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EHS Lessons from a 32-Time Jeopardy! Winner (Really)

Toby Graham /
person pressing one of three red buzzers

When people ask me about my job, they’re usually surprised to learn that I like writing about workforce safety and compliance issues.

“Isn’t that, like, really technical?” They ask. “Don’t you get bored?”

No, not at all. While there are plenty of technical aspects to what we do (safety data sheets and environmental documentation come to mind), one primary role of any EHS professional is to connect regulations and standards to everyday human behavior. That means helping people understand what the rules are, and how those rules are designed to keep you from, say, losing an eye. 

And when your job is literally a matter of life and death, it’s hard to get bored—and dangerous, to boot.

Then there’s all the fascinating reading I get to do. Clearly, I’m not the only one who believes this line of work warrants lively commentary and the occasional odd metaphor. 

Over at Risk and Insurance magazine, business professor and Risk Insider Jack Hampton recently wrote an excellent article that demonstrates what I’m getting at. The article somehow weaves in color blindness, fear of flying, and James Holzhauer—the Jeopardy! contestant who just completed a 32-game winning streak—to make a point about the risks we over-accentuate and the risks we choose to ignore. 

Hampton writes:

“Using a time-worn but still effective SWOT analysis, Holzhauer brought a unique vision to Jeopardy:

  • He had a superior grasp of knowledge compared to other likely contestants. He could press the button faster.
  • He had no weaknesses in this environment. He’s a professional sports gambler who deals with risk every day. Other contestants may be smart, but they’re less likely to respond quickly in tense situations.
  • He could maximize his strengths and the weaknesses of others with an aggressive, attacking style of play.
  • He could minimize danger using a steady course where he did not get carried away by success or overestimating the weaknesses of others.
  •  His ability to see the colors in the full picture of risk produced a successful outcome that will benefit him for years after he leaves Jeopardy.

Holzhauer gives us a recent risk ophthalmology lesson. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Reed Hastings—Microsoft, Apple, and Netflix respectively—previously saw vibrant colors of risk and opportunity.

Even if we’re not the superior contestant in terms of basic ability, we can look for the true color as we deal with the risks we face.”

Read “Why Jeopardy Contestant James Holzhauer Is a Prime Example of Best Risk Management Practices.”

Hampton’s point is that people tend to see workforce risk and safety in black-and-white terms when there’s a whole, intricate spectrum of human factors at work. It’s an insight that applies to EHS and risk management as a whole: behind every fatigue-related accident, there’s a worker who needed a nap; behind every effective program, there’s interactive and engaging training

For more fresh takes about the human side of organizational safety and compliance, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

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