Feb 232017
 
Image source: AOPA Flight Safety

My friend Scott Barnes tagged me about this article on factors affecting pilots’ decisions to land.

Scott’s share of this article reminds me of one more way in which my training as a Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor influences my business consulting practices.

In aviation, we don’t think of an aborted landing as merely a landing that we “failed.” The aborted landing is actually a maneuver with procedures and performance standards. We train for it like any maneuver.

The Go-Around

Go-Around procedures. Source: code7700.com

Go-Around Procedure (image: code7700.com)

Sometimes a landing shouldn’t happen. The entire flight path to the runway was fraught, so those final 100 feet to wheels-down are going to be messy. Another aircraft is on the runway you were just cleared to land on. You got distracted and got “behind the airplane” (you aren’t thinking ahead, and have become more of a passenger than a pilot.) The landing was going great, but the wind gusts are worse right now than they were sixty seconds ago… and as you fight the gusts, you are running out of runway.

As a student pilot, I had my share of unpleasant landings, including one which came close to scraping the tail of the aircraft on the runway tarmac.

My instructor — after examining the tail of the aircraft and breathing a sigh of relief to find it unharmed — informed me that any of these is a totally valid reason to skip the landing and go around.  In fact, I should plan every landing as if it were going to be a go-around.

“Get back up safe in the sky, re-plan, and come around and try again. Landings don’t cause crashes; pilots forcing themselves into bad landings cause crashes.”

This was eye-opening advice. How cool: as Pilot-In-Command, I have choices! I’m NOT doomed to follow my plan down into a fiery impact with the ground!

Warning Signs

But how often, in business, do we “force ourselves into bad landings?” The article lists six factors for why pilots do so, and they should ring a bell for us in business.

I’ve taken the liberty of translating the article’s six factors into typical sound-bites that represent the thinking behind these factors:

  1. Plan Continuation Error — “We need to stick to the plan. Why else did we make one?” 
  2. Sunk Cost Effect“We’ve invested a lot of time/money in this course of action, we need to see some return.”
  3. Cognitive Dissonance“The alternative you suggest sounds too complicated. Our current course of action is simplest.”
  4. Complacency“We’ve done dozens of deployments like this, I don’t see why you’re so pessimistic.”
  5. Hindsight Bias“Those warning signs you talk about aren’t warning signs; they are they only thing that could have happened. Stop worrying about what DID happen and focus on what SHOULD happen.”
  6. Bounded Rationality/’Satisficing’“I’m not rationalizing risk away; I just don’t think a few annoyed theoretical customers is as risky as delaying our product release by a month.”

How often have you heard statements like these, prior to the business equivalent of a crash into the ground?

Image source: AOPA Flight Safety

Image source: AOPA

Crashes in business can take longer than in aviation, but both are awful to watch.  I once saw one go on for 4 months. There were dozens of “passengers” (senior employees) involved in this particular venture, but despite all evidence, the “pilot” (C-level leader) continued to make statements that sounded a lot like those above.

Right up until the point that the company’s core business and customers were threatened.

It was the business equivalent of feeling the aircraft tail scrape the runway.

Plan the Go-Around — Detect When to Execute

I’m not trying to paralyze you with crash stories and accident reports. I’m hoping to show you that you have options besides “do or die.”

But only if you plan to have options. If there are warning signs, don’t simply hope that everything will be okay. Don’t shove the responsibility for a successful landing off onto your people. Question. Test your assumptions.

Here are some antidotes to the above risky soundbites:

  1. Plan for AlternativesWhat “go-around” procedures do we have if a risk manifests? Are we ready to execute them?
  2. Think Incremental ROIWe’ve invested a lot of time/money; how do we ensure that we get at least partial ROI no matter what?
  3. Be SkepticalWe’ve done dozens of successful deployments like this. But what’s different about this one?  
  4. View Risks as Discovered Work — I hear some concerns. Sounds like we’ve discovered some new risks. What work do we have to do to minimize these risks? Is this work in the new plan?
  5. Set Triggering ConditionsLooking ahead, under what circumstances might we need to change our plans? How can we tell if those conditions occur?
  6. Be Open to Peer ReviewI don’t think the risk of failure is as great as the risk of delay. But maybe I’m biased. So I’ve asked people outside my department for their assessment.

In aviation, we say:

“Plan every landing as a go-around, plan every [instrument weather] approach as a missed approach.”

Hope is not a strategy. “Go around triggers” for a project at risk from outside commitments.

In business, this means that while yes, we should “think positive” and “plan to ship it,” successfully delivering means that we also detect when that plan is no longer feasible, and then re-plan using newly discovered information.

Agile Development methods bake this re-planning into their process. Unfortunately too often the surrounding business processes do not. Too often, the people leading those processes view re-planning as a sign of failure.

So watch out for those warning sound bites. And stop thinking of deviation from the plan as failure. Start thinking of it as a procedure to be practiced and performed just like delivery.

As we say about go-arounds in aviation:

“Better to explain why you DID it, than for others to find out after the crash why you DIDN’T.”

 Posted by at 12:50 pm
Dec 152016
 

The rules of the post-WWII economy are becoming less relevant. Ben Thompson offers a view of what we could hope will replace it:

…instead of trying to recreate a 1950s fantasy of employment for life on an assembly line, the goal should be to create a far more dynamic labor market with a defined floor and significantly greater upside than the old system.

We are already seeing a hint of the opportunities offered in such a world with the rise of the “gig economy.” People sell crafts on Etsy, raise money for charities on Twitch, and drive for Uber.

But taking this to its extreme sounds pretty scary without some “floor” on income. You mean, I’m going to have to sell on Etsy and drive for Uber just to be able to afford food and medicine?

No. The idea is that, free of the need to struggle for basic subsistence, you can pursue different ceilings:

…a universal basic income alone offers some degree of financial security, but it does not offer dignity to the recipient, or any return for society beyond a reduction in guilt. What is most important, and what offers the highest return, is enabling more and better ways to work and ultimately create…

…who knows what sorts of products and services might result from an emboldened and secure middle class?

This reminded me a lot of the RSA Animate of Daniel Pink’s “Drive.” Specifically the findings about incentives for post-industrial work:

For work requiring rudimentary cognitive skill, people are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose — once you take security off the table.

Ben encourages those of us in the technological elite to focus less on using our tech to become (pardon the phrase) uber-rich and comfy, and more on helping bring about the world he describes:

To that end, technology executives and venture capitalists should lead the campaign for the type of reforms I have listed above. More importantly, they should match their rhetoric with actions: companies like Apple and Google should strive to be technology leaders, not tax avoidance ones…

He goes on to list a number of specific things that tech execs and VCs should support. Really, read the article.

I’m not hopeful, myself. In my own work, I’ve observed a strong temptation in tech leaders to apply old-world thinking to the new world of technology. “Well,” goes the (ir)rationale, “I went to school and worked hard, I deserve to make as much money as I can from it. It’s unfair for me to pay more in taxes.”

And baked into some of these conversations that I have is this undercurrent of “besides, it’s not like people can do without their Twitter/online banking/videogames. Anyone who blames technology is just a Luddite.”

Ben cautions

…people are not always rational, especially when they are desperate. It is absolutely in the industry’s best interests to not only participate in but lead the creation of a new system that works to the benefit of all…

The alternative is far worse: once automation arrives, guess who is going to be the scapegoat?

Ah, what does he know? It’s the 21st century. And we upper middle-class technologists have never had to fear a Reign of Terror.

But America is still young, as a nation goes.

There’s still time.

 Posted by at 4:04 pm