Episode Summary

In this episode, we’ll discuss a paper from one of the giants of organizational psychology, Edgar Schein. Schein recently passed away at age of 98. His work has influenced not just safety practitioners but also safety academics over the past few years. His approach to organizational leadership intersected with some of the resilience in safety II and safety differently motivated ideas. We first considered discussing his book, Humble Inquiry, (see link in Resources) but instead decided on his 1992 paper, “How can organizations learn faster? The problem of entering the green room”, from the MIT Sloan School of Management. It was delivered as an invited address to the World Economic Forum on February 6th, 1992 in Davos, Switzerland.

Episode Notes

You’ll hear a little about Schein’s early career at Harvard and MIT, including his Ph.D. work – a paper on the experience of POWs during wartime contrasted against the indoctrination of individuals joining an organization for employment. Some of Schein’s 30-year-old concepts that are now common practice and theory in organizations, such as “psychological safety”

Discussion Points:

  • A brief overview of Schein’s career, at Harvard and MIT’s School of Management and his fascinating Ph.D. on POWs during the Korean War
  • A bit about the book, Humble Inquiry
  • Digging into the paper
  • Three types of learning
  • Knowledge acquisition and insight learning
  • Habits and skills
  • Emotional conditioning and learned anxiety
  • Practical examples and the metaphor of Pavlov’s dog
  • Countering Anxiety I with Anxiety II
  • Three processes of ‘unfreezing’ an organization or individual to change:
  • Disconfirmation
  • Creation of guilt or anxiety
  • Err
  • Mistakes in organizations and how they respond
  • There are so many useful nuggets in this paper
  • Schein’s solutions: Steering committees/change teams/groups to lead the organizations and manage each other’s anxiety


  • How an organization deals with mistakes will determine how change happens
  • Assessing levels of fear and anxiety
  • Know what stands in your way if you want progress
  • Answering our episode question: How can organizations learn faster? 1) Don’t make people afraid to enter the green room. 2) Or make them more afraid to stand on the black platform.


Link to the paper

Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein

The Safety of Work Podcast

The Safety of Work on LinkedIn