Facing adversity

Do you know that the chances for an Aircraft to crash in today’s day and time is 1:1.2 million? The fatalities in a car or road accident is 1:5000. Is it just the precision with which aircrafts are built that gives you better safety assurance? Yes the precision is high but this is not a just a factor of paying more for a better build quality / engineering, it is a way the airline industry is tuned to learn from adversities it faces and in the shortest possible time.

The investigations from a crash are analysed through data recovered from the black box. It is then discussed at the highest safety forums and published in relevant journals for everyone to quickly adapt and incorporate to avert further crashes for that particular analysed reason.

This is a story I picked from a book by Matthew Syed – “Black Box Thinking”. He discusses a case study of United Airlines Flight 173 that crashed due to an avoidable human error on December 28, 1978. Apparently the chain of command in the cockpit did not allow a first officer to openly question or offer suggestion to the captain. He was allowed to suggest only if the captain chose to listen to him. The captain in this case had an error of judgement and the first officer knew what the problem could be but he wasn’t heard. The engineer’s suggestion too was ignored.

The analysis of the discussions in the cockpit recovered from the recorder brought in a landmark change that urged airlines and their assigned operators to insure that “their flight crews are indoctrinated in principles of flight deck resource management, with particular emphasis on the merits of participative management for captains and assertiveness training for other cockpit crew members”


Back home, when the city of Chennai was ravaged by floods in 2015, there wasn’t much hue and cry about what the administration did or didn’t do. There were many individuals and groups who took to helping each other to expedite the path to recovery.

Funds were collected from across the world through crowd sourcing. Social media was used to good effect (through those who still managed to connect to the internet) to locate people in distress or pass on information to those agencies who could reach relief measures to distant locations. It seems (from an article I read on CNN.com) that groups were formed on popular chat platforms and messages were quickly transferred on pick up / drop off points for relief which included essentials, medicines, food supplies, building material etc.

Picked up this story in an article on thehindu.com – When hurricane Katrina struck parts of the US, a survivor spoke about how her personal grief dissolved when she got involved in relief work. She said that the process of actually serving food to the homeless and repainting a damaged school, helped channel her sense of helplessness.


Adversity strikes all of us at some point of time or the other and it happens in corporate life too. There are means to overcome them and here are some points that I learnt through my experience over the years,

All doors do not shut at the same time: A decade back I was asked to fly out of India to Fort Lauderdale with a five hours notice. Didn’t have a proper ticket. I took a chance to reach the airport and went to the concerned airline window. They had a ticket but my credit card limit wasn’t sufficient to procure one. The manager suggested that I should try speaking to the concerned personnel at the customer service centre. Late into the night, I didn’t have much hope but went on a call and literally begged the service manager at the other end to help me with some temporary limit enhancement….he obliged and I was off the ground.

Learn rather than throwing a fit: I have witnessed acrimonious exchange and much heart burn when a coveted order is lost. Well, it is always a collective failure and it is good to go back to the drawing board and correct the chinks that would have led to such an outcome. I have been a part of many cases where corrections have led to much greater success than would have been originally envisaged

Try to be calm: Easier said than done….I know. But the faster we gain composure the better. A decade and half back, while travelling in a Mumbai local, I forgot to pick up one of the three bags I had place in the overhead cabin. When I alighted I realised something was amiss but by the time I could realise that a bag was missing, the train had left the platform. (In Mumbai local trains, more often than not, people choose not to lay hands on anyone else’s belongings….that is kind of an unwritten rule). My only hope was to get to that train – Road would take me much longer, expecting station superintendents to help during peak hours was out of question so the only way was to intercept the train on its journey back at a station that it was bound to halt (the train could change its destination and take a different track too after a particular junction so i had to pick a station before the junction). The good part is that the calculation worked and I found my bag at the very place I left it.

Hope the above works for you or has worked in the past.

About Suresh Ramakrishnan

Suresh has two decades of experience in structuring / creating new business and products / solutions in the media and content space. Among his various passions – writing, singing, reading, analyzing music and directing short plays occupy prime spots. He is a fitness freak to the core and a complete family man; prefers to spend his weekends in their company. He has an engineering degree from IIT – Kharagpur and a PGDM from IIM – Ahmedabad.

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