Crashing a Plane

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 crashed into the Indian ocean. It had been hijacked en route from Addis-Ababa to Nairobi. The hijackers wanted to go to Australia. The captain warned that the plane only had enough fuel for the scheduled flight and would never make it to Australia. The hijackers disagreed. The 767-200ER had a max. flight capacity of 11 hours, enough to make it to Australia they argued. 125 people died when the plane finally ran out of fuel and the pilots had to attempt an emergency landing on water.

Korean Air Flight 801 was under the command of the very experienced Captain Park Yong-chul. During heavy rain, the Captain erroneously thought that the glidescope instrument landing system was operational, when it fact it wasn’t. The Captain sent the plane into the ground about 5 km from the airport killing 228 people.

In the case of Ethiopian Airlines, there’s no question that the people in charge of the plane (the hijackers), had no idea what they were doing. Their ignorance, and distrust of the crew, ultimately caused their demise. I am certain that up until the last minute, the hijackers believed they knew what they were doing.

For Korean Air 801, the crew was undoubtedly competent. The Captain had 9000 hours logged, and during the failed approach, we can safely assume that he felt that he knew what he was doing. In fact, he might have been so good that everyone else stopped second guessing Captain Park even though their instruments was giving them a reading that told them something was seriously wrong. Only the 57 year old flight engineer Nam Suk-hoon with 13000 hours logged dared speak up.

I think there’s an analogy here; we see companies crash due to gross incompetence, inexperience and failure to listen to experienced people, but we also see companies die (or become zombies) because they have become so experienced that they felt that they couldn’t make any fatal mistakes. Anyone suggesting they were short on approach are ignored. The “naysayers” can then leave the plane on their own, get thrown out for not being on board with the plan, or meet their maker when the plane hits the ground.

Yahoo comes to mind; witness this horror-show:

Image result for yahoo bad decisions

The people making these mistakes were not crazed hijackers with an insane plan. These were people in expensive suits, with many many years of experience. They all had a large swarm of people doing their bidding and showing them excel sheets and power-point presentations from early morning to late evening. Yet, they managed to crash the plane into the ground.

So, I guess the moral is this: if you’re reading the instruments, and they all say that you’re going to crash into the ground, then maybe, just maybe the instruments are showing the true state of things. If the Captain refuses to acknowledge the readings and dismisses the reports, then the choices are pretty clear.

The analogy’s weakness is that in most cases, no-one dies when the Captain sends the product in the wrong direction. The “passengers” (customers) will just get up from their seats and step into another plane or mode of transportation, and (strangely) in many cases the Captain and crew will move on and take over the controls of another plane. We can just hope that the new plane will stay in the air until it reaches it’s intended destination safely.

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Looking Forward

If I had a nickle for every time someone told me to “look forward” I’d have a dime by now. I’d be a lot richer if “looking forward” was actually a viable strategy.

Say you’re one of those annoying back-seat drivers who observe that the driver is doing 40 mph on the freeway, but he’s in second gear redlining the revs. You lean forward and suggest changing gears. “I know what I am doing” the driver snares back at you, and you lean back and look out the window, shaking your head in disbelief. 20 minutes later, you see the temp gauge creeping up, and you lean forward suggesting you pull over and cool down the engine. The response is the same, and once again you sit back, and bring up google maps. You’re in the middle of nowhere, and going in the opposite direction of your goal. You ponder bringing it up, but you already know how this will be received. As you’re driving up hill, the engine finally gives out. A huge bang, vapor steaming from the engine, oil splattered all over the windscreen and all over the road.

Everyone is on the side of the road now – some start hiking and are picked up by passing cars, others just start walking. You, however, stick around. You’ve put a lot of work into the car, and for some bizarre reason you still feel some attachment to it. It’s far from the car you set out to build, but you still have this dream about what it could be.

Finally roadside assistance shows up. Everyone’s out of money, but the owner of the tow company offers to tow it for free, if you will sell your broken down vehicle. He’ll pay the scrap value of the thing, but promises to bring the car back in working condition (the guy is probably insane). After a few months, the car finally rolls out of the shop.

The driver prepares to get back in the drivers seat. You object. “This guy wrecked two cars already”, your voice trembling with frustration, “and now you’re putting him back in the drivers seat?”.

The owner takes a deep breath. He says “everything stays the way it was”. A sigh of relief can be heard. He looks straight at you, “we have to forget the past, and look forward”.

But you remember the past. You remember the warning you made, you remember the lack of attention to the details, proper operation and maintenance, and now you’re supposed to put that aside and just “look forward”.

“Looking forward” is not a business strategy. It’s great advice for the individual though; you made a mistake, learn from it, and then move forward. If you’re in the wrong job, don’t dwell on it for too long, just recognize that you are, and move on.