No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Systems thinking

As safety management professionals, we understand that the issues we encounter are often qualitative, and measurements alone can't tell the whole story. To truly understand complex socio-technical systems, we need to embrace systems thinking.
A key premise of systems thinking is that to achieve sustainable large-scale systems change, we must change the entrenched patterns that drive the system, and not just rely on exhortations, threats, and fear. Improving results requires improving the system itself.

Communicating our understanding of complex systems is challenging, but it's essential to get the most out of our collaborating community. To make changes that are coherent and likely to succeed, we must identify and engage with others in the system, build a shared understanding of our system, and recognize the interdependent nature of organizations.

Systems thinking requires us to consider all parts of a system, including the simplifying assumptions made in safety models, while also accounting for randomness to make statistical calculations more accurate. However, we must remember that our observations are limited by our own biases and assumptions.

To refine our models and understand complex systems, we need to approach them with cross-disciplinary understanding. Generalists who can use specific language to relate to specialists can be helpful in this arena.

Further reading:
Deming Institute (
Leveson, N.G. (2016), Engineering a Safer World: Systems Thinking Applied to Safety, Cambridge: The MIT Press,
Weinberg, G.M. (2001), An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, New York: Dorset House.