What happens when you deviate from best practices? Nothing. Well, at least for a while. Eventually that deviation becomes the norm. And then a “predictable surprise” will occur.

This was the primary takeaway from the annual RSTechED motivation keynote–this year delivered by Mike Mullane, retired NASA astronaut–for process control engineers and all of us. Using the Challenger disaster as the background, Mullane showed how bad things happen to individuals and teams with a stellar history. They fell victim to normalization of deviance. They turned back on the best practices that got them to where they were.

There is a critical alarm, but nothing was done, and nothing happened. Next time the situation occurred, there was no critical alarm. Then the next time an alarm, but nothing happened. Maybe the critical alarm isn’t really critical? But then, it is. And things go “boom.” That was the O-ring situation on the shuttle engines that eventually led to the explosion.

Personal success

A few other points to consider on the road to personal success:
In teams, we’re all in it together. If you see something, speak up. “One person with courage forms a majority,” as the saying goes. Even if you think that everyone else is smarter or more experienced, if you see a deviance, speak up and question it.

Leaders need to empower the team to keep them out of the “I’m only a passenger” mentality. Encourage people to speak up.

And finally, he talked about courageous self-leadership. Challenge yourself and be tenacious toward achieving your goals. Motivate yourself (and your team and your family) out of the self-comfort zone.

“Genius is overrated; tenacity is underrated.”

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