The psychology of film & TV, media, & work

Um, so what exactly is Human Factors? A Space Odyessy

in Work Psychology by

There’s a moment in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey where our distant, ape-like, evolutionary ancestor spontaneously comprehends how a large bone can be used for violence.

Shortly after this moment he clubs an animal over the head and provides dinner for his furry pals. The weapon is then used as leverage to conquer a small, rival society to obtain access to a water hole.Depending on your background, you will probably view this scene in a few ways.

A risk expert may view the ape-man lowering his risk of starvation and exposing himself to a valuable survival opportunity. A project planner may consider this a perfect example of strategy, planning and execution, overcoming the exposed, unorganised society.

Social psychologists would be interested in the social dynamics of the groups bonding and uniting to promote their own survival. Useability experts might be more interested in the bone being used as a tool. The end-user finds it useful in achieving what they want to achieve.

Culture change individuals might be more interested in the shared values and attitudes of the ape-people, as well as the environmental influences that are promoting this change in group dynamics.

What would a Human Factors person think?

Human Factors looks at how all of these factors—risk, social dynamics, tools, planning, and so on—dynamically interact to influence outcomes.

The ape-man is being influenced by his culture and society and his basic need for survival. The tool and his social group assist him in achieving this goal.

The bone isn’t a tool unless it is used. The tool isn’t used if there is no drive for survival. The tool isn’t perceived as useful if the ape-man can’t comprehend its functionality and so on.

In the same way that reading this blog you don’t read the individual words or letters.

You don’t read the final paragraph and lose the meaning of what you read at the beginning. You also read my message in light of context provided from a movie released in 1968 and you assume that I am a person with a particular motive or message to deliver.

In short, somehow all the parts come together to deliver a message. Or to use an old cliché, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’

But maybe my message isn’t clear. Have I planned it appropriately? Have I underestimated the risk of you failing to comprehend it? Perhaps the message isn’t a useable one. It’s too long or boring.

Perhaps it needs some Human Factors?


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