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Shane,
How do I explain to somebody what HPI is?

What is Human Performance Improvement (HPI)?  This is a great place to start this dialogue.  Depending on where you search for this determines the answer you get.  But even before we can explain what Human Performance is we must start with the definition of the word ‘error’.

In the DOE (Department of Energy) Human Performance Improvement Handbook, Volume 1, Concepts and Principles, it defines an error as: “An action that unintentionally departs from an expected behavior.”

One reference on the internet defines an error as a ‘mistake’.  We’ll talk about mistakes later, but the definition goes on to explain an error is a “state or condition of being wrong in conduct or judgement”.

Wikipedia defines an error as: “A deviation from accuracy or correctness”.


I realized early in my HPI journey that the opposite of human performance is complexity.  The definitions that I shared above, while necessary for the academia world, would not meet my ability to explain an error to my students and meet the HPI mantra of ‘keeping it simple’.   With deep respect to those who have much more education and respect in this field than myself, I offer my own definition with humility, only as a means of simplifying it so I could explain it to others.   This is nothing more than my opinion and should only be quoted or referred to as an opinion.

I believe an error is simply “something you didn’t intend to do”.  It could have a good outcome (serendipity – rare), or little to no consequence (most errors – good news), or a bad outcome (the ones we tend to focus on eliminating).

The first question I ask my students about the definition of error (something you didn’t intend to do), is, “is it difficult to get people to quit doing things they didn’t intend to do?”  The answer of course is ‘Yes’ it is difficult to get people to quit doing things they didn’t intend to do, because they didn’t intend to do it!

Hence the reason for Human Performance Improvement (HPI).  HPI is a philosophy (with a methodology) that provides guidance on how to manage human fallibility where people do things they didn’t intend to do.

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