- 15. If I Ask a Foolish Question, I'll Look Foolish
- 16. Unasked Questions: If You Already Know the Answer, It Is Unnecessary to Ask the Question
- 17. Someone Else (of Higher Authority or Greater Experience) Will Ask
- 18. Saved Questions: I Will Save My Question for Another More Appropriate Time
- 19. My Question Will Make Waves and Making Waves Is Bad
- 20. Normalization of a Defect
20. Normalization of a Defect2
This high-technology problem in questioning comes to us direct from NASA.
A problem or defect may be observed so often that it fails to generate a question. Because it is “normal” to expect the problem, questions go unasked. If a business can list “normal” problems, it has normalized the defect.
The origin of this expression is found in the official discussions about a space shuttle disaster. Foam insulation had broken off of the launch vehicles with nearly every launch of a shuttle. These foam pieces, now projectiles, hit the tile underbelly of the shuttle. This was viewed as a normal part of shuttle launches.
Managers, scientists, and engineers stopped questioning this defect. They expected it to occur and started to understand it as part of the launch process. Questions were raised, to be sure, but the questions lacked the kind of disciplined attention necessary to stop the problem from occurring.
When a disaster occurred, when a shuttle was destroyed with all hands lost, the agency was shaken out of complacency by the tragedy. There are instances of this in all businesses in one form or another.
I know of one not-for-profit institution that routinely loses checks. They are not really lost. It’s just that they end up on the wrong desk, are placed in a wrong file, or sit in their envelope unopened—sometimes for years. This situation appears to be tolerated because the amounts are small and there is a steady stream of checks coming in every day. Most of them are indeed small, but in the aggregate, over time, the total is quite large.