One of my favorite poems written for the magazine Punch many years ago reads,
“Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak and the couplings strain;
And the pace is hot, and the points are clear,
And Sleep has deadened the driver’s ear;
And the signals flash through the night in vain,
For Death is in charge of the clattering train.”
It was one of Winston Churchill’s favorite poems, too. He associated the word “death” to the feckless and myopic practices of Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain prior to World War II. (Chamberlin did not envision or confront the belligerent and ruthless intents of the German dictator, Adolph Hitler.) I may be overreacting and an alarmist when I relate the poem to today’s business executives who fail to see the urgency to provide essential employee training to enhance memory and cognitive* abilities. Specifically, I refer to those supervisors who are blind to the fact that the work force is obsessed with technology (texting, tweets, Facebook), is easily distracted and is likely to make mistakes. These same supervisors are likely unaware of the growing number of recalls and warning letters that result from human errors. On the other hand, FDA is aware and has begun to focus more on quality assurance than concentrating solely on regulation compliance. Future inspections will review good company quality practices that lead to quality outcomes that go beyond compliance. There will be regulatory emphasis on preventive quality practices and encouraging companies to view compliance as one part of achieving overall quality, rather than the ultimate goal. Focus will lie upon identifying and addressing underlying causes of quality issues.
There are a host of reasons for mistakes in the workplace, including forgetfulness, inattentiveness, fatigue, carelessness, distraction, noncompliance, rushing, confusion, bad habits, disregard of learning aids, nervousness and just plain blunders. Many can be addressed by first teaching people to concentrate and to focus on the present moment. This article will describe one proven method to accomplish these goals.
Most everyone agrees that adequate training may be the best way to minimize errors. Lack of training is frequently cited as the root cause for a corrective action. One way to address this nonconformity is through mindfulness training. Mindfulness education is growing in popularity in a number of fields. In the past, mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, has been employed in psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Moreover, scientific research has been ongoing throughout the last 20 to 30 years, with a surge of interest in the last decade. Mindfulness can be defined as mental training that develops sustained attention that can change the way people think, act and feel. Mindfulness can also be thought of as the art of paying attention with an open and curious mind to present moment experiences or as the ability to attend to a task without distraction.
Mindfulness has been practiced by elementary school children and by doctors and their patients. Prisoners practice it, and there is mindful eating that promises a healthier lifestyle. Brain scans have shown that mindfulness may change the way our brains function and help us improve attention, reduce stress hormones and even bounce back faster from negative information.
Purpose and Goals
The purpose of mindfulness training is to develop attention, discernment, clear thinking and wisdom. Such training can decrease mind wandering, improve reading comprehension, cognitive performance, working memory capacity and task focus. Goals include error reduction, mistake prevention, customer satisfaction, minimizing adverse effects to the patients, compliance in terms of reducing nonconformities, fewer recalls and market withdrawals. Such training is an overall good business practice, as it has been shown that human error accounts for more than half of all unnecessary workplace expenses.