I had the honor of hearing John Barry, the Superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, speak today on the subject of leadership. Mr. Barry spoke to 55 of CDE's leadership during a leadership retreat. This was one of the most interesting speeches I've heard in quite some time.
John Barry retired from the US Air Force as a Two Star Major General. He was the Executive Director of the investigative team for the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster. He spoke about both the physical causes and organizational causes of the shuttle's failure on re-entry. Here are a few of the points John Barry made in relating the findings of the Columbia's investigation to educational leadership lessons:
1. Factors of the disaster were: history, decision-making, organizational culture, and system effects.
2. After the Challenge disaster in 1986 all of the recovered debris was put into an empty silo and capped; after the Columbia disaster all of the debris was laid out and studied and then sent out to others for them to also learn from.
3. Complex organizations fail in complex ways; they need complex, integrated solutions.
4. NASA "normalized deviance"; tiles had previously broken off and hit the shuttle six other times, but because it was a problem that was too difficult to fix, and there hadn't been any severely adverse consequences, the problem was never remedied.
5. NASA's culture viewed the Columbia mission as routine; it was the 113th space mission and Columbia was over 20 years old.
6. Sensors were located throughout the shuttle, but they didn't feed information to the cockpit or ground control due to the shuttle being more than 20 years old and the technology hadn't been updated. Sensors could only report the information after the fact when the "black box" was recovered--in other words, too late to make a difference.