Early Epiphany

Sunset Panorama

Recently, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Safety II (stay with me…)

I was looking into something called “Safety II”.  Now, as a dyed-in-the-wool system safety engineer, I’m used to the traditional approach to safety.  You think about what ought to happen when you obey the rules; everything else is a deviation, a mistake, or an error: deviation is failure.

Safety II doesn’t look at it like that.  Instead of imagining work done in a perfect world, it looks at work as people do it, for real.  There is often little difference between work that results in a good or not so good.  This leads to a much less rigid way of looking at things.

Functional Resonance (just a bit more…)

My epiphany came when I tried a technique called Functional Resonance Analysis Method, or FRAM.  This is popular with fans of Safety II.  I tried using it to analyse a scenario that I had struggled with for a long time.  None of the other techniques that I tried worked, perhaps because it involved creativity, and the old techniques could not cope with that.  FRAM did cope with it, and how!  From the beginning, I was drawing simple diagrams and learning from them, getting insights into a problem that had eluded me for months, even years.  I am still riding this wave.

Now, FRAM isn’t magic, and it’s not the answer to everything.  It’s not the one method to rule them all, but it did challenge and enlighten me.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM): Precise, or Just Narrow?

As an engineer, I’m used to using science and maths to get my job done.  There is a right answer and many wrong answers to every question.  2+2=4, always, without exception, no deviations allowed.  I find that reassuring, comforting even. Correctness, precision, accuracy; I like these things.  But not everyone is like me: shocking, isn’t it?  For a lot of people, precision, rules, one right answer where every other answer is wrong – these things are a big turn off.  Many people dislike the rigidity of science and maths and find it excluding – prejudiced even.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not talking about those who chose to deny scientific fact because of some dogma. I’m talking about ordinary people, who are turned off by the rigidity of science.  I guess that’s why we spend so much trying to make STEM attractive to girls, for example.


A lot of people feel uncomfortable with this narrow approach. They spend a lot of time being creative, furthering relationships, enjoying music, art and literature: me too. I can enjoy these activities without analysing them, seeing them as problems to be investigated and solved.  In fact, it’s best not to even try.

Maybe I need to loosen up and accept that I can’t have, and don’t want, precision all the time.  After all, fuzzy logic and fuzzy decision making have been used to develop Artificial Intelligence, taking mere rule-following machines and changing them to become…well, we’re not quite sure yet. The point is that thinking, intelligence – from a human perspective, anyway – requires more than logic and precision.  Edward de Bono, a modern guru of thinking, says that real decision-making needs emotion. Mere facts are not enough to make value judgements.


Nor can reduce everything to an equation, or to physical, ‘scientific’ evidence.  I was reminded of this when I did jury duty recently. The judge explained that we had to assess the facts – we should not accept anything presented to us as fact, even if she said it!  We had to decide what was fact and then decide what we could infer from those facts.  In the law, the ‘intent’ of the accused is a key ingredient to be decided. The jury had to infer what the intent of the accused had been, even though we could not see into their heads, and they either would not speak or plausibly denied their guilt.  We had to do infer intent based on circumstantial evidence.  We did.

So this epiphany, this new experience, has helped me to pull together a whole bunch of other experiences, old and new, and discover (create? synthesize?) a whole, new way of seeing things. This way is not as reassuring or simple as 2+2=4, but I like it nonetheless.

So that’s my epiphany.  I know it’s a bit early – not quite right.  Sorry.