Can disruptive thinking benefit your business?

Day two of IOSH 2019 will kick-off with a breakfast panel debate on how ‘disruptive thinking’ can lead to high-performing teams. We asked Karl Simons (pictured), Chief Health, Safety and Security Officer at Thames Water – who will lead the session – to explain more

What is disruptive thinking?

It is an approach aimed at producing an unconventional strategy towards an issue that leads to an organisation being one step ahead and others wondering how you did it.

I always say to my team you should never be worried about putting into the pot and sharing what we are doing as by the time others have seen and adopted it, we should already be well into embracing the next several exciting initiatives.

It’s an approach that over the years has served me well in leading organisations to excel in becoming world class in forward thinking on health and safety challenges they face

Do you have an example of using disruptive thinking in your organisation?

Easy. The introduction of the world’s first mental health Virtual Reality course was delivered at Thames Water just over three years ago.

It is a great example of disruptive thinking, as I said to the training team: “I do not want to sit in a chair watching on a TV screen photographs or videos of someone suffering from a mental health disorder…I want to be stimulated through personally feeling the effects of negative mental stressors.”

This challenge set in motion the team to look beyond the traditional training environments we and anyone else used as the norm. Our research led us to look at Virtual Reality. Of course, VR was around then but no one had put it into a classroom training course environment.

There was a clear problem with it; what I mean is for VR to work you need two sensor points set up either side and a single headset and handset can be used. But this wasn’t appropriate for an instructor-led 15-person training course, as you can’t send a person out of the room in the middle of a course and then they come back and the next person goes out. It would be too disruptive.

This just didn’t exist so we built a sync system that would connect every headset together and also to an iPad that the instructor could use. Next, we had to produce the content, and this didn’t exist either, so we filmed with an Omni-pro six-sided camera, which would produce the VR scenes as it simulated you becoming the individual through the camera being worn on their head of the actor when we shot each film. This was then cut and packaged up to be able to be used as short VR scenes we could install onto the iPad and used at any point during the course.

So now when you enter our classroom, each delegate is handed their literature pack, headset and ear phones and then during the course the instructor would say: “ok, don your headsets and ear phones and they press a button on the iPad and everyone is immersed into the home or work environment at the same time and becomes the person being stimulated.”

How did this benefit your business?

The discussions out the other end become far richer. That’s disruptive thinking at its best, presenting a challenge in a different way that gets a very different result.

Although we have kept to our philosophy of openness and sharing through showing our Mental Health VR programme to thousands of delegates at national conferences, as far as I’m aware this approach to multiple delegate classroom training has not been replicated and continues to be unique to Thames Water, where thousands of our employees have experienced this style of mental health course.

Who will be on the stage with you?

The panel will be made up of three very experienced professionals: Professor Andrew Sharman, IOSH's President Elect; Amanda Owen, Health and Safety Director at Heathrow Airport; and Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist at the Health and Safety Executive.

Karl Simons was named the ‘most influential person in health and safety’ in a poll of readers of Safety & Health Practitioner earlier this year. You can see him lead the session on disruptive thinking at IOSH 2019, at the ICC Birmingham from 16-17 September. Don’t miss out; get your conference pass today.

Marcus Boocock
Communications Officer +44 (0)116 257 3139
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