Holmes - The Greatest Investigator of Them All




Sometimes its good to rise a little above the daily detail of what we do at EMEX, and look broadly across the field of play to others who have passed before us - whether they be in real life or literature.

Sherlock Holmes is one such character, and we now place him on the “must read” list for all of us who seek to find the root cause of a problem through detailed analysis. His field of play was the investigation of crime, and curiosity but these techniques are similar to those required today in the field of safety and accident investigation.

“Data! Data! Data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay."
– The Adventure of the Speckled Band

When an accident occurs, many people are tempted to jump to conclusions and this can lead to rash solutions or new measures - the wrong measures. Let us never forgot that today's problems were yesterday's solutions to previous problems; so this cycle is set to continue into the future ad infinitum. The motorcar was a solution to the horse manure issue in global cities, and it is now in turn the cause of millions of accidents per year and environmental damage. The solution is now part of the problem. Crude Oil bubbling on the surface in the USA was initially used to replace whale oil that was expensive and in short supply, and we now know that Crude Oil has contributed to many global problems ranging from war, to recession, to environmental damage. And so the world spins on…

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” – The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes was renowned for looking at and analyzing data. Whilst at University, he had researched the effects of the most minor and detailed reactions and effects. He could tell the type of tobacco smoked at the scene of a crime from the ash left behind. The sum total of all his observations and knowledge was a massive ability to process and understand data and to form accurate conclusions.

He was also a latter day database of previous investigations. He was a ravenous researcher of all data, and always found a connection between the current investigation and previous affairs.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – A Scandal in Bohemia

Holmes occupied a world that was much smaller than ours, and the sphere of knowledge that was required by him could be contained in the mind of one man. This does not match the scenario that you face today. We live in a world of massive interconnected systems and corporations and complexity that can feel overwhelming. Holmes does not fit into modern industrialized society but his techniques and lessons do.

Data was the key to all of his investigations. He often sat back into his chair, by the fireside, and smoked his pipe as he was told about the case - the data. We liken this to the incident notification stage. Gather as much accurate data as quickly as you can while it is still fresh. The fireside was Holmes incident data capture process. On the more difficult cases, he sat silently plucking his violin as his processed this data. In today's world we have much better tools. Software system like EMEX can automate and drive this process of data collection and analysis. The more you get your company to report, the more data you will have to analyze trends and events in the future. Holmes had to look for data, and you do as well, but you can also have a massive database full of if through software systems like EMEX.

The investigation itself often requires the same skills. Sifting through what is relevant, and what is not. Storing everything. Holmes had his room strewn with old case data, and we have much more powerful tools at our fingertips today with cloud based data systems, and massive computational analytical power. Over time on a system like EMEX, the data store will grow and grow and this is very valuable knowledge that is currently thrown away by some many companies.

It can feel overwhelming, to have all this information to hand, and to be expected to understand its meaning. It’s really complex and that what I enjoyed about my time in the world of Sherlock Holmes. He showed the way. We must use evidence to reason backwards. As he reminds us, it is a skill in short supply. At EMEX, we can provide you with the tools and systems to have all the evidence Holmes would have wished for. You, the human, must use this data and reason backwards to solve the problems and make your workplace safer for the future. 

“You know my methods. Apply them.” – The Sign of Four

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