Greetings. I’ve been away for a while (for those of you who might have noticed) engaging in the practical issues of ideas introduced in my last couple of postings. A frequent reader suggested it was about time for me to pick back up on the discussions where I left off. So what to do? This week the world lost an icon whose visions changed the world – Steve Jobs. And the many remembrances of him inspired me about how to rejoin and refresh my earlier discussions.
Steve Jobs had the vision of computers for people. It was the average person, not the hardware or software engineer, who was important to Jobs. To Jobs computers were the “bicycles of the mind”.1 It was all about humans, not the code, not the box, not the chips, not the micro-transistors. It was about expanding the horizons of the mind to create new worlds. Steve Jobs changed the culture of the world.2
So as you read the articles mentioned in the last few postings what should we make of them? Much of what they offer comes from the research of Phd’s in social sciences. And I’m pleased to count several of the authors as colleagues. Their research informs and enriches our knowledge. But what about the rest of us? Is there an Apple equivalent for safety culture?
If the subject matter is so esoteric, the methodologies so arcane that only social science doctorates can make sense of it, what is the value of concepts like safety culture to the rest of us. How do we translate the work of the research community and operationalize the concepts such that the humans who constitute our complex organizations -characterized by consequential science and technology – can derive value from dealing with issues such as culture? Is there some dimension between the rarified world of academics and the yes-no checklists of the compliance auditors in which the rest of us can find knowledge and techniques that add value to our organizations and our work practice?
This month the U.S. nuclear power industry begins implementation of an industry wide initiative to understand and manage safety culture. That is described in a document produced by the Nuclear Energy Institute, NEI 09-07.3
To suggest that the NEI approach might be the IPAD for safety culture would be exaggeration to the extreme. The approach has been in development for almost a decade. It will likely take years of use before such approaches are universally accepted in by the industry and regulator as valid and valued. But is it a harbinger of the future? Perhaps more like the Apple I?
That’s what I’ve been thinking about while being in the field seeking to apply what the authors of these papers discuss. Can we use this knowledge in practical ways to produce understandings we can use to improve our collective worlds?
So what do you think? What might be the Apple equivalent of the social sciences for people who operate complex, hazardous, technology-centric organizations?
- For a brief clip of Jobs on bicycles for the mind see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob_GX50Za6c. With thanks to Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the reminder.
- See an article by Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Strategy/Growth/The_second_economy_2853
- NEI 09-07 is accessible at the NRC ADAMS system, see http://wba.nrc.gov:8080/ves/view_contents.jsp