At first it may seem strange to draw a parallel between my somewhat safe and sedentary existence as an asset professional and those willing to launch themselves headlong into the inky abyss of space, but bear with me.
I first met NASA Astronaut Mike Mullane at an Oil and Gas User Conference in Huston. I was very impressed with his powerful message around health & safety, knowledge and asset management. The parallels that he drew between the space industry and our industry were not only fascinating but really resonated with the Asset Intensive audience.
I was so impressed with Astronaut Mullane’s message that I wanted to bring it to the ANZ audience and Certus recently had the privilege of interviewing Astronaut Mullane in Auckland. Second time around and it turns out our industries have a lot more in common than even I initially thought. The full interview was covered in a recent article by Reseller News which you can read here.
Astronaut Mike Mullane is an intriguing character. Not only is he the veteran of three Space Shuttle missions, he has also flown combat reconnaissance missions over the skies of Vietnam, and climbed some of the highest peaks across the globe. His many accomplishments are impressive but he also knows a thing or two about what teamwork, leadership and safety are all about.
One of the key themes Astronaut Mullane refers to is the ‘normalisation of deviance’. This concept outlines how people within an organisation become so accustomed to a deviant behaviour that they don't consider it as deviant, despite the fact it breaks their own rules.
The Challenger disaster in 1986 was the result of a simple failure of a booster rocket O-ring seal, and this failure was both predicted and preventable. According to Astronaut Mullane, this was a “schedule-driven” tragedy. Over four years before the disaster, those working on the project were driven more and more frequently into shortcuts that ultimately contributed to the failure.
For us in asset intensive industries, the cost of asset failure may not always be measured in human lives but the consequences are still significant. Creating robust strategies to avoid predictable surprises is essential.
In our industry, we see the normalisation of deviance all the time. For example, field operatives continuously placing themselves in physical danger due to poorly communicated or enforced safety policies. Understanding how to guard against the normalisation of deviance is critical to avoiding disaster and something that should be built into all asset management strategies.