Skilful Decisions logo

Decision-making, Human factors

Moral Character or Influence of the World

Return or Not - Moral Character or an influenced Decision

An article was written in 2020 as a response to a viral tweet about the “theory of the shopping trolley”. The initial tweet (or what ever we call it these days) considered that you can determine a persons “goodness” or “moral character” if they do or do not return shopping trolleys (carts) to the rightful place in the store or carpark. Article “Viral Shopping Cart Theory Determines Moral Character”

The reasons why someone makes the choice, decision, to return the trolley or not is not so clear cut. Because culture and the influences of the world around us will impact and even determine the decision we make in this case and not our moral character. The SHELL model developed by Edwards in 1972 and amended by Hawkins in 1975 is a conceptual model of human factors to clarify the location and cause of human error in the aviation environment. But I think it has much broader applications in not only understanding error but also decision making.

Place yourselves as the person (LIVEWARE) in the centre and consider how each of the elements outside impact the daily decisions you make. Either by their direct influence or how you choose to interact with them. How we interact/react can also depend on what control or influence we have over the element.

The Shopping Trolley dilemma

By taking a closer look into to each one and how it might influence/impact our decision to return the trolley, we can demonstrate how even simple decisions can be a product of the world we live in.

The Environment. Is the environment conducive to spending that extra few minutes walking back though the car park or is it hot, cold, wet, windy, generally unpleasant? Is it late at night, bright daylight, early morning? Is the car park / shop busy or quiet, how does that make you feel, react, interact – are you anxious, do you feel safe, uncomfortable?

The equipment or Hardware. Is the trolley one of those with an uncooperative wheel making it oh so difficult to steer, manoeuvre? Is the return place convenient and easy to do or is it out of the way, awkward or challenging?

The policies, process or procedure or Software.  Does the parking area have designated spaces, is there clear sign posting on where to return your trolley? Are there staff to assist if you need it?

The people or Liveware. Do you enjoy shopping there? Do you feel anything for the staff/shop? How did the staff treat you?  Do you have your own liveware in the car causing problems not willing to wait a moment longer?  Is the car park busy and people are waiting for you to leave?

The Culture. Is it a norm to return your trolley? Is the car park strewn with unreturned trolley’s so it is socially ok? Or are there disapproving looks from others for not returning it? Does it even register as a conscious decision or just one of the tens of thousands we make without conscious thought? What behaviours have you experienced in the past? From parents, friends, peers, strangers?

The answer to the questions above will be unique to everyone. Some will be similar to others depending your culture, your experiences, the results of other decisions. But how we make that final choice is unique to us, at that moment, in that space and time.

Daily D's

Removing the analogy of the shopping trolley and replacing it with our daily decisions, large or small. It is easy to ask the questions in hindsight after the decision is made but what if you ask the questions in the process of making that decision.

Considering all of the elements will initially take time, so the decisions you apply may be initially limited. However, with practice you will starting thinking about this as a matter of course it will become just what you do.

All of our decisions are influenced by the world around us. How we react and interact are impacted by our physical and mental health – how we feel on any day. Being at peak performance or at a minimum, aware when you are not, aids in making the best decision for us at that time, in that situation.


The benefit in decisions made with consideration of the CSHELL model include;

  • less off the cuff, emotive or impulsive decisions,
  • creation of an understanding of resources needed both hardware and software,
  • allowance or adjustments for environmental considerations,
  • the ability to assess culture and its impact on our decisions and behaviours, and
  • improvements in safety and the understanding of accepted risk.


Finally if used post an error it can provide organisations a way to identify systemic issues that contributed to the error occurrence. Moving away from the who and thoughts of “moral character” to the question of WHY.