Airplane crashes don’t happen often, and when they do they are no doubt among the most-studied failures in any industry. Most bad business decisions, by contrast, are pushed into the past as quickly as possible.

That may be one lesson – studying why a business strategy proved to be a failure might prevent similar failures in the future. But the lesson I want to talk about today is more specific: how Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) strategies have direct application to business management issues.

As described by Jonah Lehrer in How We Decide, over the decades many plane crashes could be traced back to the hiearchical nature of the cockpit team. Like the captain of a ship, the pilot in command was with no doubt the person in charge. Crashes could occasionally be attributed to a bad pilot decision that the copilot no doubt perceived as an error but failed to correct. Or, the copilot called an issue to the pilot’s attention once, and failed to do so again more forcefully after the pilot ignored the warning.

These crashes could have been prevented by better cockpit communication. CRM procedures were developed and implemented to ensure that a diversity of viewpoints were heard in the cockpit and that everyone on the team felt empowered to speak out.

When you think about it, plenty of bad business decisions happen the same way. Countless times I’ve seen a mid-level manager shake his head at the folly of some decision handed down by top management, but rather than objecting simply follow orders and let subsequent events show the decision was doomed from the start.

Businesses need to emulate the CRM strategy employed in cockpits: ensure that everyone has a voice and that dissenting views are aired. The decision will still have to be made, but at least all the information available will be out on the table and at least some of the gaffes can be avoided.

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