Mental framing and word choice
The other night we held an autonomous vehicle salon at First Round (we do about 90 dinners a year on specific topics from tactical stuff on…
The other night we held an autonomous vehicle salon at First Round (we do about 90 dinners a year on specific topics from tactical stuff on company building to general areas of curiosity). I learned a ton about the autonomous landscape but was really struck by two things that are more about language than about self-driving cars.
As the roads move toward autonomous, the number of crashes and fatalities should drop a ton —there are about 35k people killed every year in car crashes each year in the United States — and it would seem that a decrease of a factor of 10x to 3500 fatalities would be amazing.
But this is the wrong framing.
When cars sustain or create physical damage today due to a collision, we call it an accident — a mistake was made by a well intentioned human actor. When an airplane sustains or creates physical damage due to a collision, we call it a crash — and then we investigate to find out if that crash was caused by intervening human actions like “pilot error.” In the future we will all talk about car crashes, not accidents.
Today, we accept the deaths on our roads because they are accidental caused by well intentioned humans who made mistakes. In other contexts this level of fatality would be totally unacceptable — consider that to achieve this level of carnage, a 747 would have to fall out of the sky once a week for a year…that would never happen as the airspace would be closed and even if it wasn’t the planes would be empty with everyone afraid to fly. Or, if medical error led to a similar number of lives lost? No way.
Because of this, the autonomous movement needs to frame the safety improvements differently. Rather than saying we will reduce the number of fatalities and make a rational argument in hopes that people exchange their fears of robot cars for some number of saved lives — we should start with the goal of zero fatalities, describe the autonomous environment that would lead to this result and then let the world know how close we are to achieving that result. Re-framed as a road to zero vs reduction from 35k, the robots might be welcomed.
This applies generally to metal frameworks and word choice. Maybe most in regulated environments, but probably in any situation where you need to present your point of view and position your goals as leading the best outcome for all (like in a board room or leadership team meeting if you are the CEO of a startup).