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Malcolm Gladwell On Culture and Airplane Crashes 423

Posted by timothy
from the this-is-a-lighthouse-suit-yourself dept.
theodp writes "While the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 pilots' lack of communication puzzles crash investigators, readers of author Malcolm Gladwell are likely having a deja vu moment. Back in 2008, Gladwell dedicated a whole chapter of his then-new book Outliers to Culture, Cockpit Communication and Plane Crashes (old YouTube interview). 'Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s,' Gladwell explained in an interview. 'When we think of airline crashes, we think, Oh, they must have had old planes. They must have had badly trained pilots. No. What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.'"
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Malcolm Gladwell On Culture and Airplane Crashes

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  • by NixieBunny (859050) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:11PM (#44226545) Homepage
    As an American, it made no sense to me that a person would consider that the respect towards their superior was worth more than the lives of two hundred people.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:13PM (#44226567) Homepage

      That's because you are racist.

      • by MisterSquid (231834) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:22PM (#44226687)

        As someone who is half Korean and was raised in an household where respect for one's elders was taught, I would not necessarily say the GP is expressing a racist opinion as much as an ethnocentric opinion.

        Both racism and ethnocentrism can have negative effects, but ethnocentrism is not always coupled with hate.

        • by Bartles (1198017)

          Both racism and ethnocentrism can have negative effects, but ethnocentrism is not always coupled with hate.

          Apparently, blind adherence to the rule that age and wisdom are directly related can have negative affects as well.

          • by MisterSquid (231834) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @02:52PM (#44228711)

            Apparently, blind adherence to the rule that age and wisdom are directly related can have negative affects as well.

            Sure, I did not mean to suggest Confucianism always provides optimal results (for whatever optimum one may be seeking). I only meant that misunderstanding deference to one's elders may not be an issue of hate.

            That said, my experience with this aspect of Confucianism--of being deferential to one's elders--has little to do with wisdom. It's simply the way hierarchy is established and observed among Koreans. Many times, younger Koreans will complain to their same-age peers when selfish, greedy, and foolish elders are not present to be offended.

            For example, when an elder asks juniors to work with little to no compensation, the younger group may (will!) grouse about how greedy and insufferable the elder is (a direct confrontation is likely to cause drama and this, too, happens very frequently). Confucianism can "prescribe" roles for both inter- and intragenerational behavior, in this case bonding members of one group while enabling the "superior" to extract a profit.

            Not to say such roles are good or bad. My take is that Confucianism produces a different set of cultural effects than, say, Western Individualism. Declaring one approach to be "better" than the other is not the same as trying to understand and describe how different ideologies condition cultural behavior.

            • by Bartles (1198017)
              All that multi-cultural bullshit aside. In this instance; the cockpit of an airplane that is about to crash, pointing out to the elder pilot that he is about to kill 300 people is clearly superior than respecting his wisdom by remaining silent.
        • His opinion is based on logic and common sense...

          The idea that respect for your elders should be given priority even when doing so results in the death of hundreds of people (some of whom may actually be older than you) is utterly ridiculous. It basically amounts to mass murder.

          Any cultural expectations which cause unnecessary death and suffering are fundamentally flawed and should be eliminated. People should be smart enough to question things, not just blindly follow what they've been taught ESPECIALLY when doing so is likely to be detrimental or cause death.

          This is not racism so much as anti-stupidity.

          And if you believe that aspects of culture should be preserved and protected even when they are clearly detrimental, consider that many cultures are or have been extremely racist and have often taught that members of other races or religions are inferior and should be converted, enslaved or wiped out. If you believe that cultural flaws like this should be changed, then surely you must accept that things like blindly respecting your elders without questioning them are also wrong.

          • Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few - Spock
          • by kwbauer (1677400) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @02:43PM (#44228605)

            Yes. This is where political correctness, multiculturalism and the notion that there is no absolute truth break down in the real world. It is not racist to point out that a strict adherence to a cultural norm is "a bad thing." Must we also accept honor killings and female genital mutilation as those seem to be culture based. Were we wrong to hold any German soldier below the highest echelons of power accountable for actions in WWII? After all, their culture (military and otherwise) dictated a strict adherence to orders from superiors. Do we now support skinheads and neo-nazis in the US in their hatred of Jews and Blacks because they have adopted a culture that informs them of the propriety of such views? Were we wrong to clamp down on racism in the American South? After all, white supremacy and segregation were very much a part of southern culture.

            Everybody, including every Korean, that got on that plane expected that the pilots and crew would do everything in their power to keep them safe. That is a basic unwritten but widely accepted contract in commercial transport going back centuries (Captain going down with the ship and such). We held the Italian ship captain responsible and publicly ridiculed him for not honoring that contract.

            Why then do we not have the same right and responsibility to do the same just because the crew are Korean. Are Koreans so superior that their cultural norms trump all others? Would that not also be a racist viewpoint?

            Sometimes we simply need to admit that there is an ultimate truth and that one culture might be wrong if it is in violation of that ultimate truth. That is not the same as saying everything about that culture is wrong. It is simply saying that an aspect of that culture is wrong and needs to be left in the past.

            • by AdamWill (604569)

              "This is where political correctness, multiculturalism and the notion that there is no absolute truth break down in the real world. It is not racist to point out that a strict adherence to a cultural norm is "a bad thing." Must we also accept honor killings and female genital mutilation as those seem to be culture based."

              I don't think anyone said that was racist, and neither "political correctness, multiculturalism [nor] the notion that there is no absolute truth" require one to condemn either of those thin

          • by quantaman (517394)

            His opinion is based on logic and common sense...

            The idea that respect for your elders should be given priority even when doing so results in the death of hundreds of people (some of whom may actually be older than you) is utterly ridiculous. It basically amounts to mass murder.

            Any cultural expectations which cause unnecessary death and suffering are fundamentally flawed and should be eliminated. People should be smart enough to question things, not just blindly follow what they've been taught ESPECIALLY when doing so is likely to be detrimental or cause death.

            This is not racism so much as anti-stupidity.

            And if you believe that aspects of culture should be preserved and protected even when they are clearly detrimental, consider that many cultures are or have been extremely racist and have often taught that members of other races or religions are inferior and should be converted, enslaved or wiped out. If you believe that cultural flaws like this should be changed, then surely you must accept that things like blindly respecting your elders without questioning them are also wrong.

            I haven't read the chapter but I'm guessing the problem wasn't that pilot was about to plunge the plane into the ground but the co-pilot didn't say anything because it would be disrespectful. It was that the pilot would make a poor decision, one that was defensible but probably increased the risk some minuscule amount, and the co-pilot didn't feel comfortable enough to argue with him so the poor decision stood. The median effect of this is nothing, but over enough flights a few of them are going to crash.

            Am

        • by Solandri (704621)
          It also doesn't seem like it would be relevant in this case. According to Korean newspapers [hankooki.com], the trainee pilot in command of the B777 (Lee Kang-kook) with just 43 hours on the B777 was 46 years old. The training co-pilot (Lee Jeong-min) with 3200 hours on the B777 was 49 years old. So even if the cultural age-based hierarchy were there, it would've been present as deference to the more experienced pilot.

          If it was the older and more experienced pilot who screwed up and failed to note the dangerously lo
          • by sabri (584428) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @06:28PM (#44231541)

            If it was the older and more experienced pilot who screwed up and failed to note the dangerously low airspeed, pretty much any trainee pilot from any culture would've figured his trainer knew what he was doing. The Korean Ministry of Transportation has already stated that ultimate responsibility lay with Lee Jeong-Min, as he was the trainer on the flight.

            As far as I know, there were four pilots on the flight deck. Each pilot, even a pre-solo student pilot, will know that speed + altitude = life. If you are flying at low speed at a low altitude, you're in danger. The PNF should have been monitoring airspeed, but the other pilots had a responsibility as well.

            When I was a student pilot, I witnessed flight instructors mess up as well. On my second solo I almost crashed into another airplane with 1 CFI and 2 student pilots on board, when I had the right of way (I was in the pattern doing t&g's). Moral of the story: everyone on the flight deck has a responsibility. An accident is not a single event, it is a chain of events, and a multitude of people not paying attention. There is no single person to blame.

      • by Patrick Bowman (1307087) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:33PM (#44226815)
        Do all the people replying here not realize that Gandhi_2 was joking? Let me spell it out. Gandhi_2 is making fun of our western tendency to be so hyper-sensitive to cultural issues that mentioning, or even noticing, that someone is from another culture or genetic group is likely to elicit a charge of racism from someone. The fact that that many people didn't even get it shows how accustomed we have become to hearing these charges.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:40PM (#44226913)

          It's not a Western tendency, it's more an American tendency.

          I remember one time driving through the Indian part of town in the UK with my American girlfriend and saying something about how they drive like they're still in Bombay as a car on the wrong side of the road barely missed us. Any local would have agreed since it was completely true, but she was absolutely shocked by my EVIL RACISM.

        • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

          I'd call it a human tendancy. But thanks just the same. (:

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mooingyak (720677)

          Do all the people replying here not realize that Gandhi_2 was joking? Let me spell it out. Gandhi_2 is making fun of our western tendency to be so hyper-sensitive to cultural issues that mentioning, or even noticing, that someone is from another culture or genetic group is likely to elicit a charge of racism from someone. The fact that that many people didn't even get it shows how accustomed we have become to hearing these charges.

          I was one of the responders.

          If he was joking, it went clean over my head. Still does, kind of. I mean, I understand what you're saying, but I just don't read it that way, even after you've explained it. And my comment went to +4, insightful in about 15 minutes so I'm not the only one.

          And yes, if you're wondering, I do understand that I'm reinforcing your last sentence with my comment.

          • by Ogive17 (691899)
            It's showing as +5 funny which means people thought you were also making a joke.

            Here is a scenario. You are driving towards a steep cliff with your father, who happened to be sleeping in the car. As you approach the edge you ask if you should turn right or left. Since he's sleeping, he doesn't hear you.

            Do you:
            1. Stop the car
            2. Turn right
            3. Turn left
            4. Drive over the cliff while waiting on an answer

            I think that was the joke he was making. The summary seems to suggest the pilot refused to ta
        • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:46PM (#44227005)

          Do all the people replying here not realize that Gandhi_2 was joking? Let me spell it out. Gandhi_2 is making fun of our western tendency to be so hyper-sensitive to cultural issues that mentioning, or even noticing, that someone is from another culture or genetic group is likely to elicit a charge of racism from someone. The fact that that many people didn't even get it shows how accustomed we have become to hearing these charges.

          I think you and G2 are striking to the core of the issue in such a way that people just simply can't understand. Maybe it is being culturally insensitive, but sometimes cultures are wrong.

          Some cultures place deference to elders above the safety of others. They are wrong.
          Some cultures practice persecution of all minority or non-state religions. They are wrong.
          Some cultures are anti-homosexual and racist. They are wrong.
          Some cultures perform Honor Killings [wikipedia.org] on family members that shame the family. They are wrong.
          Some cultures mutilate girl's genitals in order to... make them... uhh, I am not sure why, but they do it. They are wrong.

          Is it insensitive that i hold these beliefs? Maybe. But they are the ones that are wrong on these topics.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <(mojo) (at) (world3.net)> on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:05PM (#44227271) Homepage

            Genital mutilation is hardly limited to just girls.

            • by femtobyte (710429) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:29PM (#44227563)

              However, forms that are highly likely to eliminate all prospects for sexual pleasure (even make sex painful and unpleasant), generally are. As a circumcised male, I can assure you that my lack of a foreskin does not preclude pleasurable stimulation of my genitals. Female circumcision, removing the clitoris, would be more equivalent to cutting off your whole glans penis, not just trimming the flesh around it --- a far more drastic imposition.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:28PM (#44227557)

            sometimes cultures are wrong.

            Some cultures allow the killing of unborn children. They are wrong.
            Some cultures incarcerate 3% of their population. They are wrong.
            Some cultures outlaw alcholic drinks to people of military and voting age. They are wrong.
            Some cultures require men to pay for the upkeep of women who divorce them. They are wrong.
            Some cultures expect women to return to the workforce less than 3 months after they give birth. They are wrong.

            Is it insensitive that i hold these beliefs? Maybe., But they are the ones that are wrong on these topics.

          • Some people believe in moral absolutes. They are wrong.

    • Power do not work in a logical way.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:24PM (#44226713) Journal

      Undue respect for "superiors" is why 500,000 people died in Iraq. Why Edward Snowden is indicted for espionage while Obama remains unimpeached. Why we imprison more people than any other country in the world. Why we allow tens of thousands of our own citizens to die each year because they can't get insurance. Why we shut down an entire city for someone who caused an explosion that killed 3 people while someone who the very same week caused an explosion that killed 14 walks free. etc. etc.

      America is not the bastion of independent thought we'd like it to be. It's better than Korea by a long shot, but there's much more progress we still need to make.

      • by RazzleFrog (537054) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:21PM (#44227465)

        Let's talk about impeachment. There was a lot of debate around what a president could do that would allow for impeachment but let's narrow it down to the 3 main categories that have been used over American history:

        1 - Using an office for improper personal gains. This hasn't even been brought against a president but this was more common about elected judges who took bribes. I don't think there is anything here you can hold Obama on.

        2- Behaving in a manner that is grossly incompatible with the office. The obvious example here is Bill Clinton. If nothing else Obama is as clean cut a president as we've ever had. You can't have a more model American family than the Obamas.

        Which gets us to the tricky one:
        3 - Exceed the powers of the office to the degradation of the other branches of government. This is the only one a conservative could really work with since there is no doubt that Obama has stretched the executive branch to its fullest in the face of an incompetent "do nothing" Congress. If you look at history, however, he is nowhere near what Lincoln did during his presidency. He used the excuse of civil war to browbeat a belligerent congress. Obviously Obama isn't facing a civil war (although it seems damn near it some times) but he is facing a lot of challenges both domestically and internationally and in many ways is handcuffed by Congress.

        Curious to get your opinion of his impeachable crimes.

    • by abelenky17 (548645) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:31PM (#44226795)

      I don't believe it is because they *won't* contradict their superiors.
      It is because they don't known *how* to contradict their superiors.

      After a lifetime of cultural indoctrination of respect towards elders and superiors, when the time comes to speak up, how do you do it?
      What do you say? Do you indicate by pointing or gesturing? Do you speak politely and slowly, or angrily and quickly? Maybe just grab the controls yourself?
      When do you speak up? When you first spot trouble? when you're convinced your partner overlooked it? or when it is really approaching the last-second?

      All of these little decisions are already ingrained into Americans. We know culturally how to speak up and raise an issue.
      But to someone unaccustomed to them, it is a huge cognitive load, and leads to self-doubt and uncertainty.
      I'm sure someone on that flight deck *wanted* to speak up, but was probably wondering what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.

    • by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:57PM (#44227151)

      American pilots had the same problem from the 40 to the 80's or so as the airlines were highering mostly exmilitary who brought with them the command structure of the cockpit.

      This was also cited as a primary cause for the Tenerife accident that killed over 500. The Dutch captain pilot was (I think) the most senior pilot in the fleet. He was not to be questioned or your career could be over in a flash.

      It wasn't until after Tenerife that the concept of the Crew Resource Management [wikipedia.org] began to be taught.

    • by Jawnn (445279) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:28PM (#44227549)

      As an American, it made no sense to me that a person would consider that the respect towards their superior was worth more than the lives of two hundred people.

      It's not surprising that you, as an American, have glibly demonstrated that you don't have the foggiest notion of what went on in that cockpit, nor the cultural dynamics that affected what did, and probably more to the point, what did not go on. Which is, of course, the entire point of TFA - there are deeply ingrained social mores that may have adversely affected the communication required of the flight crew operating a complex commercial aircraft. The landing operation, especially, is an intense period, with little margin for certain errors at certain points. It would not take much, the slightest hesitation to say something like, "Hey. Shouldn't we maybe add a little power here?", when it has become evident that the operation has fallen "outside of expected parameters", could easily be enough to make the difference. I wasn't there, but the guy at the controls almost had to have known, well before that "Oh shit!" moment, that his airspeed was not what it was supposed to be. It's not difficult at all to envision that guy asking himself if he should say something yet and risk the wrath of his superior. At that point, it would not have been an "I must say something or we crash" decision. That's the part you're missing.

    • First of all, we do not know that Asian culture had anything to do with it. Sometimes the cockpit crew fails to explicitly communicate their concerns or their actions. Air France plowed a perfectly good jumbo into the Atlantic because the crew failed to say out loud what they were each doing, and thought should be done.

      Second of all, no one decides "I would rather risk personal death and/or watch 300 people die in fire than maybe embarrass my boss". The information is filtered through other parts of the

    • It might not be that. As a 16 year old I flew to Sydney with my dad in 1986. We had multiple problems with our rented aircraft and finished up getting lost over the blue mountains due to a faulty gyroscope. So we called ATC for help and they radar vectored us to Bankstown, where we started an approach. But we started to land long, ran out of runway and dumped the flaps at 50 feet to go round. Piston engines react instantly so we got speed up easily.

      But when my dad got us back in to the circuit I could see t

  • Have some patience (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:16PM (#44226615)

    It's starting to seem likely that there was gross human error involved, but let's wait to see what else comes out from the investigation before blaming it all on East Asian culture.

    • Ah, you're right. Let's take the CNN approach of evidence and logic and science points to one thing so far but it's impolite so bury it and try to prove it wrong so as not to be seen as racist. Now THAT is the scientific method.
      • What "evidence and logic and science" points to the involvement of hierarchical culture in the command decisions of Asiana Flight 214?

    • The NTSB press video gives a first glampse on what had happened - the last part of the flight is referenced at apx. 22:00 video time.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9MTLlzf8Co [youtube.com]
  • by cellocgw (617879) <cellocgw@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:17PM (#44226627) Journal

    Is the 777 one of those planes which cannot be landed fully automatically? What are the current FAA rules about auto-landings? I thought planes were generally supposed to use manual landing only under severe weather or other concerns.

    • by spacefight (577141) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:25PM (#44226723)
      Normally you would intercept the localizer (lateral guidance), then the glide slope signal (altitude guidance) via auto pilot and then disconnect the auto pilot shortly before landing and flare manually.

      On this day, the glide slope signal was not available due to maintenance work and therefore, the pilot flying (PF) needed to fly the approach and landing manually - which he fucked up.

      More details on this article from AeroInside.com [aeroinside.com] Coming back to your question - auto land needs to demonstrated per plane on a continous base, e.g. monthly - no matter what weather is.
    • by QuantumFlux (228693) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:25PM (#44226735)

      It's actually the other way around: autoland is typically only used in extremely low visibility (typically bad weather) situations. In most cases, a pilot can land a plane more accurately and smoothly as the human, visually, can account for far more external variables than the autopilot computer.

      Just not in this case, apparently...

    • According to MetaFilter user backseatpilot [metafilter.com]:

      According to the recorded meteorological reports (METARs), the weather was good and the airport was conducting visual operations, which means the pilots use their view out the cockpit window to approach and land. However, the NTSB is probably going to be investing [sic] this Notice to Airmen (NOTAM):

      06/005 (A1056/13) - NAV ILS RWY 28L GP U/S. 01 JUN 14:00 2013 UNTIL 22 AUG 23:59 2013. CREATED: 01 JUN 13:40 2013

      The Instrument Landing System (ILS) for runway 28L has

    • From what I read the pilot landing had little time on the 777 (though he had 10,000 hours overall) and was actually practicing/training landing the jet. He was being supervised by another pilot who had much more experience on the 777. It would defeat the purpose to use auto-land. Also I thought auto-land was used for low and zero-visibility not the other way around. We don't know the whole story but normally the pilot not landing is supposed to be monitoring the instrumentation to ensure that the speed,
    • by Teancum (67324)

      Of course the automatic landing system of SFO was also turned off at the time. There was some pundit speculation this might have been the cause of the accident, but of course pilots are also supposedly trained not to rely upon those systems all of the time either. It was a clear day near noon at a big airport that had other systems in place to help land airplanes.

      The point of the original article is that there should have been more communication between the pilot and co-pilot on the theory that having two

      • by cwebster (100824)

        The glideslope is not a "automatic landing system". In any case, if its not working you look out the window assisted by an array of white and red lights next to the runway to fly the glidepath visually.

    • by dcw3 (649211)

      For someone attempting to become certified on a "type" of aircraft, they wouldn't be using it. Also, on a bright, clear, basically perfect day, there's not a reason to do so. Flying low and slow on a visual approach is inexcusable. Unless VASI (visual approach slope indicator...basically lights from the runway that show you above, below, or on the proper glideslope) was also down, they should have easily seen that they were at an improper angle. And with around ten thousand hours of experience, the visu

    • by cwebster (100824)

      99% of landings are done manually. Contrary, you only use autoland when you have to because of weather conditions or it needs to be demonstrated for aircraft currency.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolusNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:17PM (#44226637) Homepage Journal
    Indian culture is hierarchical, and deference to your superiors counts enormously. Yet, Indian airlines do not have worse-than-average crash rates.
    • There could be other aspects of Indian cultural interaction that act as a spoiler to the effect.
    • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jkflying (2190798) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:30PM (#44226781)

      But in Indian culture the hierarchy is class based, not age based. Thus, two pilots are always equal (or at least close to it) by the fact that they are both pilots, irrespective of whether one is much older than the other.

    • Re:Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TWiTfan (2887093) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:33PM (#44226829)

      IIRC, Gladwell's contention was that the problem wasn't just deference, it was primarily a lack of communication. Not only are you supposed to be deferential to your betters, you're not even supposed to TALK to them (even in an emergency).

    • by ChrisCampbell47 (181542) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:21PM (#44227469)

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/transport/2013/07/asiana_airlines_crash_stop_blaming_sfo_s_runways_and_korea_s_pilots_for.html [slate.com]

      "Lastly, we're hearing murmurs already about the fact that Asiana Airlines hails from Korea, a country with a checkered past when it comes to air safety. Let's nip this storyline in the bud. In the 1980s and 1990s, that country's largest carrier, Korean Air, suffered a spate of fatal accidents, culminating with the crash of Flight 801 in Guam in 1997. The airline was faulted for poor training standards and a rigid, authoritarian cockpit culture. The carrier was ostracized by many in the global aviation community, including its airline code-share partners. But Korean aviation is very different today, following a systemic and very expensive overhaul of the nation’s civil aviation system. A 2008 assessment by ICAO, the civil aviation branch of the United Nations, ranked Korea's aviation safety standards, including its pilot training standards, as nothing less than the highest in the world, beating out more than 100other countries. As they should be, Koreans are immensely proud of this turnaround, and Asiana Airlines, the nation's No. 2 carrier, had maintained an impeccable record of both customer satisfaction and safety."

    • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @03:20PM (#44229145) Homepage Journal

      Having led development teams with native-born Indian engineers on them, I can confirm that Indian cultural diversity notwithstanding, deference to superiors is a big deal with many people brought up there. That's neither good, nor bad. It's just different. Where problems arise is when people don't recognize that there are differences and fail take those differences into account.

      As an American, I don't feel insulted when a subordinate questions my ideas, in fact I rely on them challenging me. What took me awhile to figure out was that my Indian employees wouldn't stand up and contradict me, especially in public. In a American that would be cowardly, but that's because we communicate in what amounts to be a different social language from Indians. I soon learned that you have to manage employees from deferential cultures differently; you've got to spend a lot of personal time together having quiet chats, maybe go out after work for a couple of beers. And you have to recalibrate your trouble sensors when dealing with deferential employees. If you give them something resembling an order, if they do anything short of hopping right to it with open enthusiasm, it's time to have a quiet, tactfully executed one-on-one.

      This is not a worse way of doing things, it's just different, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. For me the toughest thing was I had to be careful about thinking out loud -- at least at first -- because my guys took every that came out of my mouth so seriously. At first, I found my Indian subordinates to be frustratingly passive. They found me (no doubt) to be overbearing, insensitive, rash and pig-headed. This was all just miscommunication, because we all were acting and interpreting each others' actions through the lenses of different cultural conventions. In the end, we did what intelligent people of different cultures do when working with each other: we developed a way of doing things that combined what we felt was the best of both cultures.

      And that's an important lesson: people aren't culturally programmed automatons. We are capable of thinking and adapting. People in an egalitarian culture are perfectly capable of coming together and working coherently as a team, although the process may look ugly and chaotic to outsiders. People in cultures with deference to elders are perfectly capable of reporting unwelcome news to a superior.

      So if a junior pilot didn't communicate an emergency situation to a senior pilot, *then somebody on that team screwed up*. They weren't doomed to crash by cultural programming. There may be nuances of their culture which contributed to the disaster, but that's bound to be true of human error in every culture.

      I won't go so far as to say that *all* cultural differences are superficial. But I think many differences are more superficial than a casual outsider might suspect. That outsider might look at something like the reluctance of a subordinate to question a superior's instructions and assume that the subordinate *can't*. That's simply not true. On one level, the shared cultural understanding of the subordinate and the boss provides them with ways of communication that escape the outsider's understanding. But more importantly, people aren't mindless cultural automatons. If his boss is about to stall your plane on the approach to the runway, I don't think a Korean co-pilot is simply going to stand by silently. I suppose it is possible that he might be inclined to wait a few seconds longer than an American co-pilot, but if that endangers the plane then that is a mistake, period. A Korean airline is perfectly capable of training the co-pilots to report problems promptly, just as an American airline can train co-pilots to execute the commander's orders promptly without engaging in an impromptu debate.

  • >You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S

    Bzzt - out of date (see what happens if you blow a whistle on your 'elders and superiors' in the US - or indeed in most western governments).

    • by tompaulco (629533)

      It's good they solved it, though it's kind of funny the solution was to hire western pilots..

      I'm amazed that fixed anything. I have frequent dealings with Koreans at home, at work and at Church and I can tell you that as far as the culture is concerned, an elder Korean gets first ranking, then younger Korean, then adolescent Koreans, then baby Koreans, and then just below that is an elderly Westerner with a PhD, a Nobel Peace Prize and a half dozen New York Times best sellers.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:37PM (#44226877) Homepage
    TAWS computer: SINK RATE!!
    pilot: You're a 777 so that makes you about 18 years old. why dont you show some respect.
    TAWS computer: TOO LOW!!! TERRAIN!!
    pilot: you kids think you know everything. back in my day we didnt shout at our elders.
    TAWS computer: PULL UP!!! PULL UP!!! PULL UP!!!
    pilot: get off my damn lawn.
    • might be partially true - but the TAWS or GPWS is not giving you too low warnings if the plane is configured for landing (flaps, gear), otherwise you would have aural warnings on every landing.
      • by cwebster (100824)

        The computers will still talk to you, but for other things. "WINDSHEAR" and "GLIDESLOPE" come to mind (yea, I know the glideslope was inop at SFO).

  • by dcw3 (649211) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:48PM (#44227027) Journal

    Back in the late 80s, I worked in Korea, and obtained my private pilots license at the Osan air base aero club. I flew off and on for several years between '87 and 94, with an instructor who had left the club to work for KAL, and returned a year later. He raised this exact issue as one of the reasons for his departure. Respect for elders is deeply engrained in Korean cultural. So much so, that younger pilots were unwilling to point out errors to older ones. While I wish we had a bit more respect for ours in the U.S., this has no place in a cockpit.

    Disclaimer: This is in no way meant as an offense to Koreans (I was married, and have a kid with one).

  • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:49PM (#44227053)

    At all of the companies I've worked for we have keyed entry doors all over the place. However, the social norm is that you hold doors open for people thus completely breaking this form of security. There's always some email once a year that asks us not to do this but breaking social protocol simply can't be done, they need to change the security method entirely if they want it to work.

    • by Belial6 (794905) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:56PM (#44227957)
      This happened to me an my wife just recently while at the hospital for my son's birth. The nursery at the hospital is only used for running tests and for infants that are in critical care. Healthy infants stay in the mothers room. The nursery has a keypad security system to prevent people from entering without authorization.

      We took our son to the nursery for a standard test, and on the way out, a man tried to enter when we opened the door to leave. I had no doubt that the man was there to see his infant (who I could assume is in bad shape since it was staying in the nursery). When my wife stopped him and told him that he couldn't use her door opening to enter, that he needed to have one of the nurses open the door for him, it almost came to blows. No doubt he was under stress, but he simply did not comprehend that letting him in when we left was breaking the security designed to protect his own child.
  • by localman57 (1340533) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:51PM (#44227065)
    Going slightly off topic, but still on the topic of the crash, I'm getting sick of hearing how this was a "miracle". It cheapens the word to say so. I would say it was fortunate that it wasn't worse. The plane could have flipped over instead of spinning. The contact with the sea wall could have been worse. There are lots of things left to chance. But, overall, these kind of crashes tend to be pretty survivable these days. Calling it a "miracle" cheapens the amount of effort that goes into preparation for this sort of thing, and also tends to give you this sense that it's not your responsibility to do better.

    There's a reason that people can get off the planes in 90 seconds. There's a reason that the fuel doesn't get spread all over the runway in a crash like this. There's a reason that the interior takes longer to catch fire than your sofa would under the same circumstances. It was engineered that way. The plane costs many millions of dollars more than it needs to in order to fly for just these reasons. There were fire trucks and fire fighters just sitting around getting paid doing nothing, just in case something like this happened.This was planning, and the willingness to spend large amounts of money and effort to protect human life. Plus a bit of luck. But not a miracle.
    • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @12:56PM (#44227139)

      They do the same thing when a team of highly trained doctors saves someone's life. The people who use the word 'miracle' are simply ignorant.

    • by sjames (1099)

      There's a reason that the interior takes longer to catch fire than your sofa would under the same circumstances.

      If my living room should crash down on a runway at around 100 knots I'm fairly sure I'll be to dumbfounded to even notice if the sofa catches fire, much less how long it takes. :-)

  • by Koreantoast (527520) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @01:41PM (#44227715)
    First, this isn't something that is unique to Korean or East Asian societies. Western nations, including the supposedly more egalitarian United States, had the exact same problem of cockpit hierarchy [wsj.com] through the 1970s. Only after the crash of United Airlines Flight 173 did the West begin reorganize the way it trains its pilots, leading to the implementation of Cockpit Resource Management which retrained the way American aircrews operated.

    Second, it should also be noted that Korean Air underwent similar reorganization following the 1999 Guam accident, leading to an effectively accident free record 14 years onward even with a crew of primarily Korean pilots. So you can wave all this nonsense about cultural hierarchy and whatnot, but in the end, it's more a matter of training and personnel organization.

    In a broader view, this sort of hierarchical issue is less a unique problem to Korean society and more a problem of managing a chain of command. You see these sorts of problems all the time in the West: operating rooms, military units, etc. I would even argue that the real problem was that both the American pilots and Korean ones are all former Air Force pilots, used to operating in strictly hierarchical cultures where the pilot is on top of the food chain. It required CRM-type training to "deprogram" some of those authoritarian tendencies and play nicely.
  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Tuesday July 09, 2013 @02:23PM (#44228347)
    . . . take time off from his busy propaganda attack campaign against the Occupy movement --- what a complete a total jackhole that fraudster is!
  • Here is a more knowledgeable article [slate.com] about this crash written by an airline pilot. Korean airlines may have had some of those problems years back, but no longer.

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler

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