The Asoh Defense – Speak the Truth
This past January, an airbus 320, flown by USAir Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, ditched his plane in the waters off the Hudson River on a flight bound for Charlotte, NC. There were no serious injuries to the 155 aboard.
Now, almost forgotten is a similar flight that occurred November 22, 1968. It’s been more than forty years since Captain Kohie Asoh, the Japan Air Lines Pilot, landed his DC-8 jet with 96 passengers and 11 crew members, two and a half miles out in the San Francisco Bay but in nearly exact compass line with the runway. Captain Asoh landed the jet so gently that many of the passengers were unaware they were in the water until a sailboat appeared on the port bow. No one was hurt. No one was bruised. No one even got their feet wet when passengers were taken off in inflatable rafts. While the jet itself was not damaged. It had to be salvaged before the corrosive salt took its toil. Regardless of how competently he piloted the jet, a veteran pilot with over 10,000 hours, the fact that he landed the plane 2 ½ miles in the bay upset more than a few people.
Shortly thereafter, the National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing to determine the guilt for the deed. Attorneys and the media scrambled to San Francisco representing their clients. When Asoh took the stand, the investigator asked, “Captain Asoh, can you explain in your own words how you managed to land that DC-8 jet 2 ½ miles out in San Francisco Bay in perfect compass line with the runway?” Asoh’s reply was. “As you Americans say, Asoh screwed up!” Actually his comment was a bit more colorful, but I’m trying not to offend here.
According to the story, all that could be said was in that brief reply and the judge adjourned the hearing. Apparently Asoh was not aware of the American philosophy of never apologize…never take blame…never explain. We live in a business society which does not approve of failure. How many times have military officers been passed over for promotion because of a single blemish on their record. I’m not speaking of repeated mistakes, just an honest error or failed attempt.
Would Richard Nixon have resigned if he had appeared before the American People and fessed up to the Watergate break-in? Would the Challenger accident have occurred if the problem with the “O” rings had not been covered up? The good news is many companies, particularly small businesses are practicing “Grace – the ability to forgive an error.” Some companies are expunging records after a certain lapse of time.
The business community must provide a routine to wipe the slate clean periodically, removing adverse personnel actions from employee files. Employees should be encouraged to acknowledge mistakes, to correct them before it significantly hampers the future efficiency of the business or organization.
Captain Asoh had the courage to assume responsibility for his own actions. He didn’t blame others for his mistakes. More than four decades later we need to learn from Captain Asoh, who by the way continued to fly for Japan Airlines without further incident until his retirement. Innovation does not come from doing the same thing over and over again. Innovation will be met with mistakes, errors, and failed attempts, But it is through that process that we grow and learn. I say set your goals high and shoot for the stars. That way if you only reach the sky you’ve left the ground and cleared the treetops!
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