This post has to start with a little framing about the people and interactions involved in any mission we execute – this will be helpful for references in the future as well. During a flight test mission, there is a pilot, test conductor, test director and discipline engineers. The pilot is the operator, trying to gather the data that the engineers need. The test conductor (TC) is the link between the control room and the pilot, the TC relays information to the pilot via radio calls, directs the flow of the mission, helps answer pilot inquiries and tries to provide information before a pilot thinks to ask for it. The test director (TD) is responsible for the safety and effectiveness of a mission, organizing the test cards in a logical flow based on available resources and often acting as a knowledge source to help answer pilot questions. The discipline engineers are the detail oriented folks. Disciplines are broken down into flight sciences, weapons, radar, navigation, and other systems and we ask the individuals to become experts on their assigned systems. Those engineers develop the tests to exercise the systems and determine what data is required. Those are the basic players of our team, to have a truly successful mission, all of those player have to be on the same page and willing to work with each other. My general roll is as the TC, but I have played other roles before.
So what happens when one of those players is trying to act as an individual? Well, based on a recent mission that I observed – it leads to ineffectiveness from all players. In a control room, we can access real time data, video, and audio being telemetered down from the aircraft. These are valuable resources to us in being able to assist a pilot when they’re having problems or just to guide them through specific steps. However, during this particular mission the pilot managed to give us next to nothing to work with in order to help him out. We would hear general cursing as he tried to set up for a card or accomplish a specific step. What we wouldn’t hear is exactly what it was that he was trying to do, details without which we were unable to help him. So with a room full of people sitting on the ground, watching his every move – why wouldn’t he simply ask for help?
Most of our pilots are graduates of a Test Pilot School – and in some ways that experience teaches pilots how much they do not know about their aircraft by exposing them to a large variety of aircraft. This particular pilot has not attended such a school but has been moved through multiple different aircraft in his career, an uncommon number of moves that doesn’t aid in a pilot learning the fine details of a specific plane. I would have thought that number of moves equivalent to Test Pilot School in the specific aspect of realizing how much is unknown. Whatever background our pilots have, most pilots realize how much more the engineers know based on the ability to focus on only one system instead of the entire aircraft. Generally the pilots respond with humility – admitting when they’re in over their heads.
What happened to the pilot of the recent mission? From what I observed, he was unable or unwilling to express the problems he was experiencing, whether it was a suspected software issue or lack of knowledge on his part in how to operate the software. My question, based on that observation is; when do we learn to ask for help and how do we manage humility without humiliation? Feeling humiliation from revealing a lack of knowledge will undermine the ability to act on the answers to the questions. Humiliation will undermine the ability to move forward and succeed with the newfound information if it doesn’t prevent acquiring that information in the first place. The boggling part of this to me is that if we submit to the feelings of humiliation, we are judged more harshly and mocked more cruelly than if we had admitted what we didn’t know and moved on.
So what is the value in the emotion of humiliation? It seems to keep us from moving too far outside of the social expectations, it keep us within the accepted norms and prevents expulsion from the group – something that might have historically meant death. But I find that in the intellectual circles, far more respect is gained by overriding that natural instinct to not be humiliated and instead act humbly. Admit what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to ask for help – the mission will be executed in a far more effective way, whether that mission is personal, work related, or even larger.
What cases have you experienced? Has it been more beneficial to avoid humiliation or to act humbly and admit the lack of knowledge?