September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - March 2003

Finding the time to think about how to make things better—what I'll call downtime—is critical to our success.

2002-2003 ASSE President Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE

Gray Matters

In today's fast-paced world, we are so consumed with the "busy-ness" of work that there is often little time to think. As a result, we are not focused on taking our programs to the next level or on making a quantum leap in our organization's performance.

But finding this time to think-what I'll call "downtime"-is critical to our success. We need to take the time to think-creatively and innovatively-about ways to address the unique challenges we face. We must also consider the corporate culture in which we operate in order to craft the right solution. Sometimes when I travel, an idea will hit me, and I'll grab my laptop and capture the idea or thought before it escapes. I like to call it an "aha!" moment.

Earlier in my career, I was hired by a company that wanted to take its safety program to the next level. Unfortunately, my boss was reactionary and task-oriented. During my first week, I arrived at work early so I could think. As I was gazing out my window, my boss stepped in and asked, "What are you doing?" "I'm thinking," I replied. He retorted, "I don't pay you to think. I pay you to fix our safety program. Now fix it!" One year later, we achieved a zero incident rate. I printed out the statistics and brought them to my boss. "What's this?" he asked. "That's why I was thinking," I replied. Gray matters.

Here are some ways to stimulate your thinking.

Questions. When you think, your mind asks many questions. These include the 5Ws: who, what, when, where and why. This curiosity is exhibited most explicitly in children. Don't be afraid to "think like a child" to tap into this creativity.

Answers. Once you start asking questions, your mind begins to provide answers. If you've ever participated in a brainstorming session, you know that the answers begin to multiply as everyone builds from each other's ideas. Instead of saying, we can't, you begin to say, why not. Einstein once said, "Everyone has had an idea that could change the world." Take that comment seriously. Our minds are idea-generating mechanisms. We simply need to switch them on.

Judgments. Once the questions and answers are flowing, you begin to make judgments. You want to make sure you select the right answer-not just an answer. This is where you begin to craft the solution to the problem at hand-where you weed out mediocre ideas and build on the good ones. Think of it as a sculpture. You take a little off here, add a little there and finish with a unique piece of art.

Action. Once you've crafted the solution, it's time to put it into action. Solicit feedback from colleagues-particularly those who would be affected by your idea-then modify the idea based on their input. Soon enough, you have an innovative solution that benefits your company, helps make your workplace safer and moves your program to the next level.

Take a little time to think. It will pay huge dividends for you and your company.

Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE