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The Decision is Yours

How do we get good at what we are trying to do in life? The short answer is something along the lines of “never stop improving.”


March 5, 2015
By Paul Dixon

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How do we get good at what we are trying to do in life? The short answer is something along the lines of “never stop improving.”

One of the most important lessons we can learn is that we can’t know it all (whatever “it” may be) and that we generally can’t do it all by ourselves. The CHC Safety & Quality Summit each Spring is a gift for those who want take that next big step forward in their lives and their career; it’s a series of master classes interspersed with a lively networking session.

Don’t believe me? Just look back over the banquet keynote speakers of recent years and it’s hard not to be impressed: Chris Hadfield, Simon Sinek, Chesley Sullenberger, Fred Baldwin, Eugene Cernan and Al Haynes. Hadfield and Cernan have gravitas as astronauts, while Sullenberger and Haynes gained celebrity status through two brief moments in the spotlight, US Air 1549 and United 232. Fred Baldwin was a U.S. Navy pilot over Vietnam and air boss on a carrier, where the flight deck has been described as the most dangerous place in the world to work.

Each could talk about their personal experiences as pilots, as leaders and as people who had hung at the very edge of adversity and survived. Sinek was the outsider, the leadership guru who asks you to start with “why” in everything you do, the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do. This is something Hadfield, Sullenberger, Baldwin, Cernan and Haynes exemplified in everything they did. 

The most common approach to facilitating change in behaviour is to tell to people “do this” without much emphasis on “why.” That’s the basis of our primary and secondary education systems and, for decades, it carried over into the workplace, where most training or instruction was delivered in a top down way – “do this” became “do this or else.” This is how we were taught in school and through into our adult years as the instructions became less formal. It works, but only up to a point. In the adult world, it becomes “you must do this” with the added emphasis of “or else.”

More than 60 years ago, W. Edwards Deming created his 14 points on Total Quality Management, which became the foundation for the rebuilding of the Japanese industry. The basic tenet of Deming’s 14 points is continuous improvement and focuses on training, education and the importance of involving everyone in the organization. CHC follows a path of continuous improvement. You can read elsewhere in this issue (see, “Go Further, Do More,” pg. 12) about the implementation of its Operational Flight Planning System (OFPS) and how that process switched from a top-down to bottom-up process by including operational pilots from the beginning. 

We learn best when we understand the consequences of not succeeding, to put it bluntly, by confronting failure and feeling fear. Fear of failure can be a great teacher all by itself, but only if you do not deny it or ignore it. It is only when you acknowledge the possibility of failure that success is possible. What we call accidents are anything but. Read enough Transportation Safety Board and National Transportation Safety Board reports and it’s the same thing almost without exception – someone either did something or failed to do something that directly caused the accident and their decision to act or not was based on not understanding the consequences.

At last year’s event, Hadfield spoke about the brainstorming that went on amongst his mission team, where they spent months doing nothing but talking about all the things that could possibly go wrong and what the solutions might be, something that the crews on every space mission have done – visualizing failure and working towards success. They understood the consequences, but unfortunately in the case of Challenger and Columbia, it was a lack of foresight by others in the decision making chain that resulted in disaster.

The fact is, you have to be able – or willing – to recognize problems before they have a chance to get out of hand. Denial is easy, because why would you fix a problem you don’t have? We learn not just by opening our minds, but also by being open to those around us. The CHC Safety & Quality Summit is an opportunity to swim in a larger pool and create new networks. It’s about people talking to people about how to change norms and drive innovation by building trust and broadening relationships. We follow the lead of people we know and trust in deciding to change or modify our behaviours. Change requires effort and the decision to make that change is very much a social process, not something we do in isolation. We can only get better if we strive to be the best at what we do.


Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


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