Part III Business Blunders; how to handle them


Part III Business Blunders; how to handle them

  • By Ian Bradley
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In my last two posts, I shared my view on how CEO’s and managers discuss mistakes in their executive coaching sessions with me.  I pointed out how much the discussions focused on the emotional consequences of the mistake and not the underlying cognitive process.  This got me thinking about how my professional of psychology handles mistakes – not too well, since errors are rarely recognized.  Medicine is doing better by changing professional attitudes and teaching about the cognitive biases and traps that often blind a physician’s thinking

In today’s post, I point to a high-flying example that we can all emulate.

Aviation Industry; a model

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There are many admirable aspects about the aviation industry concerning the management of errors, perhaps because the consequences are obvious and dramatic.

One of the most publically visible aspects of error management involves the in-depth analysis that follows any aviation mishap an analysis that incorporates a standardized methodology and vocabulary to define errors. However, the aviation industry has also developed a professional culture that encourages error reduction by making safety, and not punishment, the primary concern. The best example is Crew Resource Management (CRM), a comprehensive training system that optimizes the resources of people, procedures and equipment to enhance safety.

There are many psychological aspects to CRM, one of the most interesting being what aviation experts refer to as situational awareness. This refers to the pilot’s mental model of the multitude of factors that determine the operation of the aircraft at any given moment. Many of the determining factors of the model derive from the pilot’s current sensory input -an input that the CRM teaches can be momentarily biased by certain normal perceptual illusions. CRM uses past errors, both actual and those derived from simulations to highlight the kind of thinking that got pilot into difficulty. CRM also broadens the focus from a pilot’s own thinking to incorporate interpersonal communication. Building from past aviation mishaps where vital flight information was not shared among all members of the flight crew has led standard best-practice communication procedures.

The learning that occurs from past mistakes is not stored in dust-collecting reports but quickly shared with the entire industry and seamlessly incorporated into new training protocols.

What can we learn?

Four questions we could pose about our mistakes in business:

#1 When a mistake occurs, do we take the time to perform an error-analysis?

#2 Does that analysis focus on the underlying cognitive processes to identify biases, false assumptions, impulsive decision-making etc ?

#3 Was the analysis comprehensive? Did it examine multiple variables including possible dysfunctional communication patterns, inadequate training or facilitating company culture?

#4 And finally, was the result of the in-depth and comprehensive analysis incorporated into training and development programs to prevent such mistakes in the future?

In my experience, mistakes are rarely re-visited, when they are their examination is limited to comments such as “try harder” or “concentrate more.”  Rarely are the reasons both individual or organizational examined in an in-depth fashion with results that lead to an accumulated corporate knowledge.

We can all learn from the aviation industry.