It’s November 4th, 2010. The 10am Qantas flight QF32 from Singapore to Sydney Australia takes off as planned. The A380 quickly gathers altitude and everything looks like another routine flight. When all of a sudden there is a loud bang. Then a passenger yells, “There’s smoke coming out of the engine” and a woman screams in panic that she sees a “hole in the wing.”
The pilots immediately move into crisis mode and start to investigate and access the damage.
The situation looks bad as the full damage is: “a destruction of engine 2, damage to the wing, fuel system, landing gear, flight controls and the controls for engine 1.”
With all these problems, the pilot crew starts to face an increasing amount of alarms, flashing lights and suggested corrective actions. At the same time, the plane is loaded with 80 tons of fuel and it turns out that they are not able to jettison it, yet they are about 50t over the maximum landing weight at Changi airport. Yes, they could still fly the plane, but without full hydraulics and only one engine for reverse thrust they would have a problem with hot brakes and leaking fuel, which could trigger a massive fire.
Things were looking grim and the tension in the cockpit became intense. All the pressure was now on the pilot and his crew with many questions to be considered. Will they be able to make the right assessments of the plane’s condition and the calculations needed to keep the plane in the air and at the same time try to land it safely? Will they be able to think at all with flames shooting out of the wings, all sorts of alarms sounding, lights flashing, and general chaos abounding?
The captain’s name is Richard de Crespigny. When the situation with the ever-increasing alarms escalates further he shouts:
“S T O P”.
He then asks himself a crucial question. This question will not only bring the team back to look at what was working versus what was broken, but it also totally simplifies the situation so that everyone in the crew knew what their next steps should be.
De Crespigny asked: “What would I do to land this plane if it were a Cessna?”
This question helped the captain and his crew to focus and regain control of the situation. They started to calculate and operate the plane manually, ignoring most of the alarms. With this, De Crespigny and his excellent crew landed the plane safely on 4 kilometres of runway with only a few metres to spare and saved the lives of all 440 passengers and 29 crew on board.
He did it by following a simple mental model, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.
Life and work can get pretty complex or even chaotic. And when it does, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our brains and our nervous systems to perform in the midst of all the madness. You need to be able to keep your eye on the ball and execute effectively especially when things come crashing down.
The antidote to complexity is simplicity. Captain De Crespigny took a hellishly complicated situation and simplified it totally. “What would I do to land this thing if it were a Cessna?” In other words, what one or two things do I REALLY need to concentrate on?
How does this relate to you? In life, there is usually no brilliant, beautifully trained person to bail you out when things get out of control.
YOU ARE YOUR OWN PILOT!
So, this is my question to you: What is your mental model for simplifying things? How do you concentrate on what’s REALLY important to you in the face of whatever challenge may arise?
With this I would like to invite you to spend a few minutes to think about what is most important to you in the new year. What is your “Cessna-Theme”?
Best wishes for a healthy, prosperous, and safely landed 2024.