Why Do Planes Crash?

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation to my team, based on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. I focused on his analysis of mitigated speech (when we downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what we say, usually out of deference to authority). Mitigated speech has been a key factor in numerous airplane crashes, when the crew did not voice safety concerns clearly enough to their captain.

Gladwell’s examples from black box recordings are astonishing. In many cases everyone in the cockpit except the captain knew the plane was in serious trouble, but even then wouldn’t speak up forcefully (typically the captains were good pilots, but were exhausted and weren’t picking up the hints from their crews). They’re powerful examples of the importance of being assertive, and just how hesitant most of us are even when it’s obviously vital to speak up. And my presentation was, I hope, more entertaining then some stereotypical HR assertiveness training class.

The last couple slides show similar examples from The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers, about the importance of saying no and not being passing aggressive.

Here are my slides (posted on SlideShare.net)

One Comment

  1. Reply
    John Speno August 9, 2011

    And what do you recommend when your managers tell you that you need to mitigate your speech? (besides look for new managers).

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