When the world's tallest water slide opened at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, KS, it was just in time to make an appearance on a reality TV series about extreme rides. Unfortunately, deadline concerns may have unwittingly created a Pressure Blind Spot for the slide's design team. When 10-year-old Caleb Schwab strapped in for the ride — called Verrückt, or "insanity," in German — corners cut to hurry the project to completion cost him his life, according to prosecutors now pursuing second-degree murder charges against the park's co-owner.
According to The New York Times, Caleb's death in August 2016 was the 16th major accident to take place since the ride opened in the summer of 2014. From the Times article on the indictments just handed down:
On Friday, the office of the Kansas attorney general announced that Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Tyler Austin Miles, its former operations director, had been charged with 20 criminal counts, including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated endangering of a child and aggravated battery.
This tragedy may have been avoidable. CNN reports:
The indictment against Miles notes that although Henry possessed no "technical or engineering credentials" he controlled "many key decisions" in the design of Schlitterbahn rides.
Engineering projects usually take years to pass from the design stage to the point where they're ready for the public. In this case, deadline pressure allegedly drove an unqualified person to carry the slide from the initial concept to its grand opening in just 20 months. To get there in time for the TV show, park authorities seem to have succumbed to the Pressure Blind Spot where safety was concerned. Again from the Times article:
Investigators said park employees ignored serious problems: The passenger restraints were too weak and the rafts were poorly designed and tended to go airborne at the crest, putting riders’ heads in dangerous proximity to the netting and the poles. Park officials “obviously ignored” a consultant’s warning that the ride was unsafe, the indictment said.
The indictment accuses Henry of making a "spur of the moment" decision.
This sort of pressure from hurried or "spur of the moment" thinking isn't confined to amusement park rides. It's all too common, however, and we're all vulnerable to it to some extent. Learning to manage deadline pressure, and to overcome the pressure blind spot that leads to potentially dangerous shortcuts, could save a project in the end, or even a life.
The Pressure Blind Spot impacts the quality of our decisions. Some pressure is external, as witnessed in this tragedy. Other pressure is internal. We bring it on ourselves for a variety of reasons. Executives, for example, we may feel internal pressure to overlook an indiscretion rather than blow the whistle for fear of becoming unemployed or worse, unemployable. Pressure is created as we age. The older we get and the more substantial of a lifestyle we've created, the harder it might be to transition to new employment and to maintain our lifestyle. The more pressure we are under, the more the pressure blind spot influences our decisions.
The most important key to mitigating the effects of the pressure blind spot is to maintain a higher level of awareness when we are making decisions.
As you are contemplating a decision, ask yourself, “what kind of external or internal pressures am I feeling right now?” Write down your answers. Review each pressure rationally. Then ask, “would I make this same decision if this pressure did not exist?” Take these pressures under consideration when making your decision. Seek additional counsel from unbiased people to gain new perspectives before making a decision that you will later regret.
What are your leadership blind spots? Free assessment reveals all. Find out at www.BlindSpots.com.
Kevin McCarthy, author of the bestselling book: BlindSpots – Why Good People Make Bad Choices, and holds the highest certification recognized globally by the speaking industry, the Certified Speaking Professional. Kevin and his team expose the invisible barriers that impact culture, operations, training, service and leadership.
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