“Dark Cockpit” – Control Consistently

We already covered how to “Communicate Unequivocally” and “Lead Responsibly” so it’s time for the 3rd article related to the book “Dark Cockpit”. Let’s talk about how to have a plan for helping us to control or manage the unpredictable.

If one of the engines suddenly croaks, the pilots are more than capable of landing safely, or even crossing the Atlantic, with the other one. While engine failure is a problem, it’s not a big one, and it can be handled with calm by the pilot. It’s one of the scenarios they prepare themselves for every time they head out to the runway.


Pilots don’t just take off and hope for the best – they always have a plan.

Striving to excel at everything will significantly increase our chances of succeeding, if not downright guarantee it. Surely we have goals in life, and good communication – the subject of the first part of the book – helps us achieve them. Of course, we want to get the best results out of our people. Our leadership skills make all the difference.


We can never chalk everything up to “dumb luck” can we? For the most part, “dumb luck” results from preparation, many little actions done the right way, at the right time.
After the pilots close the door to the plane and take off towards their destination, it is up to them to solve problems as they appear, and they can only do that if they work together.
In certain situations, we are the sum of the actions and the decision that have led us to that point.

But how do we know which “what ifs” we should be asking ourselves? In our day-to-day life, our primary way of knowing is one that often comes at a steep price – personal experience. The more experienced we are, the more “what ifs” we have because we will know what to expect, how to respond to the unexpected, and how not to repeat our mistakes.

That is why the author recommend us when we have a deficit in experience, it is best to learn from someone else’s experience: from books and manuals, from conversations we have with others, or even from observation, taking a mental note of what works and what could be done better.

In aviation, the successful resolution of crises has less to do with a pilot’s skills or cunning and a lot more to do with their attitude in an emergency, with their discipline and rigorous execution of standard procedures. Still, most importantly, it has to do with their ability to plan for every imaginable outcome, every contingency. On a busy day, up to 30.000 planes soar through the air worldwide, and it is the combination of knowledge, skills, and the right attitude that makes this synchronized dance between them possible, and above all – safe.

The late author Peter F. Drucker, whose work laid many of the foundations for modern business practices, used to say, “Miracles are great, but they’re so unpredictable.”
He was right: we can’t (nor should we) depend on a miracle to do our job for us, and we certainly can’t count on its punctuality.

What can we do to make sure we’re always in control? Whenever we prepare to do something, anything, we should ask ourselves as many what-ifs as we can conjure to make sure we’re covered if things go sideways. We should be prepared for those worst-case scenarios and the scenarios that may not be that bad but are very likely. Be ready to get out of the situation on top. For the unlikely “medium-case” scenarios, the author suggests we at least have a plan prepared in our mind, just in case.


🤓Why is it essential to have a plan for every eventuality? The answer is simple: we can make the most out of life, keep our stress levels to a minimum, and prioritize our chances of achieving everything we want.

What if all of our protection layers have faults, “holes,” and they happen to overlap and leave us vulnerable?
In aviation, medicine, construction, and maybe a few other professions, those mistakes can cost something we can’t put a price on – human lives.
This concept is called the 🧀Swiss Cheese model of Accident Causation, developed in 1990 by James Reason, a British psychologist. Imagine several slices of Swiss cheese, all with holes, some bigger, some smaller, in different places. Usually, if we lined up a few random slices like domino pieces, we wouldn’t be able to see through the holes because they wouldn’t overlap. Well, when accidents happen, it is exactly because the unimaginable occurs, and those holes do overlap so that we can see from one end of the Swiss cheese domino trail to the other.


💡The real trick is not how to get out of the trouble, but how to avoid it altogether.

We can’t be in control if we don’t take control. If there’s one thing we can always do in life, it is find someone to blame. Whether out loud or merely in our heads, we’ve all been guilty of this.
We can always find someone to blame, both to make us feel better and to keep up appearances. Sometimes, someone might be at fault, but to attribute our successes and failures to someone else is as good as declaring that we have no control and we’re at the mercy of the elements.
At the end of a game, we might say, “The other team beat us” or we might go with, “We didn’t have the necessary physical, psychological, technical, and tactical ability to beat them. We have our work cut out for us, but we can do it.” Can you notice the difference?


If we blame others, we’re a victim. Is that really what we want to be? I double that. To be in control, we need to do a think about a lot, but it’s worth it. It means having the peace of mind of a job well done, not to mention feeling like a functional member of society – a hero! instead of a helpless burden on those around.


That is what parents have been telling their children for generations – don’t cut corners, don’t slack off, be thorough, and do our best because we will never achieve true success through coincidences and shortcuts.

🏆What does “high standard” even mean? In short, it means repeating the same three tasks every day:
1. Do the little things well ✨
2. Do the big things well ✨
3. Always look for something to add to both categories ✨

Without passion or concentration, without caring enough to be mentally present, it’s hard to be in control, hold ourselves to high standards, and make people believe in our profession.

✈️How does your plane fly? The four forces

Start by drawing a plane on paper. Draw four arrows around the plane, each about an inch long:

  • An arrow to the right, horizontally. Start from the cockpit. Write Thrust on top of it.
  • An arrow to the left, horizontally. Start from the left end of the plane and move towards the left edge of your page. Write Drag on the arrow.
  • An arrow downward. Start right below the plane, more or less in the middle. Write Weight next to it.
  • An arrow upward. Start right above the plane, also in the middle. Write Lift next to it.

A case study – The will to fly – Mihai Dobrovonschi – the 4 forces

I did manage to finish high school in the end, but only my mom can tell you about the daily battles of getting me out of bed and out the door in time for school. I would ride my bike like a madman, and I almost always came into class a few minutes late. Back then, I didn’t know I would become a pilot. It was just a distant dream. The future was a big blob of uncertainty. This is when I identified the first of my four forces, the “weight” that was pulling me down: comfort.

Finally, I had a horizon by which to navigate – I was going to be a pilot, which became my thrust. I practically threw myself out of bed and dragged myself to class every day. My thrust then overpowered my weight.

Drag? There was no shortage of that. Military life was entirely new for me: the constant lack of privacy in a dorm room of ten people, the rules, the ranks, the uniform, and guard duty, sometimes the stress.

But with it all, I had lift – the joy of flying. I’ve been obsessed with flying ever since I was a little kid.

I have long since defeated the force that had kept me from getting out of bed – my teenage “weight” – but it has since taken the form of worries, bills, other personal issues.
Some people’s thrust is the need to make a living while, for others, it’s duty or praise. Some have a strong will to become better professionals. For many, it may be a mixture of all of the above.
Above from that, I’ve always thought at least a part of my thrust is my ambition to be one of the best. It’s why every day trying to learn something from everyone around me.


🎯As professionals, we need to remember our goals and to know that our thrust and lift will always be enough to get us off the ground, no matter how hard it gets or how many limits and restrictions we have to work around.

What makes you fly?

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