brings people together in relational experiences primed to generate possibilities and potential joint actions. This inclusive approach often allows the reframing of problems resulting in creative recombination of resources and innovative solutions. Multiple points of view enhance our efforts and how we view the situation together. Mindfulness then develops. (Langer 1989)

New information, a variety of human processes, and multiple points of view lead to creativity and innovation, which contribute to the state of mindfulness. Situations that are novel to the beginner benefit from mindful thinking just like situations novel to the expert. People with a variety of experiences and capabilities can contribute to the multiple insights possible.

Previous planning may fail and even endanger people as the organization rigidly follows the plan in a newly emerging or unexpected situation. Many will operate in “planned continuance,” carried along by a dysfunctional momentum; hoping things will begin to unfold according to what they had expected to see. (Barton and Sutcliffe, 2009)

The research on mindfulness shows that mindful work becomes more absorbing and pleasurable but most of all provides satisfaction. Pleasure and happiness are passive emotions that happen to us while satisfaction involves an active pursuit. Satisfaction results from adapting to a new situation or solving a novel problem. Mindful learning and problem solving are more likely to bring satisfaction and self-motivation. In dynamic states mindfulness develops a new dimension (Langer 1997, Goleman et al 2013, p. 103).


Relational Leadership

There are several straight forward ways to increase human value where people begin to trust each other and share ideas. I believe that we can build upon our successful relational experiences and develop even better coping mechanisms that are collaboratively self-designed through improved dialogue and relational leadership. These human processes might also be co-created for the purpose of altering conditions that influence a team’s functioning in real-time. We can move beyond the problem talk of limiting human factors and move forward into human processes that are co-developed and proven effective through utilization by their creators.

Together we can make sense of our world, make meaning and define clarity for the moment. Why for the moment? Things change! Decisions stop the conversation and silence alternative voices.

“If I make a decision it is a possession. I take pride in it, I tend to defend it and not listen to those who question it. If I make sense, then this is more dynamic, and I listen and I can change it. A decision is something you polish. Sensemaking is a direction for the next period.”

— Paul Gleason

Personal communication (13 Jun 1995). In Karl E. Weick, ‘The Experience of Theorizing: Sensemaking as Topic and Resource’. Quoted in Ken G. Smith (ed.) and Michael A. Hitt (ed), Great Minds in Management: the Theory of Process Development (2005), 398. Weick writes that Gleason explains how leadership needs ‘sensemaking rather than decision making.’ As a highly skilled wildland firefighter he would make sense of an unfolding fire, giving directives that are open to revision at any time, so they can be self-correcting, responsive, with a transparent rationale. By contrast, decision making eats up valuable time with polishing the decision to get it ‘right’ and defending it, and also encourages blind spots. [1]


Relational Leadership is about skillfully participating in communicating more effectively as a process of mutually molding meaning – a process of continuous coordinated action. “Meaning does not reside in the word or in the soul of the speaker or in the soul of the listener. Meaning is the effect of interaction between speaker and listener” (Valentin Voloshinov in Herestead and Gergen, 2013, p. 9). Traditional educational practices focus on content and the transaction between the teacher and the student. Transformational learning happens when people are invited into the process of creating knowledge. “Relational leaders are open to the present moment and to future possibilities, they engage in questioning, provoking, answering, agreeing, objecting dialogue rather than dialogue that finalizes, materializes, explains, and kills casually, that drowns out another’s voice” Cunliffe & Eriksen 2011 in Herestead and Gergen, 2013, p. 11).

We know that small shifts in how we word a question can make a huge difference in how we answer (Schein 2013). Skillful relational leading is a new skill that is required in the VUCA environment as we confront the challenges of creating organizational culture, leading teams, handling change, unlearning, relearning, reducing conflict, grappling with emotions, stimulating creativity, combating indifference, and coaching team members. These challenges all require sensitive, flexible, agile and creative movements in dialogue. Relational leadership bringing people together in productive dialogue is a critical 21st century skill.

Resilience is more than flexibility in an operational sense. Agility in leading dialogue is a new form of resilience that enables us to navigate a dynamic and potentially dangerous VUCA world. “Ambiguity can be countered with agility, the ability to communicate across the organization and to move quickly to apply solutions” (Kinsinger and Walch, 2012). Reading about relational leadership is one thing, practice is required to develop any real skill.

The world becomes what it is for us by virtue of our relationships. We, people, constructed our world of dynamic socio-technical systems. Together we can change them.


Written by David A. Christenson, MA, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate
CEO Christenson & Associates, LLC DBA O4R: Organizing For Resilience



Barton, M.A. and Sutcliffe, K.M. (2009). Overcoming dysfunctional momentum: Organizational safety as a social achievement, Human Relations 62, no. 9: 1327-1356, see 1329.

Dekker, S. W. A. (2006). The field guide to understanding human error, Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, Vermont, USA.

Dekker, S. W. A. (2011). Drift into failure: From hunting broken components to understanding complex systems, Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, Vermont, USA.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2001). Making social science matter: Why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., and McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Hersted, L. and Gergen, K. J. (2013). Relational leading: Practices for the dialogically based collaboration, Taos Institute Publications, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, USA.

Kingsinger, P. & Walch, K. (2012 July 9). Living and leading in a VUCA world, Thunderbird University. Retrieved from

Langer, E. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning, De Capo Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness, De Capo Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Lawrence, K. (2015). Developing leaders in a VUCA environment, University of North Carolina, USA. Retrieved from

McNamee, S. (2010). Research as social construction: Transformative inquiry, Saúde & Transformação Social, Florianópolis, v.1, n.1, p.09-19

Schein, E. H. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, California, USA.

Weick, K. E. and Sutcliffe, K. M. (2015). Managing the unexpected: Sustained performance in a complex world, 3rd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey, USA.

Woods, D. D. and Hollnagel, E. (2011). Prologue: Resilience engineering concepts, to the book Resilience engineering in practice (Ashgate studies in resilience engineering), Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, Vermont, USA.


Trusted Connections

Blog Trusted Connections

People in audiences I have spoken to on the topic of High Reliability Organizing will often ask afterwards, “HRO sounds like what we want to be doing. But I’m not sure we really can!” When I ask them to tell me about what they like about where they work and the people that they work with, they often reply with, “That’s weird. I thought you were going to ask me, “Why can’t you?” But you want to know what I like!?”

I want to get to know people through the good and meaningful relationships they have created with others. Through their positive stories we can get a sense of what is strong in their environment that they already anchor to. These are foundational connections to build on.

“People with a strong sense of connection to others are more cooperative, empathetic, enthusiastic, optimistic, energetic, and better problem-solvers. Build the “Connection Development” elements of vision, value, and voice in your organization” (Stallard 2007).


Intentionally Create a Connection Culture

“Culture is the predominant beliefs and behaviors shared by a group of people. A connection culture therefore, is a culture that embraces the necessary beliefs and behaviors that enhance connection among people and meet universal human needs.” (Stallard 2007)

Vision + Value + Voice = Connection

In a connection culture people have Vision when everyone is united by common values, proud of their unit’s reputation, and motivated by their mission.

Value exists in an organization when everyone understands the basic psychological needs of people, behaves in ways that appreciates their positive, unique contributions, and acts to help them achieve their potential.

Voice exists in an organization when everyone seeks the ideas of others, share ideas and opinions honestly, and safeguards relational connections.

Michael Stallard writes about a current next step in the evolution of organizations because people are recognizing that, “Most organizations today have become masters of task excellence, that is hard, quantitative, and analytically oriented aspects of business implicit in areas as Six Sigma (a statistically oriented quality improvement program) and competitive benchmarking (the practice of comparing objective measures such as sales, profits, and inventory level to those of one’s competitors). Unfortunately, organizations that focus on task excellence alone will fail to meet the basic human psychological needs that maximize employee’s contributions to the organization.” Some leaders are beginning to see that with “task excellence” alone, success is fleeting. (Stallard 2007)

When we adopt the mind-set that we are in a community with one another through mutual respect, we begin to build internal relationships that create trusted colleagues rather than internal competitors. I know that the reality is that we may not like all of our co-workers. But creating a healthy self-esteem, mutual respect and strong working relationships, is common sense, yet often uncommon in practice.

Leaders know that their main responsibility is to inspire the people they lead.

Vision represents the cultural element of inspiring identity in both individuals and in their organization in ways that satisfy the sense of purpose, significance and pride that we all crave. Without it, people just show up for duty, do what they have to, and look forward to the weekend, their vacation, or retirement.

Many of us are truly fortunate in that we are bringing something new to the world, or have an opportunity to significantly improve what we have been given charge of. Some of us have a history filled with stories, images, facts and figures, sayings and quotable quotes. Share that history and the challenges you currently have repeatedly, keeping this inspiring identity in front of your team. People need to see that their unit’s identity adds something to their personal identity.

Human value in a culture is, first of all, about treating people with respect and dignity, and second, about empowering them to achieve their potential. Leaders need to identify and remove the obstacles that make people feel devalued. Delete what devalues by:

  1. Eliminating disrespectful, condescending and rude behavior.
  2. Going easy on criticism.
  3. Minimizing unnecessary rules and excessive controls.
  4. Eliminating excessive signs of hierarchy.
  5. Getting rid of devaluing managers.


Add elements that enhance people’s value by:

  1. Making a human connection with as many people as possible.
  2. Treating and speaking to employees as partners.
  3. Helping employees find the right roles.
  4. Educating, informing, and listening to employees.
  5. Decentralizing decision making.
  6. Recognizing the human need for work/life balance

All of these efforts to remove what devalues and increase what does value people will increase trust in your people, among work groups, and between units throughout your organization. Stephen M. R. Covey writes in his book, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything,

“Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days a year. It undergrids and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged. It changes the quality of every present moment and alters the trajectory and outcome of every future moment of our lives – both personally and professionally.”

“Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create – much faster than you probably think possible…I contend that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is not only vital to our personal and inter-personal wellbeing; it is the key leadership competency of the new global economy.”


Written by David A. Christenson, MA, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate
CEO Christenson & Associates, LLC DBA O4R: Organizing For Resilience

Article originally posted by David Christenson to his Linked In pages October 13, 2015



Covey, Stephen M. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything, Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Stallard, Michael Lee (2007). Fired up or burnt out: How to reignite your team’s passion, creativity, and productivity, Thomas Nelson, Inc.


Relational, Appreciative, & Motivational Leadership

Recently a firefighter from Belgium asked David Christenson, O4R CEO, about relational, appreciative, and motivational Leadership. “Are they really all the same thing?”

Let’s start with AI

The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach to change management (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005), is included in Appreciative Leadership (Whitney at al, 2010) as it builds on the foundation of success AI has had for several decades. Recall that AI organizes projects with people in phases of discovery, dreaming, design, and destiny.
AI 4-D Relational Leader Process
Appreciative Leadership adds practical and proven positive power tools that start with AI and then expand in ways to illuminate, include, inspire, and increase integrity. Diana Whitney, Ph.D., and her co-authors, provide many practical “how to” education and training exercises on the development of these leadership skills in their book on this topic by the same name.
Motivational Leadership, in my opinion, is the result of effectively applying relational leadership resources. Practices for dialogically-based collaboration are often very successful when leaders begin to carefully consider and change the ways we talk with each other. Much has been written on this by a Dutchman! Dr. Sidney Dekker writes on the topic of the New View, “It begins with talking about things differently, with using a different language, taking a different perspective.” When people are no longer perceived to be problems to control and are instead included, even inspired to become solutions to harness, they are motivated to collaborate and co-create new ways to move forward together with others.

The ultimate purpose, again in my opinion, is to grow capabilities of resilience. A contemporary of Dekker is Dr. Erik Hollnagel from Denmark! He writes on resilience in ways very compatible with New View thinking, “Resilience is “the ability to succeed under varying conditions…the ability to respond to events, to monitor ongoing developments, to anticipate future threats and opportunities, and to learn from past failures and successes alike.”
Both of these men, and several others including you and I, are driven by the real need to change our organizations approaches to safety in safety-critical, high-risk occupations. More on that next time.
Human Performance Optimization benefits from all of the above and can be expanded significantly to include much more (nutrition, exercise, etc.) but needs to begin with fundamentals of New View communication. Many of the ways we treat each other need to change. We need to stop doing destructive, limiting things and start co-constructing new more effective ways to move forward together.