Episode Summary

On this episode of the Safety of Work, we discuss how David Woods discovered the theory of Graceful Extensibility.

Episode Notes

Drew isn’t here today and in his stead is Professor David Woods. Tune in to hear his discussion of graceful extensibility and how it applies to the current battle with Covid19.


  • Unwittingly developing theories.
  • Building resilience in organizations.
  • Framing his theory in terms of current events.
  • How the brain deals with changes.
  • What the data from Covid19 will tell us.
  • Net adaptive value.
  • Saturation and decompensation.
  • Proactive learning.
  • Reciprocity.


“The simple idea is that we are always vulnerable to surprise. Surprise is ongoing.”

“[The death rate] is going to be correlated with who anticipated…they will have better outcomes for patients.”

“I have to generate, mobilize, and deploy new ways of working, as I start to run out of the capacity to continue.”

“Decompensation in our current case is happening at a society level, at large scale jurisdiction levels; it’s happening at hospital systems levels…”


Woods, D. D. (2018). The theory of graceful extensibility: basic rules that govern adaptive systemsEnvironment Systems and Decisions38(4), 433-457.