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What Drives Quest’s Eclectic New Editor-in-Chief, Jesper Kjøller

Veteran dive magazine editor/designer and tech instructor Jesper Kjøller has recently taken over the production of GUE’s quarterly membership magazine QUEST

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Interview by Michael Menduno

Header Image: J. Kjøller in his element by Dimitris Fifis. Other images courtesy of Jesper Kjøller 

Veteran dive magazine editor/designer and tech instructor Jesper Kjøller has recently taken over the production of GUE’s quarterly membership magazine QUEST and hopes to transform the 22-year old journal-esque publication into a stunning digital dive juggernaut. Here, InDepth chief Michael Menduno explores what motivates the Danish techmeister.

This month, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is debuting its newly re-envisioned, quarterly membership magazine, Quest, founded in 1999 when the organization was just getting started. The new design and format are the creative work of 57-year old Danish editor, writer, and designer Jesper Kjøller, who took over when founding editor Panos Alexakos retired earlier this year. 

In addition to extensive publishing experience, Kjøller was the editor-in-chief of DYK magazine for nearly 15 years as well as founded and served as editor-in-chief of Dive the World. Kjøller, who is a GUE tech instructor and a recreational instructor trainer, brings a fresh perspective to the magazine and was instrumental in transforming Quest to an all-digital format, which is a bittersweet move on his part. The 25-year diving industry stalwart and musician laments the coming end times of print magazines and vinyl records.

We caught up with Kjøller on the week of the opening of the world’s deepest pool at Deep Dive Dubai, where he enjoys his role as senior marketing supervisor, in conjunction with his new position as Quest’s editor-in-chief. Here’s what he had to say.

InDepth: Jesper, you wear a lot of hats, err hoods. You’re a musician, a diver, a dive instructor, an instructor trainer, and an explorer. You’ve been an editor, a writer, a photographer. You do graphics design. You’ve organized diving conferences. You’re the marketing manager for Deep Dive Dubai, which just opened, and you’re now the new editor-in-chief of QUEST. Tell me, how do you think of yourself? How do you self-identify?
Jesper Kjøller in his element

Jesper Kjøller: How do I identify with all this? I think the core of it all is storytelling. I’m curious, and I like to tell stories and refine information. I mean, being an editor—and you know this as well—is about taking things that are a little bit unorganized and refining them, putting them together and presenting them to the world. That’s a process that I always enjoyed. 

And to be honest, it’s totally a coincidence that it ended up being about diving as a subject matter. It could’ve been anything. As I said, I really like the process of refining and presenting information and deciding what is important and what is less important and suggesting, how about this? Do you like this? That’s what an editor does. 

I mean it was pure coincidence that I ended up being in charge of a dive magazine. It’s never something that I envisioned myself doing. I was the right man at the right place at the right time. I had no journalistic background. I had no photography skills and no designing skills at all. I simply learned by doing.

On-the-job training?

Yeah, simply, yeah. My background, before I started diving, was as a musician and teaching music. The common denominator in all this is teaching. I have a knack for finding ways of explaining things. And if people don’t understand, then I can always find another way of explaining whatever to them. 

I love that process, and I love seeing people understanding after my third try of explaining something. That’s what thrills me, and it’s something that I grew up with because both of my parents were musicians and teachers. So, I had this from my childhood. As I said, it was a coincidence that it ended up being centered around diving. I was just lucky.

Lucky indeed! You’ve been a dive professional for more than 25 years. That’s significant. What is it about diving that keeps you coming back?

First of all, I think it’s super cool. There’s just something about the equipment and the whole world surrounding diving that has always appealed to me. I mean, I’m old enough to have seen Jacques Cousteau in the middle of the 70s when I was just a kid. We had a black and white television in our living room and there was a German TV channel that had Jacques Cousteau’s weekly French TV show. And it was so cool. 

Many years later, when I did my first open water course, I immediately decided—this is what I want to do. This is so cool. I want to be an instructor. I want to be involved in this professionally; I want to teach people how to dive.  

I also enjoy the combination of the technology and the knowledge that we are able to apply to survive in a hostile environment. We’re not supposed to be able to breathe underwater or to be able to dive down to the Britannic. To be able to combine knowledge, technology, practice, and skills to do something that’s out of reach of most people is very appealing to me.

You got started in magazines with the Danish diving magazine DYK, where you served as editor-in-chief for nearly 15 years (199-2013). That was your first editor job, right? How did you get started at DYK

Yeah. So, back in the day, DYK was owned by the German publishing house that produced TAUCHEN magazine. They owned the Scandinavian publishing company. And to save money, a lot of the articles that went into the magazine were translated from German. 

In 1999, I became a PADI course director, and I started subscribing to the magazine. It’s a coincidence that—the same year—I got really, really annoyed with the quality of the translations. Because I was reading the magazine, and in some instances, by mistake, they published entire spreads in German. I mean it was so clumsy; it was awful. 

So, I approached then editor Peter Symes, who later left and went on to found and publish X-Ray magazine. I told him, “I happen to be a PADI course director, but I’m just approaching you as one of the readers. Honestly, I think you can do better.” So, Peter said, “OK join us,” and offered me a job. I wrote a couple of articles for them as a freelancer first. Interestingly, they published them and didn’t change a word. At the time, I thought, okay, if they are not changing anything, the story must really be okay. 

That was my verification that I could write, because I had no experience doing it. I was not a good writer in school. I kind of hated it, to be honest. But storytelling and my teaching experience saved me in a way. I discovered I could draft a story and a narrative and get some kind of an arc to it. It was a natural gift I had, and the rest was history. Of course, I was really interested in the subject matter and knew a lot about diving, so it was quite easy for me to write articles because I was just sharing what I knew.

Before we talk about your new role at Quest, I wanted to ask you about your GUE journey. You were an instructor and PADI course director at the time. What attracted you to GUE and how has that journey gone?

I have this metaphor for divers. Remember those mechanical toys with a spring that you wind up? The tighter the spring, the longer the toy would do something. I always thought of divers in that sense. You do your first course and just being underwater and breathing is exciting. Then after a while you need to do something new, so maybe you take a night diving course, or start learning underwater photography, or you decide to become an instructor or whatever. 

Every time you add something new, the spring gets a little tighter and now you have a renewed passion and something new to do underwater. For me, the spring was never wound as tight as it was when I did my Fundamentals Course. It was a complete eye-opener!

Jesper loves exploring the deep wrecks on the UAE east coast. Photo Ali Fikree
I know many people who had that reaction. How did you find your way to “Fundies?”

I was already a technical diver. I had done decompression dives. I had done a bit of cave diving, trimix and everything, but to be honest, I never really liked it. I was always a little bit apprehensive. I didn’t trust my skills. I didn’t trust my dive buddies. I didn’t trust my equipment. And I didn’t trust my instructor. It was not an optimal way to dive, especially back in Denmark, and particularly not in winter, doing deep dives in dark water that’s close to freezing, wearing a dry suit and dry gloves. The truth is I didn’t really enjoy it. Of course, I was supposed to do that kind of diving as an editor.

Then I read about DIR (“Doing It Right”) and George Irvine and Jarrod Jablonski, and I already knew about the Lundgren brothers in Sweden. I kind of had a feeling that was the direction I wanted to go. I liked the simplicity. I liked the configuration, and I liked the standardization—all these things. As luck would have it, there were a couple of Danish DIR warriors that were very loud on the Internet, and I kind of liked the way they explained things. So, I more or less went in that direction, but I never received any training. I just kind of dabbled in DIR, and I thought I was a GUE-style diver. But then, when I did Fundamentals, everything fell into place. 



Your tech diving epiphany?

That was the first time I actually understood how all the components were supposed to fit together. I can’t say that I immediately decided I wanted to become a GUE instructor, but I did decide from then on that all of my tech diving was going to be with the GUE configuration and approach. Funny, I was traveling for the magazine at that time, so I started bringing long hoses and back plates and wings, and people looked at me and didn’t understand. But I was like, “Okay, this is the way I dive. Take it or leave it.” It’s not uncommon anymore, but 10 to 15 years ago some people had never seen a long hose and they thought they would be strangled if you used it.

Ha!! Yes, there have always been misconceptions about tech in the recreational world. 

Long story short, I got very dissatisfied with what I was doing. I was a PADI instructor trainer also for PADI’s technical range, but they started simplifying and adding some really weird skills and stuff. I wasn’t happy with it and I couldn’t see myself teaching it. I realized that if I wanted to continue my passion teaching technical diving, then I needed to find a platform where I could really defend what I was talking about. So, I became a GUE instructor 10 years ago and never looked back.

As of this quarter, you’ve taken over as editor-in-chief of Quest from Panos Alexakos who just retired after producing the magazine for more than 20 years. What excites you about Quest and taking on this project?

I actually wrote an editor’s letter about that very question for my first issue. What excites me about Quest is that I’m always looking for ways of combining interests. If you can combine several interests in your work, then you have a very strong platform because you’re doing multiple things that you love. 

Jesper pumping gas at Deep Dive Dubai

I have three major passions in my life. One is storytelling. Another is GUE and then I just happen to love magazines. So, what could be better? I feel really, really well-prepared for taking on Quest because it combines three of my biggest passions. The only thing that’s missing is some kind of music, but I’ll find another way of doing that. So to answer your question, I am passionate about taking over Quest because it’s a perfect combination of three things that I really enjoy.

Do you see any specific challenges with Quest or membership magazines in general? 

There are challenges, but I feel that I also have an advantage because I know exactly who the readers are. The challenge is that I have to find a balance. First of all, I need to give readers what they expect, but I also want to surprise them a little bit and maybe give them something that they didn’t know they wanted. So that could be a little bit challenging. But on the other hand, I do know who they are. I don’t have to guess. It’s a fairly well-defined demographic. 

For me, being an editor in the Internet age is quite a bit different than it was 25 years ago, say before Google. Because today, everyone can readily find information. So, we need to be able to surprise them and be a little bit assertive sometimes and say, “Trust me, this is interesting. This is something that you will want to spend 10 minutes reading.” Otherwise, they might not do it and miss that information. For me, it’s about establishing a relationship with the reader so they begin to trust that I’m going to give them a mix of things that they are expecting, along with some surprises and material they didn’t know that they wanted. 

What are some of the topics and issues that you think are important right now in diving that you hope to cover with Quest?

That’s an interesting and important question because that’s another and perhaps my biggest challenge. I’m pretty strong when it comes to the technical stuff, equipment, and also—as you’d expect—I’m pretty strong when it comes to education. But GUE, and therefore Quest, are also about community, and exploration and conservation. That’s where I’d say I’m weak because it’s not what I have focused on, and my network, or contacts within that field are not as strong. So my biggest challenges will be filling the pages of Quest with those subjects. Because I also think it’s the most important. 

For me, the educational part is just a means to an end. And the end is exploration and conservation. Those are the most important parts of GUE. 

So I need to focus a lot on getting content that’s related to exploration and conservation, because the rest of the stuff is relatively easy. Instructors are also a primary source for coming up with stories. So I need to broaden my network when it comes to exploration and conservation.

I think members are going to get excited when they see the new issue as well. You’ve taken the look and feel to a whole new level! 

Between you and me, I hope that when people see the first new issue of Quest, they will want to be part of it! The magazine needed a facelift after 20 years. It was time. If I didn’t do it, someone else would have had to. 

I also plan to be more collaborative and responsive, and spend time cultivating our freelancers. Our writers tend to be amateurs so I want them to feel appreciated. I plan to give them feedback, and help them to do an even better job next time. Again, it’s about building relationships.

In addition to the new look, I understand that Quest is also changing to an all-digital format.

That’s right. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately because with this new issue, Quest is now going forward as an electronic magazine. It’s my first time publishing something that is not printed. And that’s a loss, I think. 

I still miss vinyl records with covers that you could browse through. To me, a magazine is still something that you should be able to hold in your hands and feel. I even like the smell of a newly printed magazine. That’s one of the biggest differences for me; physically printed magazines are more or less history. Of course, we can talk about the carbon footprint and cost savings and all the good reasons for digital distribution, which makes sense on so many levels, but I’m still going to miss a physical magazine.

The new Quest!! Read it here if you are a GUE member.
And you’re moving it to a new platform, unlike the old PDF format. 

We are using a platform that provides a screen experience that kind of resembles a magazine where you can flip pages. It also works on handheld devices like iPhones and tablets, but it’s best presented on a larger screen like a laptop or desktop. Actually, an iPad may give the best reading experience.

So it will work on a smartphone, yes? I know at InDepth, 60-65% of readers access the mag via mobile.

On the big screen, you can read it one-to-one in size. On a small screen, you’ll have to zoom in. Maybe you read one column and then you will have to navigate a little bit. It’s not as responsive as a web blog, but I like the fact that it still resembles a magazine. It’s an experiment, to be honest. We may eventually go in another direction, but we are trying this for now. 

What about the archives? Will members still have access to all of the old issues of Quest?

Members will still have access to all of the old issues, in addition to the new issues. There’s still 20 years’ worth of excellent information in all the old Quests. We don’t want to throw that out. That’s still one of the value points of a GUE membership. You’ll not only get this new fantastic magazine, but you’ll also have access to the archive of the old ones.

Ha! Sell, sell, sell! I am guessing that your day job as the marketing manager for Deep Dive Dubai is about to ramp up big time now that the new aquatic facility—the deepest pool in the world—has just opened. How will your day job inform your work at Quest? How do you see them working together?

First of all, it’s again a coincidence that the launch of the new Quest and launch of Deep Dive Dubai happens within the same month. I’ve been working at the aquatic center for six years now, and to be honest, we’ve been quite busy lately with the opening. 

Jesper and his wife Dorte getting ready for a splash in Deep Dive Dubai. 
I’ll bet. So Quest is your night job then? 

That’s right. I’m moonlighting as the editor of Quest. I am going to spend weekends and evenings doing it. However, it’s a quarterly publication and it’s only 48-60 pages. So, it’s not that big of a job. The biggest part of the job is not actually making the magazine, it’s all the communication with contributors, emails back and forth, and of course, editing and proofreading and workflow management. Designing the magazine is easy; that’s the fun part, where the creativity and the playfulness come in. 

Well, I can’t wait to read the new issue. Thank you Jesper. We wish you and your team great success!

Additional Resources

InDepth: Deep Dive Dubai—The Deepest Pool In The World Is Not A Pool by Jesper Kjøller

InDepth: Diving Into “Ghost Ships of the Baltic Sea” by Jesper Kjøller

GUE.TV: GUE History with Panos Alexakos

Facebook: Quest


Michael Menduno/M2 is InDepth’s editor-in-chief and an award-winning journalist and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for more than 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving” (1990-1996), helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving, and he produced the first tek.Conferences and Rebreather Forums 1.0 & 2.0. In addition to InDepth, Menduno serves as an editor/reporter for DAN Europe’s Alert Diver magazine, a contributing editor for X-Ray mag, and writes for DeeperBlue.com. He is on the board of the Historical Diving Society (USA), and a member of the Rebreather 

Categories: New, Community, Latest Feature, GUE history

Tags: Quest, GUE history, 

Community

The Role of Agency When Discussing Diving Incidents: An Adverse Event Occurs—An Instructor Makes a Mistake

Human Factors educator and coach Gareth Lock examines the role of our innate attribution biases and language, in forming our collective judgements when incidents occur—in this case, by considering a student diving injury that occurred during a class. Was the instructor to blame? Was anyone?

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by Gareth Lock

Header Photo by Alexandra Graziano

What do you think when you read the following? Who is at fault? Where do you think the failures lie?

“The instructor failed to notice that the gas pressure in one of their four student’s cylinders was dropping faster than was expected, and consequently, missed that this particular student had run out of gas. The student then panicked and bolted for the surface which ended up with them having an arterial gas embolism.”

It would be normal for the majority of Western-cultured divers to believe that the fault would lie with the instructor, especially as I framed your thought processes with the subtitle, ‘An Instructor Makes a Mistake’. 

The instructor would have had a clear level of responsibility to make sure that the event didn’t happen the way it did, and because the student ended up with an out-of-gas situation and an arterial gas embolism, that instructor needs to be held accountable for the mistakes that were made. 

Financial compensation to the diver might be involved. As for the instructor, specific solutions for ways to prevent future mishaps would be standard. The instructor might be advised to be more aware, to monitor students more closely, and follow standards and/or training.

The problem with this approach is that it can miss significant contributory factors. Over thousands of years, we have developed a mindset that searches for the cause of an adverse event so that we can prevent the same thing from happening again. There are two parts behind this sentence that we are going to look at in this article—agency and attribution.

Agency and Attribution

Photo by Alexandra Graziano.

The first is Agency—an agent is a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specific effect. ‘The instructor failed to notice the faster-than-normal pressure drop.’ In this example, the instructor is the agent. While we can easily identify the action and agent, we cannot determine from this simple statement whether the instructor intentionally didn’t monitor the gas, whether they accidentally missed the increased consumption rate or leak, whether the student didn’t inform the instructor, or if there was another reason. A reader of this short case study would normally assume that the instructor had some choice in the matter, that they were a free agent with free will, and that a professional with training should know better. This assumption can heavily influence how an ‘investigation’ develops from a blame-worthy event to one where wider learning can happen. 

Research has shown that the attribution of agency is subjective and is swayed by a number of different factors including culture, experience, and the language of the observer. Furthermore, the language used and how this frames the event has also been shown to directly influence the assignment of guilt, blame and/or punishment. This is especially the case if the only reports available are based around litigation and insurance claims, as these are purposely written to attribute blame. 

Societally, and developmentally, we believe that the attribution of cause behind an action is important, especially if it is an adverse event because it allows us to identify who or what needs to change to prevent the same or similar events from occurring in the future. In the out-of-gas event above, it might be obvious to some that it is the instructor who needs to change or ‘be changed’!

The Fundamental Attribution Bias

While agency is relatively clear when we describe an event, where this attribution of agency is applied is very subjective. Attribution theory was developed in the 1950s by Fritz Heider in which he described behaviours that could be attributed to internal characteristics or disposition (personality, abilities, mood, attitude, motivations, efforts, beliefs…) or to the influences external to them which were situational in nature (culture, social norms, peer pressure, help from others, organisational pressures, rules, environmental conditions…). For example, a diving student might not perform as expected despite having been given the training detailed in the course materials. This could be because of performance anxiety, lack of confidence, not paying attention to the demonstrations… (internal or dispositional attribution), or it could be caused by an argument they had had at home that morning, mortgage worries, homework which is due, promotion or threat of being fired, or poorly serviced equipment… (external or situational attribution).

Photo by Alexandra Graziano.

This subjectivity is so powerful and prevalent that there is a recognised cognitive bias called the fundamental attribution bias or error. This bias shows that there is a tendency to look for dispositional attribution when an adverse event involves someone else (they didn’t pay attention, they didn’t have the skills or experience), but the tendency to look for situational attribution when the adverse event involves us (high workload led me to be tired, the students were spread far apart, their gauge was in their BCD pocket). “When explaining someone’s behavior, we often underestimate the impact of the situation and overestimate the extent to which it reflects the individual’s traits and attitudes.” As a consequence, it is much easier to ascribe the failure to the individual rather than to look at the wider situation. This aligns with Lewin’s equation, B=f(P, E), which states that an individual’s behavior (B) is a function (f) of the person (P), including their history, personality and motivation, and their environment (E), which includes both their physical and social surroundings. 

Research has shown that culture can strongly influence how agency is attributed. Those from Western cultures e.g. Anglo-American or Anglo-Saxon European, have a tendency to be more individualistic in nature, whereas those from Far Eastern cultures have a more collective view of the world which increases collaboration, interdependence and social conformity. The research also shows that “Compared to people in interdependent societies, people in independent societies are more likely to select a single proximal cause for an event. Western cultures therefore have a tendency to erroneously attribute control and decision to the human actor closest to the event, even if this was not the case. This has huge implications when it comes to litigation and organisational/community learning.

Self-Serving and Defensive Attribution Bias 

When it comes to an adverse event, those cultures that have high individualistic behaviours are more likely to find a way to identify someone other than ourselves as the cause i.e. “the dive center manager didn’t tell me the time had changed, and so I was late for the boat.” Conversely, when we have a successful outcome, we are more likely to look to our own performance and traits (dispositional attribution) rather than the context (situational attribution) i.e. “I had spent time practising the ascents, so my buoyancy was good for the final dive.” without noticing that their buddy was rock solid in the water and provided a very stable platform to reference against. This is known as self-serving self-attribution.

As the severity of the event increases, we mentally distance ourselves further from the traits or behaviours that would have led to this event. “I wouldn’t have done that because I would have spotted the situation developing beforehand. I am more aware than that diver.” This defensive attribution is also known as distancing through differencing.

This is a protection mechanism; if we can shift the blame to someone else because they have a different disposition (internal behaviours/traits), we can convince ourselves that what we are doing is safe, and we carry on with what we were doing in the same way we’ve always done. This might appear to be simplistic; however, much of what we do is relatively simple in theory, it is how it is weaved into our daily lives that makes things complicated or complex. 

Photo by Alexandra Graziano.

Language Matters – Invisible Meanings

The subtitle of the first section “An adverse event occurs. An instructor makes a mistake.” will have invoked a number of mental shortcuts or heuristics in the reader. We will likely make an assumption that the two events are linked and that the instructor’s mistake led to the adverse event. I purposely wrote it this way. That link could be made stronger by changing the full stop to a comma.

Language can have a large impact on how we perceive agency and causality. The problem is that how we construct our messaging is not normally consciously considered when we write or speak about events. As with many other aspects of culture, it is invisible to the actor unless there is some form of (guided) active reflection.

For example, research has shown that there is a difference between how Spanish and English-speaking participants considered the intentional or unintentional actions in a series of videos. In one example, the actor in the video would pop a balloon with a pin (intentional) or put a balloon in a box with a (unknown) pin in it and the balloon would pop (unintentional) as the balloon hit the pin.“The participant descriptions were coded as being either agentive or non-agentive. An agentive description would be something like, “He popped the balloon.” A non-agentive description could be, “The balloon popped.” The study concluded that English, Spanish, and bilingual speakers described intentional events agentively, but English speakers were more likely than the other groups to use agentive descriptions for unintentional events. Another study showed similar results between English and Japanese speakers.



Another powerful bias exists in the form of framing. This is where information is given to another party to influence their decisions and is either done consciously or not. For example, take two yoghurt pots, the first says “10% fat” and the other says “90% fat free”. The framing effect will more likely lead us to picking the second option, as it seems likely it is the healthier yoghurt. If we look at how this applies to diving incidents and agentive language “The diver ran out of gas near the end of the dive.” or “Their cylinder was empty near the end of the dive.” The first appears to put the diver at fault but we don’t know how or why this happened; whereas, the second statement is not personal and therefore allows a less confrontational conversation. Consequently, we must be careful with how we attribute agency as it limits our attention to the context immediately surrounding the person involved. If we want to learn, we have to expand our curiosity beyond the individual and look at the context.

Another example of how language matters and the shortcuts we use is the use of binary oppositions e.g., right/wrong, deep/shallow, recreational/technical, success/error, or deserved DCS/undeserved DCS. While binary modes might work for technical or mechanical systems (work/don’t work), they are not suited for systems involving people (socio-technical systems) due to the complicated and complex interactions that are present. “They didn’t use a checklist.” Is often seen as a final reason why something went wrong, as opposed to asking questions like “What sort of checklist should have been used?”, “When would the checklist normally be used?”, “What were others doing at the time”, “Which checklist? Manufacturer’s, agency’s, or their own?” 

When it comes to these socio-technical systems, we can only determine success or error/failure AFTER the event. If the actors knew that what they were doing would end up as a failure due to an error, they would do something about that ‘error’ before it was too late.

Isn’t this just semantics?

All of this might appear to be semantics, and technically it is because semantics is the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. “Words create Worlds” (Heschel and Wittgenstein) for the better or worse. Think about how you frame an event or attribute agency because it WILL impact your own and others’ learning.

Look back at the original narrative in the second paragraph, which was purposely written in the manner it was, and consider where attribution has been placed, how it limits learning and what questions you can ask to improve your understanding of the event. We are cognitively efficient creatures, always looking for the shortcut to save energy. However, this efficiency comes at the expense of learning.

In this event, there were many other factors that we needed to consider, many of which would be focused on the limitations of our cognitive system. We CANNOT pay more attention; it has a limited capacity. What we can do is make it easier to prioritise and focus on the most important/and or relevant factors, and we do this by designing systems that take our limited capacity into mind. 

Monitoring four students is going to be at the limits of what is safely possible, especially when other factors are taken into consideration, such as instructor experience, visibility, current, task loading, comfort levels, etc. These factors are readily apparent and their significance obvious after the event, but in real-time with all of the other conflicting goals present, not so. When designing systems and processes, try to apply the key human factors principle: make it easier to do the right thing, and harder to do the wrong thing.

As an example of how this language can manifest itself, have a look at any agency training materials which describe adverse events or incidents, and look to see how agency and attribution are applied, and how little the context is considered. e.g. the following example is from a leadership-level training manual: a supervisor left the dive site before accounting for all of the divers in the group and two were left behind and suffered from hypothermia. The reason given for the abandonment was that the supervisor was distracted. The material then goes on to say that despite the supervisor having normally conducted good accounting procedures, this would not help in a lawsuit as a court would look at the event that occurred not what they normally did. What is missing is understanding ‘how the supervisor came to be distracted’ and what the context was. This would provide a much greater learning opportunity than the normal ‘make sure you account for everyone otherwise you could be in a lawsuit.’ “We cannot change the human condition, but we can change the conditions in which humans work.”—Professor James Reason.

Summary

We have a tendency, especially in Western cultures, to want to find out ‘who did it’ and ascribe blame to an individual agent. More often than not, the agent is the person who was closest to the event in time and space. In effect, we play the game of ‘you were last to touch it, so it was your fault’ but this rarely prevents future events from occurring. In reality, divers, instructors, instructor trainers, and dive centre managers are all managing complex interactions between people, environment, equipment and cultural/societal pressures with sensemaking only being made after the event. 

Photo by Peter Gaertner.

To be able to identify a single cause of an adverse event in diving is impossible because it doesn’t exist and yet this is what the language we use focuses on. We look for a root cause or a trigger event for an accident or incident. The research from Denoble et al, which described four stages (trigger event, disabling event, disabling injury and cause of death) of fatalities misses the context behind the trigger events and yet it is still used in incident analyses. Compare this to modern safety investigation programmes which have moved away from a root cause approach to a more systemic approach, like Accimap or Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS) that take into account systems thinking and human factors principles/models. 

A response from Petar J Denoble’s response, Click Here

There are no formal investigation and analysis programmes or tools in the sports diving sector so any data that is produced is heavily biased by personal perspectives. However, that gap will be addressed before the end of 2021 when an investigation course will be launched to the public by The Human Diver. 

This two-day programme will provide an introduction to a systems- and human factors-based approach to event learning and will be based on current best practices from high-risk industries and academia and then tailored and focused on non-fatal events in the diving industry. There will also be a number of research programmes being developed over the next year or so which look at incidents, their causality and how to report them. The methodology will be relevant to fatalities but these investigations are often undertaken by law enforcement officers or coroners.

Photo by Kirill Egorov.

For the diving community, there is a need to look at how adverse events happen, not by attributing agency to individuals, but to look wider, to the system and the context so that we can understand how it made sense for that human agent to do what they did at the time. Ivan Pupulidy covers this clearly in the US Forest Service Learning Review, “In order to change culture, you have to change the assumptions that drive the culture.”

After note: The article was heavily influenced by the work of Crista Vesel whose referenced paper examined agentive language and how it influenced how the US Forest Service moved from Serious Accident Investigation Guide to a Learning Review. The review allowed more genuine inquiry to occur and find out the real reasons why serious events, including fatalities, occurred. You can find Vesel’s paper here: “Agentive Language in Accident Investigation: Why Language Matters in Learning from Events.”

Footnotes:

1. Lexico. Explore: agent. http://www.lexico.com/en/definition/ agent (accessed July 30, 2021). 

 2. Agentive Language in Accident Investigation: Why Language Matters in Learning from Events Crista Vesel ACS Chem. Health Saf. 2020, 27, 1, 34–39. 2020 3. Myers, D. Social Psychology, 11th ed.; McGraw-Hill: New York, 2013; pp 100−117

4. Fausey, C.; Long, B.; Inamon, A.; Boroditsky, L. Constructing agency: the role of language. Frontiers in Psychology 2010, 1, 1−11. 

5. Dekker, S. Why We Need New Accident Models; Lund University School of Aviation: Sweden, 2005.

6. Fausey, C. M.; Boroditsky, L. In English and Spanish Speakers Remember Causal Agents Differently, Proceedings of 30th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Washington, DC, July, 2008. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4425600t (accessed November 13, 2019).

7. Denoble, P.J; Caruso J.L.; de L Dear G.; Pieper C.F. and Vann R.D. Common Causes of Open Circuit Recreational Diving Fatalities. 2008

8. Learning Review (LR) Guide (March 2017); U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service accessed 30 Jul 2021


Gareth Lock has been involved in high-risk work since 1989. He spent 25 years in the Royal Air Force in a variety of front-line operational, research and development, and systems engineering roles which have given him a unique perspective. In 2005, he started his dive training with GUE and is now an advanced trimix diver (Tech 2) and JJ-CCR Normoxic trimix diver. In 2016, he formed The Human Diver with the goal of bringing his operational, human factors, and systems thinking to diving safety. Since then, he has trained more than 350 people face-to-face around the globe, taught nearly 2,000 people via online programmes, sold more than 4,000 copies of his book Under Pressure: Diving Deeper with Human Factors, and produced “If Only…,” a documentary about a fatal dive told through the lens of Human Factors and a Just Culture. In September 2021, he will be opening the first ever Human Factors in Diving conference. His goal: to bring human factors practice and knowledge into the diving community to improve safety, performance, and enjoyment.

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In this article published online on  September 2, 2021, Gareth Lock systematically examines the role of innate attribution biases and language, talks about agency and attribution, and explains why incident investigation may fail to help prevent similar incidents from occurring again. As an example of a failed approach, Lock refers to the paper “Common causes of open-circuit recreational scuba fatalities”, which I co-authored with my colleagues in 2008. While I appreciate Gareth’s work in general and the content of this particular article, I have to point out that our paper never intended to do what Gareth assumes and attributes to it.
1. In our paper, we do not investigate individual incidents. Instead, we attempted an epidemiological analysis based on the reported results of separate incident investigations.
2. We do not claim that triggers are the root causes. We provide clear, pragmatic definitions for all four categories we used in the paper.
3. We never attribute agency in the sense of subjective factors; our only agent is similar to an epidemiological agent, like a mechanical agent of injury (boat hitting diver), CO causing intoxication, and similar.
4. We are aware that there were causes beyond what was reported and that in most cases probably there were multiple causes, and we state it explicitly in the paper.
5. We aimed to identify contributing factors that could be targeted with preventive interventions (which we did not prescribe).
6. We assumed, that although we may never know the primordial cause(s), we still could intervene by preventing the domino effect or by interrupting the chain of events leading towards the fatal outcome. If we were not right in assuming it, why bother with teaching divers all possible corrective measures in an adverse event?I am looking forward to a bright future with much-improved incident analysis methods. I hope that my younger colleagues will have high-quality reports to work with trying to devise the best preventive interventions.

-PJ Denoble