Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Expecting perfection

We’re perfect, at least I am, and expect everyone else to be perfect too. Whenever there’s an incident like the recent Christmas attempt to bomb a plane, we immediately begin looking for who’s at fault. And being at fault usually means not being perfect.

A person can be imperfect in hindsight – he should have thought of that possibility before the incident. Or a person can be imperfect in performance – he didn’t interpret the rules properly. And it’s true that if everyone had been perfect the incident could have been avoided. Perhaps if the evil doer had been perfect the incident would never have been considered in the first place..

But, we’re not all or even near all perfect. As a matter of fact, we’re mostly average with all the imperfection that entails.

There’s a measurement device called the bell curve. It distributes various arrays of data (competence, cost, energy, profits, etc.). The low end of the curve shows the probability of the least desirable results. The high end shows the probability of the most desirable results, perfection. The high point near the middle shows what most probably will happen. The high and low probabilities are much less frequent than the probability of getting average results as the central portion of the curve would show.

This average result is somewhere in the middle and is where most people would fit. Plotted out, this data curve approximates the shape a bell.

Given the ways of human nature and probability, rules, procedures and regulations are not created by the incompetents at one end of the curve, nor by the super competent at the other end. If that were so, the super competent would be doing all the work and the rest of us taking it easy.

So what we end up in the airline safety realm are sets of procedures developed by average people that will work most of the time under the “most of the time” conditions if carried out by people of average skill. That’s reality.

Given the forecasting and organizational ability of the average person, the 9/11 attack would not have been prevented. But also, given the learning process of the average person, steps have been taken to insure there will never be an aircraft attack like 9/11. This is reinforced by every pilot knowing that letting his plane be taken over would be fatal to himself.

The same could be said about the USS Cole bombing. I’m sure the navy has done just what the average person insuring against another 9/11 has done. It will never happen that way again.

Between the cable networks interest in keeping any crisis type situations going and the encouragement that gives the average person to keep complaining, crisis and incidents will always be blown out of proportion to their real importance.

I try to keep in mind the saying, “You can make things fool proof but not damn fool proof”, whenever this craziness erupts. Let’s keep in mind that no system is damn fool proof.

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