How does using the “Clocks and Clouds” analogy theory help us to think, talk about and learn from past events? To find out, read this excerpt from the “Desire and Responsibility to Learn” section of Learning in the Wildland Fire Service.
Clocks and Clouds
Philosopher Karl Popper mused that anything we study can be divided into two categories: clocks and clouds.
Clocks are easily broken down into individual parts, what each component does and precisely how changing that component will affect the clock’s performance. When trying to find out why a clock is not working properly it is simply a process of finding the malfunctioning part.
In contrast, a cloud is made up of numerous components whose individual contribution is random and unpredictable. In describing the formation of a cloud, one can only describe the conditions leading to the cloud’s formation without fully knowing exactly to what extent each component contributed.
Apply this analogy to reviewing incidents and accidents on the fireline. Are we dealing with clocks? Sometimes. Mark III pumps and aircraft engines are certainly “clocks”. But looking at an entrapment scenario is much more like a “cloud”.
When using past events to learn, thinking and talking about this distinction—of clocks and clouds—can be helpful.