Posted by admin on January 27, 2010
The most degrading experiences we have are in the simulator when learning a new aircraft. When we do something incorrectly, we are reprimanded and then get one or two chances to do it correctly. Not life and death in this instance, but the point is that we have to get it right in training because while actually flying the plane, we have to get it right since sometimes it is life and death!
First Officer Sarah Murphy Case
Delta Airlines Pilot
This is the second in a series of articles to help improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Consider the very different world of the pilot and the engineer. The pilot gets one chance and has to execute perfectly every time. An engineer may consider tens of ways to approach a problem, narrow the options to a handful, evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each, and prototype and test a few. During testing, problems will be found. More prototypes may be made and tested before finally putting a new product into production. Where a pilot demands of herself that she be successful on every try, an engineer expects to fail many times before he suceeds. Neither of these is right or wrong. Someone willing to make mistakes would not make a good pilot nor would someone afraid to make mistakes make an effective engineer.
These differing professions attract people with differing personalities. People naturally gravitate towards professions that are suited to their unique personalities. A pilot may prefer order and stability while an engineer not only embraces change but seeks to be an agent of change.
One of the classes in my MSEE program at Colorado Tech was Creative Leadership. My fellow students were a diverse lot, coming from a wide variety of graduate programs. The class was a hybrid, meaning half of the time was spent in a classroom and the other half in online discussion. I particularly enjoyed online discussions with another student who was a pilot. We had different ways of looking at the world, which resulted in lively and enjoyable discussions.
One in-class exercise was completing the DISC assessment, a personality test designed to “examine the behavior of individuals in their environment.“i The pilot and I had strikingly different profiles. She scored high on Steadiness and Conscientious, while I scored medium to low. She scored medium to low in Dominance and Influence, while I scored high in both:
Dominance: People who score high in the intensity of the “D” styles factor are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while low “D” scores are people who want to do more research before committing to a decision. High “D” people are described as demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong willed, driving, determined, ambitious, aggressive, and pioneering. Low D scores describe those who are conservative, low keyed, cooperative, calculating, undemanding, cautious, mild, agreeable, modest and peaceful.
Influence: People with high “I” scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are described as convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, demonstrative, trusting, and optimistic. Those with low “I” scores influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. They are described as reflective, factual, calculating, skeptical, logical, suspicious, matter of fact, pessimistic, and critical.
Steadiness: People with high “S” styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. High “S” individuals are calm, relaxed, patient, possessive, predictable, deliberate, stable, consistent, and tend to be unemotional and poker faced. Low “S” intensity scores are those who like change and variety. People with low “S” scores are described as restless, demonstrative, impatient, eager, or even impulsive.
Conscientious: People with high “C” styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High “C” people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, and tactful. Those with low “C” scores challenge the rules and want independence and are described as self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and careless with details.
Each personality type excels in different environments. A person who challenges the rules may be good in some situations but disasterous in others. People with diverse personalities can form strong teams with each member taking on different aspects of a task, taking aspects that best fit their personality. For example, “big picture“ people may be good at getting projects started, but people who love detail are better at getting projects finished. Understanding personality differences can help you appreciate the people in your life. Appreciate the positive aspects of the personality types around you. The pilot in your life may be hard-headed and stubborn, but they’ll save you from leaving the house with the coffee pot on. Love them because their antics are humorous and worthwhile. They are reflections of the personality traits that make them good at what they do.
Why not také a personality test and compare the results with friends, family, and co-workers? There is a free test available online version here.
What this means for problem solving though, is that if you have a personality that thrives on following procedures and craves a world of order and perfection, you can become a better problem solver. Consider these tips:
- Be more accepting of yourself. Accept that mistakes and missteps are natural, expected, and necessary to problem solving. Expect that you will make mistakes, turn down a few blind alleys, and follow a few false leads.
- Be persistent. It is said that Thomas Edison tried 9,990 experiments before finding the right wire to make a lightbulb. If one approach does not work, do not get discouraged, try another.
- Open yourself up to more possibilities. Search for “creativity exercises“ on the Web and warm up with a few.
- Brainstorm. Write down as many ideas as you can. Then, write some more. Don’t judge any ideas as “bad.“ Allow the creative juices to flow. Only after you have written as many ideas as you can, select the most promising for further study.
When you are a pilot happily turning your jetliner for final approach at your base and the end your trip, revel in your perfection and your well-ordered world. But when you are on the ground and facing a dilemma, don’t be hard on yourself. When it comes to solving problems, don’t be a pilot. Although it may not come easily or naturally, avoid being discouraged when you do not come with an answer in one or a few tries. Make a conscious effort to open yourself to change and use techniques to increase your creativity. Accept that mistakes, missteps, and blind alleys are part of the process. Adopt an engineer’s perspecitive!
On a final note, watch for my upcoming article, “Don’t Be an Engineer: How to Eliminate Chaos, Clutter, and Insanity from Your Life in Five Easy Steps.“ It’s a work in progress. Expect it in, oh, say, a few years!
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