In commercial aviation, accidents are very rare. Flying is, by far, the safest way to travel. But when a jetliner does crash, mechanical problems are usually not the culprit—human error is to blame.￼ And not just one error, either.
There’s a concept in aviation called an error chain: a sequence of minor mistakes leading to a disaster. Not one big mistake, not two bad calls in a row, but several successive errors in judgment or execution. If any of them had been avoided, there would have been no crash.
This, of course, is exactly what happens almost every time. Pilots, like the rest of us, make mistakes. Sometimes a couple in a row. But unlike the rest of us, pilots are trained to follow a formal, strict decision-making process to minimize the chances of an error chain. As a result, most chains are broken early.
This is a great concept to adopt because it applies so widely. Most of our missteps, professional or personal, aren’t single, giant events—they’re links in an error chain. It’s worth asking ourselves, from time to time, if we have any chains to break.