Safety Differently: Recipe Follower and/or Chef?

Over at, Sidney Dekker provides some enlightening background how he coined the term “Safety Differently”  in 2012.  While many pertinent thoughts are expressed, the key message for me is below:

So people ask about Safety Differently ‘How do I do this.’ But what they really want an answer to is the question ‘What do I do now?’ What they really want is someone to tell them, because they haven’t taken the time to think it through, to study the ideas further, to show curiosity and discover the difficulties and adaptive triumphs of frontline work for themselves. They just want other people to tell them what to do. That is literally taking a Safety I mindset to a Safety II world. Of course, the ‘how’-to-get-to-Safety-Differently question is increasingly getting answered in the expanding menu of method options—from embedded discovery to micro-experiments, collective improvements, appreciative inquiry and more. But not the ‘what’ question.

Giving you, or anyone, the ‘what’of the procedural steps, milestones and content for the implementation of anything (including Safety II or Safety Differently) would fundamentally negate what Safety Differently is. There is no intellectual shortcut into a simple procedure for the application of Safety Differently. If there was, it wouldn’t be Safety Differently. It would be Safety I. In Safety I, after all, you have to be willing to hand over your brain, your expertise, your experience, to someone else who has already written the solution for you. You don’t have to think, you just receive and apply. Follow the procedure, stick with the rule, do the checklist that someone else has filled with things they believe are important, so that you can see whether you’re on track according to their definition of that ‘track.’

It’s an important distinction but not an easy one to grasp especially when dominant paradigms are deeply entrenched or as we  say “Fish discover water last.”

To help people flip the switch, I sometimes will use cooking as an analogy. I’ll ask: Do you want to be a Recipe Follower or a Chef? Recipes are written to be easily repeated. Anyone can follow. Practice and expertise increase success. And you get a standardized result. There are lots of recipes in Safety-I.
What happens though if you don’t have all the recipe ingredients at hand? Or someone above demands you must cut the baking time in half? As a Recipe Follower you would be confused, stymied, even paralyzed. A Chef, however, would accept the challenge and adapt to the unexpected conditions. A Chef doesn’t follow a cookbook but knows the art and principles of cooking.

Samin Nosrat in “Salt Fat, Acid, Heat” explains how salt enhances flavour, fat amplifies flavour and makes appealing textures possible, acid brightens and balances, and heat determines the texture of food.

Safety Differently isn’t a cookbook but a new view of perceiving people as resources, the capacity to change and the margin of manoeuvre to make adjustments.
I believe we want workers to be both Recipe Followers and Chefs. The key is understanding when the current situation calls for abandoning the recipe and putting on the chef’s hat.