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A Logical Approach

Two signs of spring’s approach in Vancouver are the cherry blossoms that blanket the city and the CHC Safety and Quality Summit.


March 26, 2012
By Paul Dixon

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Two signs of spring’s approach in Vancouver are the cherry blossoms that blanket the city and the CHC Safety and Quality Summit. The theme of this year’s event is “Talent, Trust and Training,” and three renowned speakers/authors – Tom Casey, Tony Kern and Stephen Covey – will deliver the message. Their collective wisdom is pretty much common-sense stuff, but that fact alone highlights the basic human condition – common sense is all too often uncommon.

Of all the habits Covey has brought forth for our consideration, I think my favourite has always been “seek to understand before being understood.” In emergency management, a mantra is “you don’t know what you don’t know,” with the second verse often being, “you don’t know what you need to know.” From schoolyard to boardroom and countless venues in between, how often have we heard that all-time classic, “you just don’t understand”? Well, the riff I’ve picked up on in my time covering the helicopter business is along the lines that this business is so very different from other businesses that an outsider couldn’t possibly understand the dynamics.

Recently on his blog, Casey wrote about the need to assess the competency of supposed “experts” and the willingness of people who should (and could) know better to buy in on outdated and irrelevant information presented by people who are selling themselves and nothing but. It’s about the “experts” who expound on the conventional wisdom of the day and look good doing it.

Kern leads the Global War On Error, focusing on human error, avoidable human error, at the source, and invoking the words of Marcus Cicero – “any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error” – in the cause. Cicero lived more than 2,000 years ago, yet his words ring as true as ever today.

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Instead of trying to relate all of this to the mysterious world of helicopters and the people who fly them, let’s go out to the ball game. Peanuts, crackerjacks, root, root, root for the home team. There’s no shortage of expert opinion on any aspect of the game, especially come World Series time, when it takes longer for the “experts” to talk about the game than it does for the players to play the game.

There was a “major Hollywood movie” last year called Moneyball, about Billy Beane, a man who turned the baseball world upside down as general manager of the Oakland A’s by flouting conventional wisdom on essential skills and game tactics. The movie was mildly interesting, but the book it was derived from – Moneyball by Michael Lewis – is a detailed and systematic dismantling of the conventional wisdom that has fuelled the baseball brain trust for generations. This new wave of thinking was fuelled by Bill James back in the late 1970s. James had a voracious appetite for devouring statistics, extrapolating them in ways never before considered and achieving results very much at odds with the conventional wisdom.

In the same vein, Lewis has written several books detailing the inner workings of the financial meltdown of recent years. They are fascinating forays into the inner workings of the largest financial institutions in the world, many of which have exploded like supernovas or simply rolled over and sunk without a trace. The then 20-something Lewis, a graduate of the London School of Economics in the early ’80s, went to work as a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers – an environment captured in Tom Wolfe’s book, The Bonfire Of The Vanities. Lewis has recalled his amazement that he, as a neophyte salesman, was being asked by people twice his age, responsible for investment accounts into the billions of dollars, for guidance as to where they should investment their funds. Through his series of books, Lewis shows the reader where derivatives started, how mortgages were first pooled and resold as securities, and how an entirely new way of thinking evolved that resembled nothing so much as spinning sugar into cotton candy. It was a world, much like professional baseball, where the conventional thinking ruled the day and woe to those who dared ask questions.

Which brings us back to Casey, Kern and Covey who will be offering their insights, with a combined message that might be, “what did you think was going to happen?” The last word is from that renowned 20th-century philosopher, Charles Dillon Stengel, who much like Cicero two millennia before him was purged from his position of exaltation after he was deemed past his prime. Unlike Cicero, however, the “Old Perfesser” managed to keep his head. Casey Stengel hit it out of the park himself with his observation that “most ball games are lost, not won.”


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