Thinking in the Yard

I was doing some yard work and -- as is my wont -- listening to podcasts. This one from the RSA inspired some bigger thoughts.

Designing a World Where People Come First

It starts out with your typical civilian-aviation story (it's irrelevant to my thoughts) and quickly heads into an odd blend of liberal/conservative thought on "reimagining" (the whole talk is full of buzz words) schools. It occurred to me (again) that we really do become our professions. Our work defines us in ways I don't think many young people are prepared for. As this guy went joyfully from topic to topic he got virtually everything wrong -- from a controller's view of the world.

(Pardon the lack of quotes. If I don't get this done in a hurry I won't get it done.)

Entrepreneurs -- We don't need any entrepreneurs in Air Traffic Control. Okay, that's not quite right. We do need to have experimentation. We just don't need for it to happen on the floor of the control room. The FAA's use of simulators was abysmal in my day. Has it improved? Is anybody actually using them to experiment? Humans being humans, don't encourage experimenting in the general controller population. But it does need to happen somewhere. As long as it is somewhere safe.

Non-Standardization -- This guy is basically talking mass experimentation (and local control) of schooling. It would be totally and utterly wrong for air traffic control. Does anybody talk about continuity of service anymore? Are you thinking about it? A pilot can talk to a controller in south Georgia for breakfast and be talking to a controller that lives in Brooklyn before lunch. He shouldn't have to adjust to "how New York does it" from the way it's done in Albany, Georgia. ATC should be done the same way in Albany -- whether the one in Georgia or the one in New York. Ideally, a pilot shouldn't have to adjust his "hearing" to follow ATC instructions. That is "ideally" in terms of safety. We might not ever solve that one but it doesn't mean we should give up trying. Anybody can work on speaking carefully and distinctly -- and every controller should.

"Parents understand what makes a good school." That's like saying pilots understand what makes a good air traffic control system. And to all the pilots (and parents) nodding their heads...that sounds like controllers know what makes a good airplane. We don't. Understanding pilot's needs and the demands that their profession imposes on them is important. The ATC system is here to get airplanes (and their passengers) where they need to go. Safely. We might all recognize good outcomes in all these areas but that doesn't mean we can design a system to produce those outcomes.

I encourage you to think some big thoughts about your profession. Listen to something totally out of your sphere and see if the ideas might work in your field. Or not. However you do it, set aside some time to think. Find the others in your profession that are also thinking. There won't be enough of them, but there will be some. Those are the people you want to meet.

Don Brown
August 8, 2015


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