The Forge 19 - Sept/Oct


The Forge 19 - Sept/Oct

Art of Work is an idea that emerged nearly 2 years ago in Brisbane. At the time there were a few businesses that were experimenting with the ideas of Sidney Dekker and Erik Hollnagel, and a group of senior safety business leaders that wanted to engage the practice, or as John Green would say, Weaponize It". The problem was that there were no businesses with the tools and experience to do exactly that. We decided that it was time to stop talking and start doing, Art of Work was born.

At Art of Work, the translation of theory into working tools has been led by Daniel Hummerdal. To this end, great progress has been made, and we have tools deployed in a range of business and risk settings. We continue to learn from practice and adapt the practices and strategies from those learnings.

Our experience though this journey has given us opportunity to reflect upon the challenges of transitioning from Safety I to Safety II. We encounter debate and discussion as to whether we should just build a bridge between the two, given that there is a perception of dichotomy. Framing the discussion around dichotomy diverts our focus from the foundation principles and purpose for safety practice in our organisations.

For me, I find it useful to revert to the 3 Principles; particularly 1 - People are a solution to harness and 3 - Safety is an ethical responsibility.  Safety as an ethical responsibility demands we engage with our purpose as safety professionals and ethical businesses. In my view harmonisation saw the legal profession hijack safety's’ ethical construct, creating board level fear of personal liability for directors. Safety became about protecting the leadership from unsafe people. Zero harm prospered under a mantra of Zero tolerance for error.

As a profession, we have transitioned our thinking about safety from protecting the interests of the person doing the work, to protecting the interest of the corporation. This shift has fundamentally constrained autonomy, communication, trust and improvement through the subjugation of compliance driven by unreliable performance metrics. The war on error has become a war on the people who do the work.

Under Principle 3, we should frame our work in safety around the fundamental tenant to create safe places of work by setting people up for success, where trust and wellbeing is central to the work environment. Safety is not a dichotomy, but a constant process of finding that which helps people to do their work safely, reliably and productively. Safety is our ethical responsibility to those that do the work.

Kelvin Genn
Managing Director

Read The Forge 19 - Sept/Oct Issue!

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The Art of Work UK & European Event Series


The Art of Work UK & European Event Series

Acre presents Safety Differently with Art of Work

We are excited to announce a series of events in Europe that will take place throughout September to december 2017. 

Art of Work will be running various courses and seminars in the UK and Ireland, designed for Safety Professionals and Business Leaders to enable a Safety Differently approach to take hold within the industry.

If you are looking for an introduction to Safety Differently, the safety breakfast innovation series events will be a perfect fit. To carry on with the philosophy in practice, improve your leadership skills and enabling better performance, join us for a one day masterclasses.  

Traditionally, health and safety has been about eliminating unwanted outcomes, such as injuries, incidents, and illnesses, it has been about avoiding variance and controlling people through procedure and, when it has gone wrong, has often blamed those very people who are exposed to the risk.

At Art of Work, we understand that people are not a problem to control with more compliance, demands and constraints. We believe that people are the solution with expertise and resilience and with valuable knowledge which must be harnessed. We are about setting people and organisations up for success.

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Our philosophy aims to increase successful outcomes across varying conditions by engaging and upskilling people at all levels of an organisation to identify opportunities, strategies, and ideas that will improve the way work is done, and enable organisations to reach their business and safety objectives.

Starting in September with an introduction to Safety Differently, John Green and Helen Rawlinson will present at our Safety Breakfast Innovation Roadshow. 

Providing a space to build knowledge of the Safety Differently philosophy in practice, Masterclasses are available on Appreciative Investigations and Enabling Leadership throughout October and December. They will be presented by Art of Work's directors Marc McLaren and Helen Rawlinson. 

Also in December, professor Sidney Dekker of Griffith University in Australia, will deliver a couple of seminars on Just Culture and Safety Differently. 


Safety Innovation Breakfast: This event series is ideal for those who are new to the concepts of Safety Differently. The breakfast roadshow is held in London, Manchester and Dublin, and is the ideal starting block for developing an awareness around the philosophy of Safety Differently. 

Masterclasses: We currently have three Masterclasses available which are designed to help delegates to build upon their awareness of Safety Differently. The masterclasses are ideal for CEO's, Safety Professionals and Senior Managers who would like to start creating conversations in their organisation around an alternative approach. Masterclasses are also effective when used as a workshop to help influence key stakeholders within a business. The Masterclasses have a mix of theory, practice and open conversation to equip delegates with the ability to influence and start to build practices within their organisations.

Seminars: With access to thought leaders, Art of Work have arranged a number of Seminars hosted by Sidney Dekker. Seminars are widely attended by academics and Safety Professionals looking to enhance their knowledge of the philosophy around Safety Differently. Our latest offerings are in Safety Differently and Just Culture.


Sept 25, 2017 - London, UK, presented by Helen Rawlinson and John Green

Sept 26, 2017 - Manchester, UK, presented by Helen Rawlinson and John Green

Oct 02, 2017 - Dublin, Ireland, presented by Helen Rawlinson and John Green

Oct 03, 2017 - London, UK, presented by Helen Rawlinson and John Green


MASTERCLASSES: Appreciative Investigations, Enabling Leadership, Safety Differently

Oct 06, 2017 - London, UK, presented by Helen Rawlinson 

Dec 14, 2017 - London, UK, presented by Marc McLaren

Dec 15, 2017 - London, UK, presented by Marc McLaren and Helen Rawlinson



Dec 12, 2017 - London, UK

Dec 13, 2017 - London, UK

Register now to upskill your knowledge, to move beyond compliance, to learn from what goes right, and to boost your organisations capability to achieve their desired outcomes.

For more information on the events, dates and how to book see our events page.


Q&A With Art of Work's Managing Director - Kelvin Genn

Q&A With Art of Work's Managing Director - Kelvin Genn

After more than 18 months in the shadows, Kelvin Genn is stepping forward and taking an active role as Managing Director of the Art of Work business. We ask Kelvin some important questions.

You're officially Managing Director, however also known as Director Disruption. Care to elaborate?

In the current Zero Harm paradigm, we have constrained organisations with rules and bureaucracy in the name of eliminating error. With the eradication of error, we have subsequently crushed innovation and learning. I feel that error and failure are invaluable opportunities through curiosity to unlock insight and new perspectives. What we need is to be able to fail well.

Disruption is revolutionising the way that we work. It serves to throw the rules out and reinvent the way work is done by focussing on the outcome. At Art of Work we are intrinsically interested in understanding the desired outcome and liberating through enabled people new and transformational thinking, the way to achieve the outcome.

So what does your role encompass at Art of Work?

The Art of Work business has two brands - Art of Work and Generative HSE. Art of Work is pioneering the practical implementation of the safety differently philosophy while Generative HSE bolsters operational safety delivery with innovative systems and critical risk capability.  I am responsible for facilitating and supporting our people to succeed with our bold endeavours.

What brings you to Art of Work?

I've been operating in the safety differently space for quite some time as I performed international and Board Member roles for various respected national and international organisations. After identifying the need in the marketplace for a business which helps organisations to operationalise the safety differently philosophy, I engaged with my long term peers Sidney Dekker, Daniel Hummerdal, Marc McLaren and John Green to make it happen. Together, we formed the Art of Work business and have been working in the background since its inception to ensure that it meets and exceeds its potential.

Are you happy with where the business is now?

I'm ecstatic. There are very few start-up businesses who can name some of Australia's largest and most respected organisations such as Qantas, Laing O'Rourke and GrainCorp as their clients in their first year, let alone build a network of safety professionals who are breaking the mould to drive positive and productive change in the industry.

So where to from here?

Demand for our services continue to grow in Australia and internationally, so I definitely see that we will expand our footprint further; we'll also be bringing on more consultants and will be fostering strategic relationships with other reputable organisations to grow in reach. Our Lighthouse Centre of Excellence is a vital step for us, so we'll be concentrating on building our suite of engagement tools and our network of professional thought leaders who are skilled in the Art of Work. We have launched an office in London to support the growing demand and are looking forward to setting up in New Zealand and the USA.


Art of Work Expands to the UK with New London Office

Art of Work Expands to the UK with New London Office

Art of Work has announced its expansion to the United Kingdom. The Australian organisation has made a name for itself in the industry with its fresh and innovative approach to safety and productivity and has gathered a number of respected global and national clients since its inception in 2015.

Director of Innovation at Art of Work, Daniel Hummerdal said that “There has been global interest in what we do at Art of Work from the very beginning and we already have UK based clients, so opening an office in London is the obvious next step for us.”

Newly appointed UK Managing Director Helen Rawlinson believes that “UK organisations have plateaued in their performance and are looking for the answer to ‘what’s next?’. The industry is ready for a fresh approach and our proven experience in Australia will add significant value in the UK.”

“This is an exciting time for Art of Work and for the global safety industry” said Daniel Hummerdal, “Many organisation have recognised the many problematic side effects of traditional safety methods and are looking for new ways to enable better outcomes. Leaders have realised that they can have a different sort of conversation that builds on traditional safety methods to improve the organisations’ ability to drive successful outcomes, with benefits to productivity, wellbeing and safety.”

Daniel Hummerdal adds that “This is an important step towards building further capability to deliver for our clients. The expansion supports us in our endeavours to bring together global thought and delivery leaders for Safety Differently.”

Visit for more information.


About Art of Work

Art of Work brings together the experience and skills of global safety thinkers and leaders who are reshaping safety practices for complex organisations across the globe.

The organisation delivers a range of consulting and educational services that empower organisations and individuals to unlock potential and deliver sustainable results by improving the way work is done.

Art of Work develops in-house capability to connect the people with the needs and ideas with the people who can deliver change in order to design more resilient workplaces. Their services enable business leaders to set their people up for success with improvements to productivity, efficiency, safety and with greater well-being.

Q & A with Helen Rawlinson.

Q & A with Helen Rawlinson.

We spend some time with Helen Rawlinson, Art of Work’s newly appointed Managing Director in the UK.

So Helen, what brings you to the Art of Work team?

I am a passionate advocate of the values and principles of Safety Differently and Enabling Safety, having followed the growing interest in Australia. My relationships with the Art of Work team have strengthened and it seemed a perfect fit when they came to me to discuss their UK expansion.

Where have you come from and what do you bring to the Art of Work team?

Most recently I was HS&E Leader for Laing O'Rourke here in the UK, leading their manufacturing, plant and logistics businesses through a strategic transition between safety I and safety II. Prior to that I held a number of safety roles across a wide range of industries and completed a degree in HS&E management along the way.

I bring over 10 years experience working successfully in the UK safety industry. I have a wide network and i am looking forward to connecting more people with an interest in Safety Differently. I am focused on changing perceptions of the industry and supporting businesses to connect with their people to enable success by harnessing an understanding of what work is really like.

Where do you see the opportunities lie in the UK?

Many organisations have plateaued and desire change, they connect to the philosophy and I see a growing demand now for understanding how to implement Safety Differently in real time, where the daily operational pressures still exist. I believe more people in the industry want the opportunity to share their experiences and journey with Safety II, we can help create that.

Art of Work do a great job of showing their clients what is possible and offering practical, proven steps with positive, sustainable improvements. I am looking forward to speaking at events, hosting our own events and raising the profile for the great work Art of Work delivers for its clients in Australia and now more formally here in the UK.


Helen Rawlinson is contactable on or +44 7821 753 504.

Q & A with Hendrik Lourens

Q & A with Hendrik Lourens

You're relatively new to Art of Work. Can you tell us about your background and experience?

I started my career in Physics, then went on to do a Masters in Polymer Science. I worked across the plastics value chain in R&D, tech service, technical and quality management and sales development. During this time I completed an MBA and gained accreditation in Theory of Constraints based interventions. While employed as company director I had profit and loss responsibility for a struggling manufacturing unit. With the help of our staff, we managed to turn this business unit around in less than a year; this was a turning point in my career. This experience encouraged me to start consulting in mining using the Theory of Constraints a few years later. What I found most interesting was that after the intervention lifted production rates substantially, the mine would shortly after dramatically improve its safety record, often winning industry safety awards a year later.

What brings you to Art of Work?

I relocated to Australia last year and a contact in Vancouver who liked what I had written on complexity, productivity and leadership suggested that I meet with Art of Work. From the first discussion, it was clear that we shared the same philosophy. If we can improve the ease with which employees do their work, seemingly intractable problems such as safety, engagement and profitability will often take care of itself. Or require just a little more help.

Where do your passions lie with respect to safety and business performance? (you don't have to answer this if you don't want to!).

Safety and business performance are both prerequisites for having a thriving, sustainable business. I enjoy improving business performance the most, which creates an environment in which substantially better safety performance becomes possible.

What challenges do you see for the future of the safety in Australia?

Safety has had a wonderful run and achieved good results, but we are now at the point of diminishing returns using the traditional safety interventions. With increasing competition companies are becoming aware of the need for greater flexibility, faster execution and becoming more effective/efficient. Traditional safety systems often hamper achieving these goals.

What excites you about the future?

To succeed in the changing environment (VUCA) companies will have to fundamentally rethink their organisational designs and managerial thinking around running sustainable businesses.  Art of Work was founded on a philosophy which is well suited to this environment. I expect Art of Work to continue growing at a rapid rate, providing meaningful employment and adding exceptional value to clients. The systems thinker Russel Ackoff said “ It is better to do the right things poorly than to do the wrong things well”. Imagine what clients can achieve if, with a little help from Art of Work, they start to do the right things well.

From Heroes to Hosts

From Heroes to Hosts

Every now and then I meet people who claim that what is needed to improve safety is ‘strong and visible safety leadership’. I sort of get what they mean with ‘visible leadership’ (that leaders can be seen doing the right things), but the rest is confusing. Strong? How strong exactly? Strong in order to do what? What do you mean by ‘leadership’? And what do you mean by ‘safety’ anyway?

Further exploration of the idea of strong and visible safety leadership normally leads down a fairly predictable route. The usual suspects in expanding on the concept includes:

  • The standard you walk by, is the standard you accept. This message needs to come from the top-down.
  • We need leaders who make it clear to people where the line in the sand is.
  • We need leaders who are ready to have the tough conversations about safety!

Put differently, ‘strong and visible leadership’ is a reactive and behavioural intervention, mediated by role modelling and the use of punishments (and rewards) to urge people to comply with the desired behaviours. It is based on assumptions that there are objective safe and unsafe behaviours and conditions (safety is bimodal); that safety is about managing deviations (negatives), that safety is threatened by people not respecting procedures and external standards (people are the problem), and that safety can be ensured if people adhered to external standards (safety is a bureaucratic accountability). 

This is effectively a transactional leadership style:

  • leaders promote compliance by setting clear expectations, and using rewards and punishments in return for the favour/transgressions
  • its focus is on existing rules and procedures (thinking inside the box), rather than being curious about creating a better future

This way, safety is managed as if it was a disconnected aspect from work – as if it was not an outcome or emergent property of how work was setup up and done. It will lock people into a reactive mode, in which safety can only be improved when there are deviations. Safety will this way become driven by deficits, threats and problem which will contribute to a tedious and negative culture, which never really makes anything better.

Furthermore, strong and visible safety leadership will contribute toward problems of adaptation. In a world with a fast paced technological change, increasingly globalised, with competitive pressures to do more with less, trying to overcome challenges by imposing solutions that were developed for yesterday’s needs, will inevitably hold back organisations that need to evolve and overcome.

Some leadership thinkers have suggested that Transformational leadership is a more sustainable way to achieve people’s commitment and buy-in (notably James MacGregor Burns). Transformational leadership is based on the idea that sustainable change can be achieved, not by rewards or punishment, but through engagement with people. By articulating a compelling vision and explaining its importance, people can internalise motivation to achieve the higher order needs and the mission of the organisation. Consequently, people can find an identity and internal drive to do the right things, and take actions to align both behaviours and the environment to achieve a particular vision. This way, leaders are also more likely to get trust, admiration and followers.

I sometimes find myself attracted to this type of leadership discourse. I like the idea of a more forward looking and intrinsically motivated style of safety leadership. But at second and third thought, I can’t see that it is much different from the strong and visible safety leadership talk. In this version too, it is the leader’s task to step forward, do the thinking and feeling, take charge, articulate a vision, and get people’s buy-in. Safety is still being managed as if it was a top-down hierarchical responsibility. The transformational leadership appears to have the same basic assumption: that people are a problem – that they need instructions and motivations from leaders to do what is right.

So, what would a leadership model à la safety differently look like? How can leaders engage based on the ideas that people are the solution, that safety is about a capability to create positive outcomes, and that safety is an ethical responsibility? I’d like to start a conversation about this by suggesting a number of necessary shifts:

From answers to questions

John Green’s post about curiosity highlights that traditional ways of managing safety are hinged on providing people with the right answers for how to do things. This way people don’t have to think for themselves (apart from when they have to, which is often pointed out after incidents). Furthermore, by constantly providing the answers we gradually lose the capability for conversations between people that can generate new answers and insights about how things get done.

Leading safety differently is about having the courage to not have the answers, but trusting that the answers are out there to be found. When leaders enter a situation there is opportunity to pursue questions like:

  • what is going on here?
  • how do things get done?
  • what is it that I don’t understand or know?
  • what’s a mystery to me?
  • what can I learn here?

These questions open up pathways to the unknown, the uncertain, and the unpredictable. Surprise is pretty much the only way to discover the distractions, difficulties, complexities, and other challenges that brew outside what’s in procedures. Unless we have pathways to surprise ourselves, not much is going to improve.

From reactive to creative

Every purposeful action comes with a risk of failure. It is hence the action or activity that gives rise to the need for safety, but also to the potential for success. This gives leaders two options. They can try to ensure safety by safeguarding people and processes so that things don’t go wrong – playing it not to lose, maintaining standards, keeping things in place. Or, they can enable safety by setting people and processes up for success. The difference is that the former leads to constraints and compliance to make sure that things don’t get out of hand. The tendency will be to map the present with standards and ideas developed for yesterday’s needs. In contrast,  building capability to achieve successful outcomes uses the present to ask questions about what future can be created.

Leaders who want to do safety differently, are likely to ask:

  • What is possible here/now?
  • What haven’t we thought of?
  • What ideas do people have for making things better?

From hero to host

Organisational charts with roles and responsibilities can be considered a chart over who has the power, who gets to set the standards and expectations, who is accountable to whom. But as Ron Gantt pointed out to me in a recent conversation, when it comes to safety, organisational charts are better understood as a distribution of labour. This means that all the positions of the chart fill different roles to enable the safe functioning of the workplace, and each position has a different view and can contribute in a different way.

Workplace problems are more often than not, complex problems, wicked problems, problems entangled and influenced by a wide range of sources. There is no single individual in any organisation who has the full understanding of every aspect of an issue. Strong and visible leadership is perhaps able to produce a temporary result in a specific area, but this way the underlying cluster of issues that gave rise to the problem in the first place will remain unaddressed.

To lead safety differently is to accept that in order to understand any issue the organisation needs input and involvement from many, most or all parts of the business. As Margaret Wheatley puts it:We need leaders who can host a platform where the different parts can come together and build a rich common understanding about what is going on, leaders who can give the time reflect on what is going on, and leaders who can deflect other leaders who wish to take control and be heroes.

To lead safety differently involves asking questions like:

  • Who else should be involved in this conversation?
  • What skills and insights of people are available to understand and address this issue?

This is not a warm and fuzzy approach. It is a more refined way of solving problems.

From constraint to facilitation

I am still to meet a person who is not motivated to be safe. People do not come to work to do a bad job, or to create incidents and accidents. Nevertheless, they sometimes end up in difficult situations which may lead to undesirable outcomes, design their own workarounds, or even breach procedures. But people don’t do this because they are bad people or thrill seekers. They do this to get things done, because they are passionate about the success for their team, supervisor and the organisations.

To lead safety differently is to assume that people already have the motivation to be safe. There is rarely, if ever, a need to motivate people further. The challenge is instead to facilitate for people to make informed decisions, to have adequate resources and tools available to meet demands, to address the conditions that undermine performance. The role of a safety leader is not to constrain people, but to facilitate work – so it can be safer, more efficient and more productive.

This too involves asking a different set of questions, or looking for different answers:

  • what are people most dependent on to be successful?
  • what makes their work difficult and challenging to perform?

This way organisations can harness the existing motivation and work with people to create better workplaces. Leading safety differently is not about ‘keeping people safe’. It’s about enabling people to carry out tasks successfully across varying conditions.

Weak and invisible safety leadership?

The above suggestions are not intended as a set of new norms that leaders should follow. That would be an ironic error on my part. What I’ve tried to do is to point out, and start a conversation about, how leadership can be understood in a safety differently context. Using this lens highlights new ways for leaders to see and be in relation to creating successful workplaces. Primarily, I’ve pointed out that leadership is not the end, but a means. And if the goal is to create stronger, better, smarter, more innovative organisations, the role of the leader can probably be better executed in more of a background role. Not invisible, but in a way that supports people.

Now, the above is in contrast with the idea about strong leadership idea described earlier. But I do not think that the suggestions above can be described as weak leadership. The way I see it is that this kind of leadership would require greater courage and greater strengths on the leader’s part – to be behind the scenes, to not have the answers, to not claim credit for success. And in all likelihood, an organisation made up from people who are supported and given latitude to have input and take responsibility will be stronger than one in which people are driven by either punishment or rewards, all things being equal. In a safety differently context, what is needed is a strengthening leadership, rather than strong leadership.


Thank you for an extraordinary year!

What a year 2016 has been for Art of Work. It was our first, solid calendar year and one that we will never forget. In 12 short months, our philosophy has been embraced by thousands of business leaders and safety professionals across Australia, the UK, NZ and beyond.

We've forged strong partnerships withs major organisations like Qantas, Laing O'Rourke and Connetics where we are supporting them to embed appreciative safety philosophies throughout their organisations; We've helped companies such as Origin, IXOM, Thiess, Transport for NSW, Graincorp and Jemena with various undertakings; Delivered Master Classes across the East Coast, NZ and UK; Forged commercial partnerships with QBE and Acre in the UK and have been asked to share our philosophy and insights at various industry events such as the SIA Conference and the NZ Business Leaders Forum to name a few.

Most importantly for the team at Art of Work are the relationships we have established along the way. We are constantly surrounded by inspiring leaders, progressive thinkers and people who are willing to drive meaningful change in order to set their organisations up for success. 

A huge thank you to everyone in the Art of Work community who has helped to make 2016 such a special year. We have big things planned for 2017 and look forward to sharing them with you.

We hope that you and your loved ones create special memories over the holiday period. Take care and happy holidays!


People are the Solution


People are the Solution

I once ran some focus groups on a mine site. The goal was to identify conditions that made work difficult. One of the issues that the workforce identified was that “Work is difficult when you drive at night and you can’t see signage, rocks, and other traffic”. After having presented this and other findings to the project employees during a prestart meeting, one of the truckies came up to me and said: “Let me know if you need any help in assessing effectiveness or placing the lighting towers. I’ve got a master’s degree in lighting. I can help.”

So there was this truck operator, who up until that point had been defined by the role and responsibility that the organisation had given him: to operate a truck. But his potential was clearly much bigger than that. And he was keen to contribute more. I passed on his name to the managers but I don’t know what happened with this after I left. However, this experience triggered a question and a perspective that I have explored since: That people are the solution.

Organisations are filled with people whose capacity goes above and beyond the roles and responsibilities that we have assigned them. Every organisation is a bundle of (more or less locked up) intelligence, passion, knowledge, creativity, collaboration, knowhow, innovation that can be used to improve, detect, assess ambiguous environments, optimise cutting edge technology that we haven’t fully understood yet, carry out work under competitive pressures to do more with less, care about colleagues, speak up, and to lend a helping hand.  And organisations are free to make use of this resource – to realise its intellectual, emotional and creative potential.

In this sense, the question that we need to ask ourselves may not be how people can be the solution. But rather: How come that the potential of people so often is overlooked, disregarded, discarded and even disdained when it comes to safety? Because, this potential remains a relatively unexplored resource in most companies that I’ve visited. This capacity to innovate and create is more often than not considered a problem - an unpredictable threat that better be kept at bay and within confined roles and responsibilities handed down from above.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve often wondered why organisations so willingly and frequently turn away from or against this potential resource – their people – when it comes to safety.

  • Why this escape from its own potential?
  • Why do so many organisations copy what other organisations do?
  • Why are so many organisations keen on importing products that have been developed elsewhere?
  • Why is it that there is so little creativity when it comes to safety?
  • Why are we so keen on using outside expertise rather than looking for the answer within our own organisations? Why are there so few celebrations of local initiatives?

Below, I first provide two potential answers as to why people so often are considered a problem. Second, I outline some steps toward making people the solution.

Control and Predictability

First, when functions are designed, control and predictability are highly desirable features. Under pressures to carry out projects on time, on budget, without any losses to machinery, people or environment, control and predictability are seductive notions. Humans with their free will, subjectivity, creativity, autonomy and capacity to see and combine things in unexpected ways, do not really fit the ideals of control and predictability. So this idea, this potential, about people being the solution, is perhaps too disruptive. You have no idea what people can come up with. People’s potential brings great uncertainty into our plans.

In fact, it takes a lot of effort to keep this potential at bay. To maintain or increase control and predictability, organisations tend to opt for a prescriptive approach. By imposing prescriptions around methods, behaviours and values, organisations reduce reactivity, mess, diversity, variation, uncertainty, but also creativity and autonomy. They also increase repetition, conformity, discipline, uniformity and order.

I believe it’s crucial to recognise that prescriptions have as a goal to transform the consciousness of the prescribed person to align with the person who prescribes. The more you prescribe and ask for compliance, the more of a problem people become, and the less engagement and creativity you will have. Why should people be engaged when the thinking, designs and solutions have been handed down to them? How can they be engaged when all that has already been done for them?

I increasingly ask safety managers “do you really want engagement, or is it buy-in into compliance you’re looking for?”

The escape from freedom

A second reason why organisations escape their own potential is psychologically perhaps more interesting. When we face an unknown, and uncertain future and something that may potentially go wrong, people and organisations have a tendency to look to something external to project our hopes on, to displace our doubts, to have something to cling on to.

Essentially, this is a belief that we will be saved if we rely on something external to ourselves. This may be:

  • a standard

  • a best practice

  • a method developed elsewhere

  • a charismatic leader

  • a set of sparkly rules

  • a theory

  • more evidence based science

  • Asking “What would market leading company X do?”

All these potential points of stability may be good in and of themselves. And they can all be quite seductive in that someone else has already thought about the issue much more than we have, so why shouldn’t we follow their lead?

In contrast to this desire for stable tools to chart and master an unknown future, what your people can offer is relatively unstable and unattractive:

  • What you want is something objective. People are susceptible to whims or subjectivity.

  • It is way more attractive to rely on laws of regularity, rather than people’s hunches and gripes.

  • You probably want facts, not individual opinions.

  • You will want numbers, rather than descriptions.

  • You will want the ‘one best way’, rather than exploring the many good enough ways that people may have developed.

  • You may prefer something that has been tested and validated, over the new and unproven things that people can come up with

  • Of course you’d like something formal, like a set of accountabilities, rather than informal relations built on fuzzy trust.

  • It’d be good if you could have something static and written down, rather than something which is changeable.

  • You are likely to prefer precise rules, rather than approximate interpretations.

It’s a soothing notion that we can buy or access our safety and security from somewhere, that safety is a product that can be put in place. It’s potentially an anxiety reducing thought that we can escape doubt and our own responsibility to be the best we can, by copying someone else. But the cost of escaping your own freedom to embrace safety in a way that only you can, is the loss of creativity, loss of engagement, loss of ownership, a loss of your own potential, loss of authenticity, and a way to make the world a bit more boring.

Overcoming the fear of freedom

When you step outside mainstream ways of being and seeing safety, when you commit to realising your own organisational potential - you are likely to suffer varying degrees of isolation, confusion, doubts, ambiguity, and other difficulties that first emerge when you face great uncertainty about your own capability. If you want to step off the beaten track, you will have to start benchmarking yourself to yourself. And it may take a while to establish your own standards after a long period of relying on someone else’s. Also, you as an organisation will expose yourself to critique, and quite possibly to legal action should things not work out.

To be able to sort through and go through this ‘valley of despair’ you and your organisation need to assume autonomy and responsibility by starting to relate your actions to yourself. Here are three steps that can help with the transition.

  1. First, look within. If you want innovation and engagement, if people are the solution, you can’t default to looking for the solution outside your own business. I think it’s much more intriguing to assume that somewhere in your own organisations there is already a solution in place that is keeping your people safe. Otherwise you’d have more incidents. You need to figure out what it is that is currently enabling people to work safely. Start by looking at what already works.

  2. Ask, listen and explore how your people understand their world, how they currently contribute. Ask your people what they care about. What they struggle with. What ideas they have. For the safety professionals of the future I predict that it will be more important to be able to explore than to have the answers.

  3. Start small. Don’t do everything at once. There is no need to abandon everything that you’ve done to date and stand naked in the mud waiting for ideas and inspiration to start flowing. That’d be arrogant, and probably boring. Instead, start small. Run micro experiments. Get creative. Get permission to try things locally. If it works, expand and roll it out. If it doesn’t work you can shut it down, learn from it and try again.

Overcoming the drive for control and predictability

  1. Accept that you can’t eliminate the drive for control and predictability. Control and predictability is to a large extent what organisations are about and in many ways it is what they are supposed to do.

  2. But you can design co-generative processes to find solutions. Safety, or organisational life in general, is not a free for all/laissez-faire type whimsical walk in the park. Leaders can still approve and decide which solutions are put in place. And I think they should. But they can easily engage the many minds available to do the thinking for what the solutions might be. You can help your workforce to evaluate their ideas, and to present them to management. You can maintain control, and people can still be the solution. When leaders and workers are engaged in a co-generative exploration, you make better use of the resources that you have available.

  3. Change the social fabric. Safety, and work in general, is always embedded in a social structure. Unless you tweak, stretch and recombine the social fabric of your organisation (who talks with whom, about what, what happens with the information) not much is going to change. The most common issue I see is that there are filters between those with access to resources, and those with the most intimate understanding of sensitivities and what might work. If you want innovation and engagement you need to change this social setup. You need to bridge the gap, or at least combine people in a new way. The good news is that this is actually quite easy and straightforward. If you’re a manager you can reach out, get out from behind your desk, and start spending more time with the messy details of your operations. You need to start asking more questions, to listen more, collect more information from the front line, and create a more interactive interface between the many facets of your organisation.

The end result

The one sided application of externally developed practices that were developed for yesterday’s needs, makes us blind to what we currently face, but also locks up the resources we have available to overcome. To overcome we need the collective wisdom, curiosity, and creativity and we need to become the best we can be. The way I envision the best is an organisation:

  • where individual differences are considered a resource

  • that makes their own discoveries

  • where solution are driven by people taking responsibility, rather than meeting top down accountabilities.

The biggest threat to safety is not the non-compliant worker. Instead, the greatest danger lies in our belief in authority, uniformity, and external expertise. The challenge ahead is not one of winning hearts and minds to ensure safety. Instead, the challenge is to figure out how we can enable people and organisations to unleash their own capacity to create the future they would like to see.




From deficits to possibilities


From deficits to possibilities

There is something disturbingly negative about safety. And I believe there are three main reasons for this.

The first reason is that safety is connected to unwanted outcomes. When most people think about safety they think about (the need to prevent) incidents, illnesses, injuries, disasters, breakdowns, losses, damage and other negatives. So, when we talk about safety, which is something we desire, we bring up the things that we don’t want to happen.

Second, the way we talk about the things that we don’t want to happen is to talk about the usual suspects of how we believe these come about. Errors, mistakes, lapses, violations, breaches, short-cuts, rule-breaking behaviours, malfunctions, sub-cultures, drift, non-compliance, risks, hazards, dangers, slips and many other similar words make up the vocabulary of such mechanisms. So, the way we talk about the things we don’t want to happen, is to talk about other things that we don’t want to happen.

Third, to ensure that neither the triggers nor the ultimate bad occur, the field of safety has a large suite of tools and managements practices at hand to ensure that performance does not deviate into unwanted territory. Procedures, checklists, reminders, barriers, surveillance, best practice, standards, observations, investigations, commitment rituals, mock courts, gap analyses and many other tools and practices are intended to keep problematic behaviours and decisions within desired boundaries.

Collectively, it’s not a constellation of concepts that radiate possibilities for creating a better functioning world. The world of safety is constructed as a world of problems. The ‘objects’ that are understood, managed and talked about are viewed through a deficit lens – only when we have eliminated all deviations, addressed all the deficits, can we finally arrive into the promised land of safety where nothing bad happens. And this economy of deficits has a number of negative consequences for how safety is practiced.

The most important contribution the safety profession can give is, from a deficit management perspective, to point out and correct when things or people deviate or otherwise do something wrong. Put differently, the best compliment you can get from a safety professional about the work you’re doing is that you’re doing nothing wrong.

Judging from the many safety professionals I’ve met over the years, I have no doubt that they share a strong commitment, passion and vision for the preservation or even betterment of human life. Yet, this current approach to ensure safety, seems to have a life-constraining effect in the way it relentlessly points out human shortcomings. It is effectively a suppression of possibilities, an inability or disinterest in learning new things, a belief that the solutions developed for yesterday’s organisations are what will create future success – a discarding of the potentials of what people and organisations can and do contribute with above and beyond doing something wrong.

What is badly needed then, is to develop ways through which we can invite people into more valued ways of being and contributing, to find new ways for organisations to see their employees as assets or resources for sensing, contributing, analysing, creating and adding to well-being, welfare, and to ensure that things go right across varying conditions.

To do this, we need to broaden our gaze to include the things that we want to happen, and sometimes already do happen. We need to include a more appreciative lens. Unfortunately, after years of focusing on what is unwanted, appreciating possibilities and contributions can be difficult.

Below are a few ideas that have been helpful for others in broadening their appreciation for what goes on at work to also include possibilities:

Change the definition of safety. Safety is more than the absence of negatives – it is about the presence of a capacity to enable things to go right across varying conditions. Defining safety this way is not a pop-psychological trick of (over)belief in confirmation bias. Success is difficult. It is not a whimsical walk in the park where nothing bad happens. Success requires disciplined assessment of what needs to happen, where sensitivities lie, and where conditions can be improved. It involves asking questions about what has to go right? What do people do to make things go right? What do people need to be able to deal with the varying demands of the workplace? Where are the challenges going to be? Where can we learn about how this can be done well? It is about building robust, resilient and adaptive practices that can enable people to work toward achieving the purpose of the organisation. (For more information about this change in definition, I recommend Erik Hollnagel’s book ‘Safety I and Safety II – the past and future of safety management’)

See people as a source of insight. Every single employee is a sensor for what is going on within and without the organisation. They have experienced both good and bad performance. They know where resources are stretched thin to meet demands and when challenges have or are likely to occur. People are the recipients of trouble and the inventors of ways to overcome and adapt. As a bare minimum organisations can listen to what people have to say in order to understand more about what is actually going on (rather than simply measuring and enforcing what should be going on).

Ask better questions. Traditional safety investigations and observations rarely generate any new insights for how work could be organised differently. The reason for this is that investigators set out to correct, and not to learn. In order to learn, judgement of any difference between what should be and what actually happens need to be suspended in favour for asking open ended questions that can allow organisations to surprise themselves around both good and bad performance. For example:

  • When do/did we have our best performance here? What happens then?
  • When is your work difficult?
  • What changes over the last year did you find really helpful and you consider steps in the right direction and we should do more of?
  • If you could invest $50,000 in making this a better place to work, how would you spend it?

Allow solutions to be challenged. The biggest threat to safety is not the non-compliant workforce. The biggest threat comes from our belief in uniformity, authority and external expertise. The world is constantly evolving, it is complex, competitive and often surprising. Only by inviting (organised) dissent do we stand a chance to improve, innovate and overcome. An organisation interested in betterment allows solutions to be challenged and improved, even when they are not broken.

An organisations that knows how to appreciate and harness the possibilities and the many contributions that happen everyday in order to enable positive outcomes is well equipped for the future. They may not know how to tackle every possible scenario that will come their way. But they know that somewhere in their organisations they are likely to have what is needed to understand, improve, create and innovate.



SIA National Convention Disruptive Safety Smartphone Application provided by Art of Work

About the App

The App has a number of features including social media feeds, live polling, and a comprehensive program the includes speaker profiles and presentations. The home page is shown below.

We encourage delegates to communicate experiences and ideas through the social medial feeds. The twitter hashtag for the convention is #siaconvention16 . You can access the twitter feed, linkedin page and facebook page through the social icon.

The detailed program can be accessed through the Agenda icon. Here you will find presentations, and speaker biographies. This is the place where you can register session and speaker ratings, which is of great value to our efforts to sustain and build excellence. 

At the end of the conference we would like all delegates to rate the event at the feedback page.



On you phone, click on the app link and click the 'Disruptive Safety' image.

Add the app link to your home screen by selecting "Add to your Home Screen" from the action menu in your browser. Alternatively you can make it a favourite in your phone browser.


On your phone, click on the app link and click the 'Disruptive Safety' image.

Tap the 'Share' button on the browser’s toolbar — that’s the rectangle with an arrow pointing upward. It’s on the bar at the top of the screen on an iPad, and on the bar at the bottom of the screen on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Tap the Add to Home Screen icon in the Share menu.

Other Devices

Click the following link on your device: SIA National Convention Disruptive Safety App



Disruptive Safety


Disruptive Safety

Recently I was studying Google’s management philosophy where I was struck by one of their principles: “make mistakes well”. On initial presentation, this would seem to be counter intuitive, yet it is hard to dismiss when examining the success of the Google enterprise. Surely, “making mistakes well”, is an oxymoron?

Google has been a disruptive technology, that has not been constrained by rules. Its technology and business methods have underpinned a complete change of state for the business and advertising models prevailing for the past century. The enterprise’s success has, at its heart, a commitment to its willingness to invest resources in business concepts with no proven deliverable. This practice is a derivative of Google’s “make mistakes well” concept.

Another organisation that is disruptive and thrives on embracing risk is Uber. Here is a business that intentionally breaks the rules, yet is achieving extraordinary market success. Uber is succeeding by focussing its business model on the customer experience, and disregarding the regulatory framework that its competitors operate within. Through the safety prism, it is breaking the golden rule of regulatory compliance. We could therefore draw the conclusion that either the regulatory framework is flawed and has outlasted its purpose, or that Uber is creating a business that is in breach of the community social and ethical constraints which should be subjected to intervention and punishment. Eventually these opposing forces will result in a state shift for the regulatory system or the failure of the enterprise. I am willing to venture that is the disruptive enterprise that will prevail.

The business management literature is clear in that failure to evolve is a path to extinction. There is a wealth of examples, Wang Computers, Kodak, My Space, Ansett, Pan Am, Palm Pilot, and the list goes on. If a business in the new millenium is to sustain success and growth, it must constantly evolve and, by definition, embrace failure as a feature of finding new pathways.

In the practice of safety, we have built a view of success that may be self serving and ultimatley destructive to the organisation it serves. Over the past two decades we have defined safety success as Zero Harm, and subsequently interpreted zero harm as the absence of incidents, generally expressed through total recordable incident frequency rate. Is this a true measure of success, or is it simply a convenient way for safety professionals to define success in a self regulated safety bubble where we manage a statistic in isolation from the business it serves?

At the heart of the predominant safety paradigm and Zero Harm, is capital C Compliance. Compliance to rules, behaviors, procedures is rigorously pursued, and those that stray are sought out and punished. We, the safety professionals,  need to challenge this paradigm’s assumption of system improvement in a constrained management environment.  It is essential that we are partnered in the delivery of sustained success for the organisations that we serve.

In posing this challenge, I am not suggesting that using proven methodologies should be disregarded, rather that the punitive compliance model embeds dissentive to innovate or to communicate variation. If we understand anything about organisational resilience, we know that it is dependent on continual incremental improvement and a state of continual cognitive dissatisfaction with the current state.

Are there industry examples where non compliance is a feature of system improvement. Medicine is one such professional practice to study the concept of rule breaking. Ever since the regulation of therapeutic drugs, there has been a practice of “Off Label Prescription”. When a drug is approved, it has clearly defined therapeutic application, which is regulated by Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA). The Off Label process is where the drug is used for a therapy that was not included in the TGA approval. Cancer treatment has long used this concept to develop new treatments essentially through therapy trial and error. The outcome of this practice has seen significant advances in treatment that would not have eventuated if the treatment was limited to the approved therapy. This process is not without cost, but is carefully managed within an agreed risk tolerance framework, and the principle of “making mistakes well”.

Conversely, safety has become constrained by a quality management overlay, driven by prescription and subjugation. I would venture to suggest that his model has led to increasing the probability for catastrophic failure in complex system due to damping down active feedback mechanisms for system divergence. This paradigm constrains incremental and constant improvement. Whilst we may cling to the belief that incident reporting and risk assessment tools have, as their purpose improvement, I would contend that this is not what practice and experience critically examined demonstrate. In any organisation functioning under a prescriptive safety paradigm, the safety management team will regularly note the repetition of the same types incident events transacting through their organisation on an ongoing basis. What we tend to experience in the constrained safety paradigm is reporting avoidance, supported by incentives not to have incidents registered.

I recently read Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, book Delivering Happiness. I would recommend reading this book to anyone desiring to understand culture, the nature of organisational success, the importance of cultural engagement with the success of the organisation, and the need to adapt and change to ensure the longevity of an organisation. Hsieh contends that Zappos success is underpinned by the partnering of his business with his people, and encouraging them to constantly challenge the way things are done. By applying this principle his business has been a disruptive force in retailing.

Safety can only thrive when it is an active partner with the objectives and success of the organisation as a whole. Unless we embrace organisational goals in the holistic sense, then we as safety professionals contribute to the failure of the organisation, rather than its ability to thrive and regenerate.

In this sense we need to revisit our concepts of success and failure. How can we have safety success where there is no incentive and significant barriers to trying new methods of achieving the work and therefore the organisational outcome. An alert should flag when any improvement is crushed by the constraint of a rule, procedure or regulation.

There was a video posted on youtube of a truck unloading a load of thatch. View this video(embedded below) and note your conclusions within the compliance paradigm. The method used to unload the truck clearly breaches the safety norms we have come to embrace. If we take a step back, and look again, there could be merit in embracing error. The method used eliminated the need for workers to mount the tray and manually unload the vehicle. Our current paradigm would dictate that an incident report is prepared together with an investigation. I would propose the outcome to be a safe work procedure, training program and disciplinary process for the worker involved, and where it was a contractor, their dismissal. The truck would be successfully unloaded in a much slower time, with significant cost in labour. It is also likely that a workers will experience manual handling related injury through repetitive performance of the task.

Watch video

It is foreseeable that our competitor uses the non-compliant process, wins the business and from the compliant one. Therefore the safe business is no longer in business and the safety program has contributed to the organization’s failure.

Conversely if our business was able to constructively engage with the “innovation” of the driver and adapt it to a sustainable method, for example the modification of the truck to have a tilt tray, the safety and organisational goals would be more closely aligned. If the driver is unable to communicate his method due to a punishment regime attached to compliance, the business is deprived of the opportunity to engage with the variation in order to transform it to a sustainable practice.

The Australian government reviews of productivity indicate that mining and construction productivity is falling well behind the USA in the last 10 years. Safety management proclaims that safety management improves business productivity, roles out the mantra of the iceberg and the cost of incidents, but where is the data that tests our practices, productivity costs of the labour intensive rules driven systems and their delivery on producity? If safety management underpins productivity we should be seeing the evidence of productivity leadership against the US in peer industries.

As safety professionals are we engaged in the productivity management for our organisations, and equally are we active in the dialogue of innovation and incremental improvement. Experience would suggest to me that we are not, and that we are blissfully unaware of the productivity performance of our organisations and industries.

As with the medical method for “Off Label” we need to embrace and encourage management and workers to challenge and change the way work is performed, build real trust and “Just Culture” to allow people to share their failures as well as their successes.  Hollnagel and Dekkers work challenge us to engage with a success model, rather than a failure driven model. Integrating safety with innovation and organisational resilience is not only a desirable idea, it is fundamental to the relevance of the safety profession in the disruptive business environment. If we are not to be part of making our organisations Safely Extinct, we must abandon methods and measures than constrain and re-engineer our safety paradigm to that of one that enables organisational success where we can make mistakes well.


Works Cited

Best Way To Unload a Truck!” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.

International Comparison of Industry Productivity.” International Comparison of Industry Productivity. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.

Off-label Use of Medicines: Consensus Recommendations for Evaluating Appropriateness.”Medical Journal of Australia. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.

Regulate This! A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast.” Freakonomics RSS. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.

Tony Hsieh | Delivering Happiness.” Delivering Happiness. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.


‘Safety Differently’ now comes with an instruction manual.


‘Safety Differently’ now comes with an instruction manual.

The Team at Art of Work have launched a Centre of Excellence for thought leaders engaged in reshaping their organisation through empowerment and innovation. The new ‘Lighthouse Centre of Excellence’ provides business leaders looking to shift their organisation beyond compliance with access to master classes, webinars, collaboration sessions, online resources and networking opportunities.

Nearly 100 senior business leaders from over 50 leading Australian organisations across a range of industries have already joined the Centre of Excellence by participating in the first release of Lighthouse Master Classes. The Master Classes include topics such as ‘Appreciative Safety’, ‘Appreciative Investigations’ and ‘Disruptive Innovation’ and provide practical insights and tools developed for real-world implementation.

There is a growing community of early adopters and thought leaders who are shifting the conversation away from compliance and towards appreciative safety. They are doing safety differently and are getting results. Art of Work has scoured the globe to harness the latest thinking and have translated the theory into practical master classes, tools, resources that is driving real change in the organisations we work with.

We believe that Lighthouse fills the gap in the market for quality safety innovation training targeted at senior business leaders and expands on this to deliver the content in a supportive community environment. It provides like-minded business leaders the opportunity to learn from each other, float ideas and build on each other’s success.

Visit for more information.


The Case for Small Data


The Case for Small Data

It is reasonable for management to want evidence of a problem before they put resources into fixing it, and we would like to be evidence driven ourselves. All too often, though, we assume that having good data means having more data. We live in the time of Big data where the value of some companies is measured in terms of the size of the data set they hold. Our phones collect and report our habits, our movements, and our interests, so that processing clusters can predict our future behaviour. It is tempting to think that to understand safety better and do safety better, we need more numbers.

Unless you work as a data analyst, most of us are limited to the use of ‘small data’ – we are limited to observing or listening to individual or unique experiences. What good is that? Can you really ‘speak truth to power’ when your information comes from whimsical stories, from people with their own agendas, biased by desires to tell a compelling story involving themselves? Against 10,000s of data points it may seem like a futile exercise. But individual experiences are data too – and they have a power to engage and inspire change that numbers do not.

Consider what a supervisor once shared:

I had FedEx, the other coordinator had StarTrack. Both had half a crew each. FedEx made deadline by 30 seconds. It was just a mad mad rush, push, sweat, scream just to get the goods out. Severely undermanned. Not enough leading hands, only one leading hand on shift every night.

When we listen to the experiences of the end-users of the many structures, processes, and systems set in place to govern what should happen at work, a different picture emerges. There are, in all likelihood, no procedures instructing people to scream, to sweat and to madly rush work, but sometimes that is what work is like. These stories draw attention to things that are entangled and emergent. It brings out the messy details and other real aspects that impact how work is carried out. Relationships, feelings, mess, smells, perspiration, sounds, screaming, anxiety, pain, joy, pride and camaraderie are all highly unlikely to be captured by big data. Yet, all of these aspects impact work, and safety. Unless you have ways to know about how such aspects are involved in work, you will never know. Engaging with the unique experience is pretty much the only way to get to that. And when you start with this experience, work as done comes to the fore and engages tellers and listeners alike in sensing how things actually come together, rather than what should happen.

And consider this mechanic’s experience:

There are so many tools and equipment problems. One simple thing is a thermometer. Just a normal thermometer, just to measure the local temperature, which is a very small thing but is very important for cable tension. We cannot sign the paperwork, we cannot finish the work if we don’t have the thermometer with us because cable tension varies with the temperature and we have to get that temperature to set up how much tension we will put. They don’t have a thermometer. I’ve been looking and asking around for it for the last five days. Couldn’t find it. I eventually used the iPhone to read the temperature of where we are.

This story does not explain why the thermometer is missing. But it does hint about the impact. The obvious impact of loss of precision from using iPhone information is in there (and the increased risk that comes with that), but also hints about frustration on the part of the person who for five days was looking for the thermometer.

Stories such as the ones above are subversive in the way that they embrace the tension between the plans and the unexpected. After hearing what it’s like to work within an imperfect system, it can make a lot of sense to go about work in a particular, less than optimal, way. Such stories convince not by their objective truth, but by their ‘aesthetics’ or emotional appeal on the listener or observer (surprising, touching, humorous, upsetting). By listening to end users unique experiences, we enter a perspective in which we can see normal humans doing normal work in trying to create success amongst scarcity, imperfect and conflicting setups. Work governance, and safety ambitions, are more likely to turn into a need to support and provide, rather than to constrain and enforce. Can big data do that?

The stories people tell about work often also have an ethical dimension – they tell about what is right and what is wrong, what a good workplace should look like, and what it is like to operate within, or outside, that ethical space. A welder once shared:

One of the days I did do a Take 5 and I was doing hot work and the Take 5 didn’t help me. I ended up getting burnt. I ended up in the hospital. The first thing the corporate guy did was ask if I had a Take 5, and that’s all they wanted to know: if I had a Take 5 done.

Then I said yes, in my shirt which is all the same. Well do you mind if I have a look? Go for your life I don’t give a shit at this point.

But that’s what the standard paper trail is.. so if anything comes down to it.. if you don’t have one it’s got nothing to fall back on them. It’s all you.

Compatible or incompatible values become visible in the clashes or meetings between different mentalities. These meetings or clashes are matters of the heart, and critically important for how we create workplaces and collaborate. I don’t think that big data can ever capture these. I don’t even think that big data at all can capture what is ethical. What is right and wrong, is not something that can be proven. Not in numbers, nor in cause and effect relationships. But these issues are as real as productivity rates or the number of checks performed. In the current strive for large truths about work, discussions about ethics and morale, about what is right and wrong, risk being (further) marginalised.

While numbers can give indications and insights that are valuable, the reliance on a calculative approach to understanding work risk shifting attention away from those things that are real to the people who do the work. To overcome, I see no other option that to emphasise the importance and potential of using descriptions about what goes on at work. Such descriptions do not have cause and effect perfectly outlined that allow precise interventions, and they may be ambiguous and open-ended. But that is the beauty of them. They are as difficult and messy as work often is. And more and more people can be invited to interpret and contribute to increasingly large conversations about work. By engaging with ‘small data’ organisations stand a better chance to get to understand and engage the heart of what happens at work.

Note: Thanks to Ron Gantt and Drew Rae for insightful discussions and contributions to this text!


Is safety something you have or do?


Is safety something you have or do?

How can safety be improved in environments where pretty much everything has already been prescribed, automated, controlled or fool-proofed? This is a question many organisations with well matured safety management systems struggle with. They have advanced reporting schemes in place, rich sets of lag indicators, numerous safety professionals that are skilled in hazard identification and the implementation of controls. Their people are well trained, properly certified, and subject to frequent reminders of safe work methods and the like. Yet, they continue to suffer safety incidents. What’s up with that?