The other day I was trawling through the internet and an article caught my eye. It was an article by Dan Scotti and was about the psychology behind messy rooms. Dan challenges the idea that being organised is a direct key to success and that being messy is a quick path to failure. As Dan points out ‘There has always been this sort of “urban legend” that has floated around modern society deeming people with messy desks as having a high affinity for creative reasoning.‘ I was attracted to this article for a number of reasons. I am an inherently messy person (just ask my family). But I am also an inherently messy thinker. And I believe that it is this messiness that results in my being a creative person.
The article goes on to propose that creative minds choose to think outside of the convention of the desk (or conventional storage) in the same way that they think outside the lines of “conventional” reasoning. So, I hear you ask, what has this got to do with safety? Traditionally safety has tended towards organisation. Safety management systems, procedures, risk assessments and incident investigations. The idea that safety can be brought about through defining the right way to complete a job. Through planning and documenting the steps. The idea that hazards can be identified before a job commences and that the right controls can be identified and implemented. The idea that even if something goes wrong that an incident investigation will identify how to prevent it from happening again. So much certainty. So much neatness, with a place and a box for everything. It is this type of approach to safety that has stifled creativity and out of the box thinking. And without this there is no adaptation (unless people are willing to work outside of the system).
It was with interest and amusement that I read John Green’s post Paper Tigers. I echo John’s sentiment that it is not about simplification of systems but rather it’s about changing their purpose. Because if the purpose of a system was to help people to deal with the messiness that is everyday working life then it would be a very different looking system. If its purpose was to enable people to adapt to the constantly changing work demands then who knows what the system may look like. I suspect that the sorts of systems that we need look vastly different to typical safety management systems. In fact, I think that we need to smash the mould and each of us start again. It is more than using existing approaches and inserting positive language. In some cases it will be solutions that we have yet to think of. I don’t have the answers of what a progressive safety management system looks like (although I do have some ideas). But I strongly feel is that the systems of the future need to enable creativity within our workforce and without creative thinking we will never get there.