I've been reading Malcom Gladwell's The Outliers: The Story of Success. It focuses on factors beyond intelligence and ambition in the lives of people whose achievements fall outside normal experiences. Gladwell makes a case for the impact of generation, family, culture, class—even the year you were born—on your human potential.
The chapter I can't stop thinking about is "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes." It details how crashes "are much more likely to be the result of an accumulation of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions" than something like a rudder snapping off in midair. Yes, weather, minor technical problems, the stress of delayed flights and fuel-exhausting holding patterns, etc. can be contributors. But Gladwell says the typical accident involves seven consecutive human errors, one made on top of another that combine for catastrophe.
In 52 percent of crashes, the pilot had been awake for 12 hours or more at the time of the crash, and in 44 percent of disasters the pilot and co-pilot hadn't flown together before. Then Gladwell provides a ton of fascinating supportive information (including conversations between pilots, co-pilots and air traffic controllers) and concludes: "Planes are safer when the least experienced (the co-pilot) is flying, because it means the second pilot (the captain) is NOT going to be afraid to speak up" to provide course corrections and other input. One person is supposed to be checking the other, and they're to be working cooperatively.
So crashes in commercial airlines have been far more likely to happen when the captain is IN the "flying seat," writes Gladwell. And when pilots and co-pilots come from a culture where respect for one's superior reigns strong, airline disasters had resulted because of the lack of clear and direct communication between the two and with air traffic controllers. A first officer can be more hesitant to "correct" his superior officer. But a captain who is not at the controls isn't concerned about being polite and using mitigating language to hint that a correction needs to happen. He "commands" and the first officer doing the flying listens and obeys.
That got me thinking. It's not one thing that usually pushes us over the edge on any business day, but an accumulation of lots of little things. And so I ask myself: Am I truly awake and watchful for "the accumulation of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions" in my business, or am I oblivious?
I try to focus on "must do" priorities, the big stuff, the writing projects on my desk that take precedent because of their deadlines and importance. The "little" things along the way that I need to address get put aside for later action, sometime when I'm tired and I can be on autopilot. Well, autopilot can malfunction. Maybe we shouldn't sweat the small stuff, but don't miss dealing with it either. It can build into a disaster.
Plus, as a sole proprietor, I'm asking, Can I be the pilot...and the copilot? Doubt it. So do I have the right checks and balances in place to keep my craft on course...or able to make course corrections as needed? After 30 years I'd hope so, but the map of the world and business keep changing. But If you have experienced and trusted employees, do you let them play the co-pilot role and sometimes fly the plane? Like the pilots who are supposed to be working cooperatively, can they be honest and direct or do they have to watch their verbiage because of your authority or attitude? Gladwell is always good for the getting people to look at life a little differently.