As mentioned elsewhere, the division of labor and the (often unjust) hierarchies it creates have been of lifelong interest to me. In my proposed book I have examined their effect on my growing-up years and my working life. Robert Fuller’s books (Top Dogs and Underdogs; All Rise; Somebodies and Nobodies) convinced me that privileges based on weath or status arrangements are arbitrary and inherently unjust. We also erroneously believe that tall males (or good-looking ones) are more courageous or intelligent, an inclination Malcolm Gladwell terms “the Warren Harding error” after the man elected to the US presidency based on appearance, only to become “the worst president ever” in American history. On the other hand, there are men and women like Fuller who endeavor to change the order of things.


But a few decades ago, the aviation industry was structured around an ethos of alpha-male hierarchies. “The captain possessed tremendous authority and status,” writes Michael Roberto in Know What You Don’t Know. “The crew learned not to question the pilot’s judgment.” He cites a sign, posted by an airline: “The two rules of commercial aviation—Rule 1: The captain is ALWAYS right. Rule 2: See Rule 1.” Another airline stated in its guidelines that “the first officer should not correct errors made by the captain.”


Safety experts began to worry over air-transport accidents, for they found that the principal cause wasn’t mechanical failure or a crew lacking appropriate technical skills: the causes of tragedies were “deficiencies related to interpersonal communication, teamwork, decision-making, and leadership.” The worst occurred on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747 planes collided and 583 people lost their lives. 


Following a NASA workshop on aviation safety, airlines began to implement Crew Resource Management (CRM) training. It brought tremendous change to the culture of flight crews, and it continues to do so today. The training emphasizes teamwork over individualism and focuses on communication skills. So successful has been the CRM approach, other industries have begun to adopt it, including, according to Roberto, “the military, the merchant navy, the nuclear power industry, firefighters, health care organizations, and offshore oil and gas companies.” Those who implement CRM techniques report substantial safety improvements in their organizations. Employee morale, I imagine, increases as well.