The tragic crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport seems, at first blush, like an isolated event. An inexperienced pilot, a tired crew, and a tricky approach over a seawall have all been credited with a share of the Responsibility.
The more compelling explanation is the more subtle one. On the flight deck, everyone has a job, and all the jobs are interrelated. Safety depends upon communication. And, not to put too fine a point on it, communication depends upon a willingness to…well…communicate.
Unfortunately, in the case of Asiana, as has been documented with regard to other Asian airlines, the imperative of communication is often buried under the weight of cultural taboos. In other words, in the world of Asiana Airlines, and often in Asian culture at large, there is a reluctance among those of lesser rank to speak in contradiction of their bosses and betters. In the case of Flight 214, the reluctance proved fatal.
The conflict between culture and efficiency is neither unique to Asia nor specific to airlines. Instead, it is a drama played out in boardrooms and break rooms across the United States. Hierarchy, no doubt, can serve a purpose, as can experience. But when the value of a person’s input is inseparably linked to his or her age, the institution cannot help but suffer.
Talent becomes stifled and leaves. The organization, lacking the oxygen, withers and eventually dies. If communication is the lifeblood of a company, hierarchy is a tourniquet.
So my question, narrowed under the focus of this blog, is not “what precisely caused the crash of Flight 214?” but rather “Is your company in danger of crashing for the same reason?”