Hiding Under The Covers

The military training exercise began as a way for the Air Corps to gain publicity (and congressional funding) for airplanes. The rivalry between the Navy and Air Corps only aggravated the event.

In 1937, the capability of the Air Corps, an early name for what would become the U.S. Air Force, was unknown. The Navy scoffed at the Air Corps’ challenge to find a ship on the open sea and accurately strike it with bombs. In what would later be called “Exercise Utah”, the USS Utah sailed off the coast of California and the Air Corps, with its load of colored water bombs, was ordered to find it.

After a day of failed attempts, and ten minutes before the deadline, a squadron of B-17s struck the Utah with the water bombs. A day later, the bombers repeated the strike from a higher altitude.

Military senior leaders were awe struck. The exercise report was never released and therefore no lessons were applied to change military planning.

Four years later, the USS Utah would be struck again, this time at Pearl Harbor and with live bombs. It would sink, never to rise again.

Is your organization learning or hiding under the covers?

Are lessons learned or downplayed to save face?

Is ego more important than mission success?


“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Look around at your life. Where are you? Are you where you want to be?

Think ten years ahead. Are you still there? Do you want something else? To be somewhere else?

What are you doing today to move towards that 10-year vision?

Every decision you make reflects your values and beliefs. Every decision changes your life, in big and small ways. Decisions change circumstances and outcomes, in far greater ways than genetics, inborn talent, physical ability, mental acuity, or parental support or neglect. In fact, people with more talent than you have wasted it and people with less ability than you have done far more with their lives.

What circumstances are you making today? When is today THE day?

The Grass is Dying (so check your sprinklers)

Well before sunrise, I throw on running shoes and take off. Then I see the water. Not a river or lake, but water in the street. The sprinklers are broken. Some are pointing into the street, some have been decapitated by errant landscapers, and others simply don’t come up anymore.

The grass dies. But no one checks the sprinklers. Some people even blame the grass.

Do we do this in EHS management as well?

Do we see safety plans (sprinklers) fail and blame the workers (the grass we care so much about)?

Do we build perfect management systems, implement them, and walk away feeling proud…only to fail to come back at night to check on how it really works?

How do your sprinklers work? Do you have water running in the streets too?


When Truth No Longer Matters

“These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments.” – Col Billy Mitchell

In most organizations, we do things for the right reasons.

Then there is safety.

In safety, too often we convince ourselves our intentions matter more than the result. For example, after a mishap resulting in injury or even death, leaders (and safety advisers right behind them) implement programs, training, engineering actions, and PPE policies. And we feel good. After all, we’ve taken on the problem, right?


When an organization’s sole impetus for action is blood (or an OSHA citation), we have failed. Not we the organization, but we the safety profession.

We have failed to tell the truth.

Col Billy Mitchell, in the quote above, was responding to the frequent deaths of pilots in the early days of military aviation, deaths regarded at the time as “just part of the job.” Soon after, Mitchell was convicted at court-martial for his words. According to the prosecutor, whether or not he was telling the truth was irrelevant. If free speech were allowed, the military would turn to chaos. The prosecutor went on to say,

“Is such a man a safe guide? Is he a constructive person or is he a loose talking imaginative megalomaniac?… Is this man a Moses, fitted to lead the people out of a wilderness?… Is he not rather the all too familiar charlatan and demagogue type…and except for a decided difference in poise and mental powers in Burr’s favor, like Aaron Burr?”

Billy Mitchell’s words and actions would go on to inspire many others, to include Gen Hap Arnold, who would later create a safety branch in the Army Air Corps and then to lead the Air Force as a separate military service.

Does truth matter? Does it matter enough in our profession?

Breaking the cycle of “I can’t do that”

I see the look in casual discussions in airports, training sessions at conferences, and in one-on-one mentoring.

It’s that sideways eye roll that quietly says, “That won’t work for me, you don’t understand…I can’t do that.”

The eye roll is normal. It’s the expected outcome of promising yourself you’ll do something, trying it, finding that it’s tough, doesn’t come easy, or you can’t even get started. And it makes you feel bad.

The “normal” mental cure for feeling bad is to tell yourself that you can’t do it. You’ll tell yourself, and repeat to others, that it’s your genetics, background, inborn talent, lack of talent, or maybe even your zodiac sign. It lets you off the hook.

I can’t run. I can’t do math. I can’t stop eating junk food. I can’t take tests. I can’t…

Here are three ways to break the cycle of “I can’t.”

  1. Start small: Believing in yourself again starts with believing in self-promises. So start small. Tell yourself you’re taking a 5-minute walk at 9 am today and then take it. Then smile and remember you can trust yourself in other areas too.
  2. Break your day: Don’t change your whole day at first. Break the day into three parts (morning, midday and evening). Begin by working on the mornings and do that for a few weeks. Tell yourself you’ll run (or whatever you choose) and do it. Repeat for a few other activities. By the end of 2-3 weeks, your mornings will set you up for success. And even better…you’ll have stopped saying, “I can’t.”
  3. Know you are normal: You aren’t an above-average driver, a future lottery winner, or a genetically inferior wannabe athlete…you are average (most other people are too.) So if you see other people doing what you want to do…you can too.

What can’t can you do today?


Look for the stairs, not the elevator

In 1857, the first commercial passenger elevator was installed in a 5-story department store in New York City. It was immediately popular. Even today, most people, upon entering a tall building, search for the machine transformed by Elisha Otis.

We look for the elevator in life too. We search for tips, hacks, shortcuts, and the quickest way. The problem with this approach is that everyone else is too. Everyone is looking for the easy button. And so we all line up at the elevator, trusting the easy way is the best way.

There is no tip to get around the hard work. There is no secret to firm abdominals. There is no hack to promotions and no Amazon Prime two-day delivery for real education or certifications you will be proud to earn. No easy button for relationships or shortcut to experience.

Don’t wait in line at the elevator for something that doesn’t exist.

Take the stairs.


Make Time For Boredom

“Boredom can be important. That’s when you have to figure out what you want to do.” – Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life

I can remember sitting in the backseat of the car, playing with a few crayons, and I was bored. The road-trip from New York to Florida took several days, and at 7-years old, those three days felt like lifetimes. My parents had provided me with a few crayons and a Star Wars figurine. The excitement was over in 5 minutes and the boredom set in. After the crayons melted beneath the rear window, it became really bad.

Today is different however. We are no longer bored. Between smart phones, tablets, Outlook calendars, Snapchat, and televisions in every waiting room, we no longer feel the pangs of boredom.

We’ve lost the space. The space and unencumbered time to think, to mentally and physically breathe, and to wonder and imagine.

Make space today. Block a few hours in the calendar for boredom. And imagine once again.


How we learn to despise goals and change

The dog cowers when his master raises a hand. Although a well-trained retriever of two years, the animal’s skin quivers when his owner shows displeasure or introduces new training. With displeasure comes pain and the dog now associates all training with torment and fear.

We too can learn to cower. Set enough goals, raise your standards, or change your life, and you will fail. Some learn to motivate ourselves through fear, like the dog, and it works…for a time.

Others learn to self-motivate by being better than yesterday, by seeing small amounts of progress, and preparing and giving their absolute best.

Choose to berate yourself over failure and you will soon see goals, change, and learning opportunities as pain and avoid all further contact.

Choose instead to be better than yesterday, to celebrate small steps forward, and give your best.

How will you treat yourself?

Whitewash-A Perspective on Life

Tom Sawyer skipped school to swim and the next day his aunt assigned him the job of whitewashing the front fence as punishment. In Mark Twain’s classic tale, Tom persuades his friends to trade treasured objects, like kites and tin soldiers, for the chance to help with the fence.

How? He assigns value to the task by describing just how lucky a boy is to be able to whitewash a fence.

What are you able to do today? What jobs do you view as tedious, menial, or even boring that others would give their prized possessions to be able to do?

Whether it’s a stable job that pays well, the opportunity to parent children, or your own version of whitewashing the fence, how you choose to embrace it (the job or this life) means everything.

Want to go deeper on the subject? Take a moment to watch Lisa Kristine’s TED talk on modern-day slavery. It is 19:21 minutes and I promise you’ll think differently afterwards.

What will you whitewash today?