The past is often seen as a frame of reference – is this helpful?

In a recent webinar, Mike Carter talked about the Apollo 13 mission and how leaders in the control room had to navigate a potentially catastrophic, novel event and quickly make sense of what was going on in order to make the right decisions. He also linked this to the challenges faced by leaders today when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The critical point for the Apollo 13 spaceship was that the fault that occurred hadn’t ever happened before and wasn’t one of the 26,000 documented procedures that engineers had anticipated. Leaders on the ground had to be willing and able to pick up the cues and clues in the moment, to help them make the right decision. If, instead, they had ignored the novelty of the situation and looked for a past frame of reference, it is very doubtful that the astronauts would have got home safely.

You can see the full webinar here

In his article below, Matthew Syed is making the point that leaders need to drop their frames of reference and look at what is happening right now. It is crucial that they have the right data at the right time to help them make the best decisions. But it is also imperative that they are humble enough to listen to the data.

Comparisons (Sweden, perhaps, or South Korea) are rolled out, cherry-picked for their helpfulness, but with other examples that might cast the situation in a greyer hue ignored. When confirmation bias becomes endemic, you can be sure that data is no longer being used to reach wise decisions; it’s being used to defend prejudged ones.