Beyond Order and Status Quo

“Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one feels thirsty or forging weapons after the war has already begun.” – Nei Jing

Is order the ultimate principle of wisdom? Is order better or is it just easier? Is what we see the whole story? Order is another way of saying keep things as they are. Of course curing a disease after it is experienced is like digging a well after feeling thirsty or building weapons after the war has begun. Is that the best we can do, just maintain order? Should we attempt to cure it before? (which would be prevention), how would we know if worked if what was prevented never happened? If prevention works, nothing happens – we can do better.

We can do better than just maintain the status quo. Anything that attempts to keep things as they are is impeding progress. Beyond efforts to prevent problems, evidence from Dr. Wilde’s Risk Homeostasis Theory indicate we never actually prevent problems, they are just moved.517J05w6c1L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

Additional information in “FoolProof” suggests not only don’t prevention efforts work because they just move risk and problems, but these these well-intentioned efforts actually create a backlash with unintended problems. One example of many is when well-intentioned people in the NFL created helmets to prevent head, teeth and eye injuries. While many of those injuries subsided, without accounting for delayed head trauma,  other injuries increased. Injuries were moved. Other injuries such as those to the neck and spine increased because a helmet protected head helped players feel safe enough to use their head when tackling (see video).

Of course the hidden problem of CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encepholapthy famously discussed in the movie “Concussion” with Will Smith is another example of a backlash from attempts to improve safety.

A different approach is possible, one that looks forward toward what is being created instead of backward in an attempt to avoid or prevent. Instead of just trying to make it less bad, we should focus on how to create more good (see), from a systems perspective. This approach about a better future has many benefits and is what Dr. Wilde calls expectationism. He also explains why this approach would be more effective as it also improves overall well-being.

After all, the focus on the future is what has helped us realize all progress. Figure what you want, clarify that picture  – determine that idealized outcome, determine what will demonstrate progress, not outcome measures, then work at creating it. As you continually measure progress, you will understand how to correct and improve the path of creating that idealized outcome. Don’t be frustrated if you get off path, they say the rocket to the moon was off course 96% of the time but with continued process improvements, the desired outcome was achieved.

Remember the desired  idealized outcome should be measurable so you will know something was accomplished. Nassim Taleb described in his 2008 book the Black Swan an instance when a rider enters a taxi cab and tells the driver, “Don’t take me to the airport.” Of course this leaves the driver confused because he doesn’t know what to do or how to act because not going to the airpot is not measurable. It is simply a nonevent. Determine a measurable outcome so you can document and measure what you achieve!

Build on the idea of expectationism by creating more good, not just less bad (also see here, here, here, here).  Efforts to decrease undesirable effects don’t work. Rather than just maintain order, lets make it better by focusing on and work on creating what is desired and what could be.

I look forward to hearing about the progress you create.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Expectationism Over Engineering-Education-Enforcement

In an interesting and  well supported proposal, Gerald Wilde suggests creating higher levels of future hope is a more powerful way to alter behaviors toward health and safety than engineering, education and enforcement efforts. Dr. Wilde’s major outcome has been Risk Homeostasis Theory  which is a general human theory of behavioral compensations in response to changes introduced in intrinsic risk. In other words, his data demonstrate that people maintain their perceived risk, what he calls their Target Risk Level (TRL), by using behavioral compensations. To support this theory he uses powerful data supported examples that demonstrate the compensations people make when people are in safer cars. For example when cars have anti-lock breaks, air bags or because drivers have additional drive training, their general response is to  drive more recklessly, possibly because of overconfidence, and these behavioral compensation maintain them at their static target risk level.

This theory therefore suggests that little can be done to improve heath and safety because when one area is made safer, for example through engineering with more lights on the road or through education with more training, people drive faster. Researched examples with enforcement such as more police doing DUI checks leads to people making behavioral compensations such as taking different routes or causing other difficulties. In other areas outside of automobile safety, there are similar behavior compensation responses. For example, when cigarettes lowered tar or nicotine, people smoked more or “harder” thus maintaining the same risk through behavior compensations. The example all of us know are the people who exercise more or harder so they can have their desert or eat more thus nullifying or compensating for any real “gains” in well-being. In other words, Risk Homeostasis Theory is a theory that provides a good prediction of future behavior compensations and expected outcomes. Remember a theory at its roots is just a prediction.

You can see Dr. Wilde’s writings and articles at Risk Compensation Resource Center  where  you can get a copy of his newest book, Target 3: Risk Homeostasis in Everyday Life. In his book he explains that Engineering changes such as safer products or roads, Education or improved knowledge of how to drive or behave and Enforcement of laws and regulations that limit risk behaviors will ineffectively limit or diminish problems because people make behavior compensations such as those previously described.


According to  Risk Homeostasis Theory outcome changes are only possible if the perceived Target Risk Level (TRL) is altered. An Increase in Target Risk Level (TRL) can happen if:

  1. Their is a perceived increase in the expected benefits from risky behavior or
  2. Expected costs of cautious or safe behavior is increased

In other words, if it is perceived to be easier and less costly to engage in more risk, it is more likely to happen. Makes sense!

A Decrease in Target Risk Level (TRL) can happen if:

  1. Expected benefits from  safe or cautious behavior is perceived to have increased
  2. Expected costs of risky behavior is perceived to have increased

In other words, if it is perceived that engaging in safer behavior is more beneficial and the risky behavior is more costly, they will not behave as risky. Again, this is common sense.

Although all this seems like common sense, the data he provides and information presented documents that traditional approaches to make the world better or safer through engineering, education, and enforcement, E³, are ineffective because of behavioral compensations.

What helps? Dr. Wilde documents that a belief and desire for a better tomorrow. In other words having something desirable to look forward to. This is something I continually have written about and I emphasize that a better tomorrow won’t just happen, we must help make it happen. As the Second Law of Thermodynamics explains, an open system left to itself will move toward chaos so if we want it to be a predicable and better tomorrow, we must make it happen.

To create a desire to engage in helpful behaviors, he calls for “Expectationism” and the desire to live for something good and better in the future. This also relates to my first step to practice Paneugenesis which is “Operationalize an Idealized Outcome”. Having an exciting and desirable outcome to move toward or look forward to would in itself create expectationism which he demonstrates leads to behavior compensations that make it more likely they will get to experience a desirable future. Data demonstrates people who have an optimistic or desirable view of the future take care of themselves and the world better today because they are looking forward to tomorrow. This also means these people practice environmentalism or are green because they are good stewards.

In other words, Risk Homeostasis Theory provides another solid reason to want to generate comprehensive improvements by creating interactions so everyone and everything benefits thus helping us all have a better tomorrow. I look forward to working with you to make tomorrow even better than today.



Do Whatever You Want – You will be Ok, is that desired???

Do Whatever You Want and you guess what, you will probably be Ok. Ok, yes, Great?, unlikely. Much of this post came to me after reading about Risk Homeostasis Theory and thinking about my life. As many of you know, I was the victim of a near fatal car accident where the driver and 2 other passengers in the car I was riding were killed. I suffered a severe brain trauma, lapsed into a coma, was paralyzed and lost all I had ever known. Still today, as a published professor, writer and speaker, it seems I am still able to function at a high level.

Does recovery’s such as mine lead us to believe we can do what we want with impunity? I was fixed pretty much, why should we be careful? Aren’t we encouraged to get all we can now? Situations seem to suggest we can do what we want and still be ok. Yet as I learned, it is true we can do anything we want if we  just want to be ok. I however wanted to be better than ok. To be better than ok or just not bad, I had to work to be able to function at a higher level through specific actions. I like must people want to have a life of meaning and do what Steve Jobs referred to as making a dent in the universe.

Isn’t great what we are after? Are any of us striving and working to be average? How many want or think their kids are average? Statistics impossibly document that over 50% of us consider ourselves better than average – at least we want to believe that. If most of us want to be better than average, what should we do? How can we make it happen? What do you want out of your life? Not bad or Really good? To me being better is a simple choice, work to be better, or don’t.

Of course that simple idea is challenged by Gerald Wilde’s Risk Homeostasis Theory (RHT) (linked to article). Dr. Wilde’s focus is traffic safety. He however proposes that RHT can be a theory to predict all human behaviors related to health and safety. He explains that homeostasis is an active, not static process because preserving equilibrium is about ongoing change. He compares risk homeostasis to processes like body temperature, heart rate and sugar level that constantly work to keep levels within a range through process adjustments. Homeostasis, therefore is a process of continual adjustments to short-term fluctuations to maintain long-term steadiness.

In my recent read of Target 2: A New Psychology of Safety & Health; what works, what doesn’t and why I feel like I was educated and enlightened. The data provided and his explanations seem to justify logic but do not flow with traditional understanding of how to make things better. Risk Homeostasis Theory is explained by what he calls the Delta Fallacy. He explains the Delta Fallacy as: if there are 3 delta’s through which water flows to go to the ocean, blocking 2 delta’s does not mean that only 1/3 of the water gets to the ocean. As happens, the water still gets to the ocean even though 2 deltas are blocked, however now instead of through the 3 deltas, more flows through the one open delta or new channels are developed to disburse the water. In other words, simply blocking the flow does not change the output of water into the ocean, it just changes its path to get to the ocean.

Wilde uses this as an analogy for risky behaviors. He explains, if we block one risky behavior, it will come out in other ways. He supports this contention with mountains of data. Some simple examples he provides with research include when anti-lock breaks are on cars, people then adjust their behaviors by driving more recklessly relying on the ABS system and death rates overall remain constant. He explains this as an unconscious adaptation that takes place to maintain, or to keep our risk level constant or homeostatic. He supports this contention with many more data supported examples that show no change in overall deaths despite engineering, education and enforcement safety actions such as seat belts, air bags, road improvements, and driver education and the outcome of traffic death rates.

The reading that really caught my attention was when he ventured over to health behaviors citing examples such as cigarette smoking by documenting that when tar and nicotine were reduced, deaths remained constant because people changed how they smoked. Studies document “Harder” Smoking. Article: Smoke Harder? As many of us can readily recall, we know the people who exercise longer or harder so they can eat more unhealthy foods, nullifying gains produced by exercise.

In other words, what he is saying is that focusing on risks and decreasing risks does not and cannot create better outcomes, it just changes how it happens – the Delta Fallacy. What is most interesting is how he documents that people and society per se have a target level of risk that they are willing to accept or have and one that they work to maintain. With well supported documentation for this contention, he shows that when we take action to decrease risk in one way, we will increase our risk in another way so our risk level remains constant or homeostatic.

Wilde proposes this closed loop Homeostatic Mechanism Model. It is considered closed loop because as environment or behaviors decrease risk, behaviors adapt accordingly to keep risk levels and related outcomes constant. I found it interesting to do a thought experiment using these homeostatic mechanisms, which I will follow up with research, about how this applies to our life and that of our culture.

Homeostatic Mechanisms

Overall, in well supported ways he documents that traditional methods we use to make us better are ineffective because all these actions do is switch the risk based behaviors. These actions end up just switching the risks we are currently engaged in based on political direction of the day to other risky actions that are we are not dissuaded from doing.

So how can we be better? In his book he proposes ways we can use to adjust the target risk level people are willing to accept and have. I will address specific ideas related to his recommendations in coming posts related to his ideas that seem to correspond with my work. Examples I will use focus on creating a desirable future expectation or what he calls expectationism for a better tomorrow. The other related idea I will address focuses on ways to overcome difficulties enmeshed with behavior change related to todays desire to maximize personal benefit over social benefit or what I call the greater good. In other words, this idea addresses concerns related to why and how we would choose to engage in actions to generate comprehensive improvements by creating interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Thank you for reading this, making these posts helps me learn. Please, share your thoughts, questions or assertions – I look forward to a lively discussion.

I was unable to find any presentations by Dr. Wilde.

Here is a brief overview of the theory: Wilde – Risk Homeostasis Theory an Overview and here is a link to the Risk Homeostasis Resource Center. At this site is a copy of Target 3, which appears to be an update of the book I just read Target 2.

This is  a link to a radio show about Risk Homeostasis Theory available at the resource center site.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!