You wouldn’t have to spend very long perusing the electronic library on my tablet to figure out that I’m a big fan of the “how to” book genre. The challenge is to remember and apply some of the great advice dispensed in such books. One technique that works for me is to consider how I might apply the author’s advice or instructions to aviation. Sometimes it’s a stretch, but with some books, there’s almost a hand-in-glove kind of fit.
Such was the case when I read Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, the latest book by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. If you have read other works by the Heath brothers (e.g., Made to Stick and Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard), you’ll be familiar with how they use clever mnemonics to present key points. I worked through the WRAP mnemonic used in Decisive right about the time we started developing articles for this technology-focused issue of FAA Safety Briefing. I found myself thinking constantly about how the WRAP approach to decision-making could help pilots manage the most complicated piece of technology ever devised – the human brain.
Widen Your Options
The Heath brothers present three option-expanding techniques that we can easily apply to aeronautical decisions.
Avoid a Narrow Frame. Don’t limit yourself to either/or decisions, represented in aviation as the go/no-go decision. Generating additional choices (e.g., multiple do-able diversion options) can lead to more beneficial outcomes.
Multi-track. Keep several options in play. I once used this technique with two other pilots on a GA trip that required navigating some very challenging weather. Each of us identified and planned a couple of different scenarios. Multi-tracking spring-loaded us to successfully execute any one of the many options we developed.
Network. They don’t call it hangar-flying, but the authors extol the virtues of the underlying technique. Talking to people who have encountered similar situations is a great way to widen your thinking about possibilities.
Reality – Test Your Assumptions
Pilots are famous for wishful thinking, so reality-testing your assumptions is a must. The authors offer several reality-testing techniques.
Consider the Opposite. Seek disagreement from at least one “devil’s advocate” as a means of avoiding confirmation bias. Contrary opinions from an instructor or a more experienced pilot can be a life-saver – literally.
Zoom Out, Zoom In. This mental technique is similar to how you might use the range function on your moving map navigator: zoom out to see the big picture (e.g., weather developing further out), and zoom in to see the here-and-now details.
“Ooch.” The authors describe this technique as using small experiments to test your assumptions. In aviation, it might involve dividing a weather-challenged trip into small segments that allow you to “ooch” toward the destination, thus avoiding the all-or-nothing mindset we know as “get-home-itis.”
Attain Distance Before Deciding
Overcome Short-Term Emotion. This chapter starts with a description of the way car salesmen generate emotion, and then deftly direct it to an emotion-driven purchase decision the customer may later regret. In aviation, short-term emotions on the part of pilots and/or their passengers can easily lead to dangerous decisions. Know what triggers your “gotta-get-going” emotions, learn to recognize those triggers, and develop ways to give yourself some temporal or emotional distance from heat-of-the-moment impulses.
Honor Your Core Priorities. We can all agree that the core aviation priority is safety. But it’s sometimes hard to execute in the face of head-turning priorities like pride, and heart-wrenching priorities like reluctance to disappoint family or friends. Pre-established personal minimums can help you attain distance from short-term emotion and honor that core priority.
Prepare to Be Wrong
Bookend the Future. Based on the best information you can obtain, develop a best case scenario and a worst case scenario for your flight. Then look more closely to determine whether the facts and circumstances will put you closer to the best case, or the worst case.
Set a Tripwire. I once used the tripwire technique on a flight to an area of allegedly improving weather. Before we launched, my co-pilot and I established a tripwire decision point: if the weather did not improve beyond marginal VFR by the time we reached a specified waypoint, we would immediately divert to our alternate. It didn’t. We did.
And that’s a WRAP. (FAA Safety Briefing – JanFeb 2014)