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Book & film recommendation: Outliers: The Story of Success

PIT Book & Film Recommendations
Questioning authority in crisis situations

At the lunch table at People Intouch (which is virtual these days) tips are often shared on great books, articles, movies and documentaries relevant to our core passion: The “Whistleblower (or SpeakUp) Dilemma”. We figured: why keep them all to ourselves? In this series of blogs we will share these recommendations with you.

This time we will talk about a chapter from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.

What happened?

The chapter in question is about leadership in crisis situations, namely: during plane crashes. By analysing recordings from crashed planes’ black boxes, Gladwell tries to pinpoint what dynamics are at play. He finds that the sense of authority that surrounds to the chief pilot greatly influences how these crisis situations play out. It turns out that co-pilots often follow the pilot’s orders, even when they know that there was a better solution to the problem. Due to the clear hierarchy between pilot and co-pilot, orders and decisions are hardly ever questioned.

Why is this interesting?

Firstly, it highlights the importance of a low-barrier procedure that is designed to make people feel comfortable to speak up. Even when a crash seems imminent, co-pilots refrain from truly speaking their mind because they are afraid to go against the pilot’s authority. While it is natural to have positions of  authority within companies, at the same time there should be a procedure in place that makes it possible for anyone in the company to voice their concerns if they feel that something is wrong. Employees should not be afraid to provide feedback with regards to how the company operates, or what goes on within the company. We believe that this is in companies’ best interest.

Secondly, it emphasises the need for an open SpeakUp culture. The chapter shows that if co-pilots do choose to speak up they do it very carefully. In stead of directly addressing what is on their mind they will nudge towards it, hoping that the pilot notices the message that they are trying to convey. If this does not happen, the co-pilot will most likely drop the subject because he or she does not feel encouraged to bring it up again. Creating an open SpeakUp culture is essential to creating an environment in which such situations do not occur. Authority should not stand in the way of a company functioning efficiently, and a company functions most efficiently when there is a possibility for employees to speak their mind. Being transparent about where employees can go when they need to get something of their chest is essential to achieving this.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ is available here on Amazon.

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