It’s time to be frank. Aviation is fearful.
“But aviation is safer than ever. The accident rate is at an all time low. The chances of death in an airplane are far less than riding in a car,” you say.
Yep. The chances of physical death in an airplane are low. That fear has been managed. There is another fear. One more subtle. One which brings about a slow death.
The Fear That Haunts Aviation
Aviation understands that one mistake could cost you your life, or even worse, the lives of those for whom you are responsible.
“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”
— Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930’s.
We have gone to great lengths to rid our industry of mistakes. We have put into place numerous standards, regulations, training programs, and safety practices to mitigate any dangers. And yet, there is one variable that seems to elude us: human error.
Herein lies the fear which haunts aviation. The fear of failure, not death, is the new enemy. It is striking quietly and with little notice on all levels; personal, departmental, and governmental while we look about straining to find clues to the assailant.
How the Assailant Gained Access
Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that ingenuity, trust, collaboration, and trial and error are important to the growth of an industry. In fact, they are just as important as conforming to rules, meeting standards, and complying with regulations.
Somewhere along the way, people have become less important than processes, programs, and procedures. Creativity and ingenuity have been replaced with standardization. “Trial and error” has became a dirty phrase while “compliance” tops the charts for discussion and product development. Other industries actively fight against the fear of failure.
“It’s important to create an atmosphere in which people aren’t afraid of failing – since this is the way we learn and prosper together.”
– George Zimmer in his article Grounding Conscious Capitalism in Shared Servant Leadership.
Did you catch that? “It’s important to create an atmosphere in which people aren’t afraid of failing.” Whoa. That is not happening in aviation.
How to Fight the Fear of Failure
Creating an atmosphere in which people aren’t afraid of failing is a daunting task in aviation. Fear has altered our mindset.
Instead of using our problem solving skills, ingenuity, intelligence and common sense, we prefer to comply, fill out the paperwork, and keep under the radar.
Instead of working together, encouraging one another to excel, and dreaming big, we prefer to do what we are told with the least amount of hassle.
Instead of training hard, learning continuously, growing professionally, and gaining confidence in our skill, we fear getting caught or making an omission in procedure.
Fighting the Fear of Failure is an uphill battle. Although the strategy is yet to be completely developed, it would seem to involve valuing people, encouraging discussion and collaboration on all levels (governmental, departmental, and among individuals), building trust, and making training applicable and practical. It would also seem to require a reversal of the strategies which propagate fear.
“Well are we just to try something and then hope that if we fail we don’t kill someone?” you may be asking. Of course not. The pendulum needn’t sway too far to the other side. Hopefully, we can contemplate solutions without discussing extremes. If the notion of continuing our present course or advocating a “free for all” are the only two alternatives, it might be a sign that the Fear of Failure is stronger than we think.
In order to grow an industry – to make it prosperous – and to encourage a constant state of learning, it’s important to create an atmosphere in which people aren’t afraid of failing. Can it happen in aviation? Should it happen in aviation? What will happen if we don’t consider this statement and continue to allow a slow death to ingenuity and trust? It’s worth pondering, don’t you think? Let’s ponder together. Join the discussion here, unless you are afraid.