On Saturday July 6th 2013, Asiana flight 214 crashed while on approach to San Francisco airport, killing two people and injuring scores more. The initial investigation concluded the cause of the crash was unlikely to be mechanical and was most likely due to pilot error. The flight originated from Seoul South Korea, a country whose pilots are familiar with such tragedies as discussed in detail in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.

In Outliers, Gladwell describes specific behaviors associated with a variety cultures around the world. In the case of the Koreans, Gladwell describes a propensity for deference when operating in hierarchical structures. He uses the example of a flight landing in Guam, similar to Asiana 214, the plane crashed on approach. Cockpit recordings from that flight indicated that the flight crew were aware of the pilot’s error but were unwilling to challenge the senior pilot until it was too late.

We may not know for some time what caused flight 214 to crash in San Francisco but it does pose some interesting questions about culture.

  • What kind of culture are you promoting in your organization?
  • Are individual contributors free to express themselves and their ideas or are they discouraged from doing so?

In his writing on liberty, Jon Stuart Mills notes that we should never suppress the minority opinion. Minority opinions are critical; if correct they can help to persuade those in the majority to the right path. If they are incorrect they will only act as reinforcement of the majority opinion. There is nothing more dangerous in a global society or a business culture than “group think” or a “yes” culture. Such a culture can only lead to stagnation and error.

What kind of culture are you promoting?