All posts by Steven Shorrock

The varieties of human work

Understanding and improving human work is relevant to most people in the world, and a number of professions are dedicated to improving human work (e.g. human factors/ergonomics, quality management, industrial/work/organizational psychology; management science). The trouble with many of these professions is that the language and methods mystify rather than demystify. Work becomes something incomprehensible and hard to think about and improve by those who actually design and do the work.  Recently, some notions that help to demystify work have gained popular acceptance. One of these … Continue Reading ››

Is ‘human error’ the handicap of human factors? A discussion among human factors specialists.

DSCN0484Following most major accidents, one phrase is almost guaranteed to headline in the popular press: ‘human error’. The concept is also popular in the ergonomics and human factors (EHF) discipline and profession; it is probably among the most profitable in terms of research and consultancy dollars. While seductively simple to the layperson, it comes with a variety of meanings and interpretations with respect to causation and culpability. With its evocative associations, synonyms, and position in our own … Continue Reading ››

The safety-fication of everything

3431203874_d0ec158204_zSome time ago, I noticed the safety-fication of everything. I noticed that otherwise fairly ordinary words have been co-opted to give a specific safety meaning. Once I noticed this, I couldn't stop noticing it. So a few months ago, I started to log two-word safety terms (and a few three-word terms) that I encountered when reading and communicating with others.  The log literally led to an A-Z of terms, which I have included below. The terms are very different in terms of … Continue Reading ››

If it weren’t for the managers…

Photo: W_Minshull CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9oAXAK
There is some evidence that authoritarian, bureaucratic management styles are still at large, but that does not license stereotyping and overgeneralisation. Photo: W_Minshull CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9oAXAK
“If only it weren't for the managers, the goddamned managers, always getting tangled up in the system. If it weren't for them, the world would be a systems thinker's paradise.”

In a previous post, an article for an … Continue Reading ››

What are you reading for?

Reading booksThe comedian Bill Hicks died just over 20 years ago. He was not 'just a comedian'. He was  a social critic and stand-up philosopher. There were few others like him at the time, and few others have come near him since. Freedom of thought and speech were at the core of what Hicks did. He believed that popular culture was a passive, silenced and dumbed-down culture - one that is easier to control. He encouraged people to think, to question everything: "Folks, … Continue Reading ››

If it weren’t for the people…

shorrock people"If only it weren’t for the people, the goddamned people,” said Finnerty,“always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, earth would be an engineer’s paradise.” In Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian novel ‘Player Piano’, automation has replaced most human labour. Anything that can be automated, is automated. Ordinary people have been robbed of their work, and with it purpose, meaning and satisfaction, leaving the managers, scientists and engineers to run the show. Dr Paul Proteus … Continue Reading ››

What Safety-II isn’t

6530383391_d7bdbea156_zIn September 2013, a White Paper was released by EUROCONTROL on a different way of thinking about safety: Safety-II. For me, Safety-II is no less than a paradigm shift in safety, bringing together various strands of thought, by various different people, that have unfolded for some time. The juxtaposition of Safety-I and Safety-II has provided a way of comparing two ways of looking and thinking about safety and systems which … Continue Reading ››

Systems Thinking for Safety: Ten Principles (A White Paper)

10principlesIn September, a EUROCONTROL Network Manager White Paper was released, entitled Systems Thinking for Safety: Ten Principles. The White Paper was a collaboration of EUROCONTROL, DFS, nine other air navigation service providers and three pilot and controller associations. The purpose is to encourage a systems thinking approach among all system stakeholders to help make sense of – and improve – system performance. The Executive Summary of the … Continue Reading ››

Recovery from Command-and-Control: A Twelve-Step Program

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of us in democratic countries would hate to see the rise authoritarianism. When we hear about authoritarian regimes around the world, we feel lucky not to live there. We know that people do not thrive under authoritarianism, where high levels of control suppress the human connectivity, freedom and creativity that give meaning and purpose to life. The same is true of organisations, but here we seem to have to put up with it. In 2012, the UK’s Chartered Management Institute released a report … Continue Reading ››

Six Thinking Hats for Safety

hatsAlmost a year ago on the this blog, Sidney Dekker asked “Can safety renew itself?“. He asked whether the profession was even capable of doing this, with its goal to eliminate what goes wrong; “For a profession that is organized around the elimination, reduction and control of risk, innovation can be a tall order“. Since then, there has been progress. Significantly, a new way of looking at safety has further emerged – … Continue Reading ››