Seven errors


Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite writers.

In Outliers there’s a chapter entitled “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes” in which Gladwell states: “The typical accident involves seven consecutive human errors.”

He’s writing of Korean Air, which had a disproportionately high number of plane crashes before the airline “turned itself around.”

Gladwell says that the seven errors are the result of a lack of communication and teamwork, not a lack of technical skill or flying knowledge. One or two errors doesn’t lead to disaster; the trouble is that they keep happening, and this compounding causes the crashes.

I am thinking that making seven consecutive human errors can lead to other kinds of accidents.

Such as the one I had last week.

A quick setting of the stage: My school participated in a county-wide book drive for students who don’t have books at home. We collected 1500 books. I had to count and store the books until they could be delivered to the drop-off location; a colleague helped me in this effort. We used a lot of boxes, as overfilling would make them too heavy to lift. The only place to store so many boxes was under a stairwell, where they waited, sealed and ready, for a member of the PTA  board who graciously offered to pick them up for us.

Now, I test the theory: Were there seven consecutive errors in communication and teamwork that led to my accident? Here’s what happened:

  1. The PTA person never gave me a time for picking up the books.
  2. Another person volunteered to help pick up books. I wasn’t told this.
  3. When the person I wasn’t told about showed up, the receptionist sent the custodial staff to move the boxes of books from the stairwell. I wasn’t told this, either.
  4. I went to investigate why the boxes were being moved. The custodial staff said they didn’t know this person who had arrived for the books.
  5. The person turned out to be a very helpful parent, but, having to unravel what was going on, and not expecting the books to go that day, I couldn’t remember where I put the form with the book count. This parent needed to take it to the people at the drop-off. Where was that form?
  6. My colleague said she taped it to one of the boxes. But which box? It had to be found. Simply making a duplicate form could result in an incorrect, doubled amount at the drop-off.
  7. I rushed into the stairwell, under the staircase. I moved box after box. When I couldn’t find the form, preoccupied with where it might be, and with the parent already there to get the books, I stood up in a hurry—and bashed the top of my skull against the bottom of the staircase.

Hard enough to knock me down.

Hard enough for my teeth to smash together.

Hard enough to chip a crown.

I say an accident involves seven consecutive human errors in communication and teamwork, all right.

The aftermath: My mouth hurt the most at the time. When I finally checked the top of my head, I couldn’t even find a tender place where it struck the staircase. No concussion. No bleeding at all. And the crown was replaced by a gracious dentist who was willing to take me, a complete stranger, as an immediate emergency case.

I’m fine.

The missing form?

It was on my table the whole time, right where I left it.

23 thoughts on “Seven errors

  1. First of all, ouch! I’m so sorry that happened, but glad you were able to get into the dentist ASAP and no head injury.
    Secondly, I love Malcolm Gladwell, too!😍
    Thirdly, I definitely agree with the theory…there was some major miscommunication that led to your accident.
    Fourthly, nice job on a reflective slice! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Fran!! I hope you are okay. No good deed goes unpunished. I never heard of that theory! I’m so sorry that happened to you but this was a great Slice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kathleen. I really am ok and, honestly, as I sat there holding my mouth and my colleague scrambled frantically to find a dentist that would take me after my own said it would be TWO WEEKS before I could get in, I thought, well, this is one SOLSC post taken care of … for real! And now I have a great new dentist. 🙂


  3. I love how you compared your accident to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory! I am amazed you reflected on all of the things that led up to it. It’s true that so many accidents can be avoided, but so glad your head is ok! I hope I can look out for consecutive errors happening around me before they reach #7…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh dear Fran! I feel your tooth pain. Thankfully you were able to get it taken care of quickly. Amazing that a jolt chips a crown but leaves no bruise behind on your head. It took some detective skills to trace each moment of miscommunication which resulted in your dilemma. Lots to think about in this post, especially if I am involved in an accident. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just finished re-listening to that audiobook. I absolutely love it and find it so fascinating! I don’t think I had picked up on the seven errors part, though, which gives me great cause to re-listen.

    So, so sorry about your tooth, and I’m very glad you found a compassionate dentist willing to address your emergency.

    I audibly groaned on your last line– the location reveal. I’m pretty prone to that kind of thing myself, so I saw it coming, but still… What a day!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh no! I’m sorry you got hurt, but what an amazing way of putting it into a slice. I love how we knew that the accident was coming, but we had to wait for it to happen – and I really appreciated the big reveal: the form was on your desk the whole time – argh! I really like the link to Gladwell, too. I’m glad you found a kind dentist to fix your crown & I hope that you don’t use your noggin quite so literally next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. These kinds of things happen often in schools. I see them in my own. Sometimes it’s because people are in a hurry and have so many others to communicate with. We often aren’t very good at putting systems in place that preclude such miscommunication because it’s not “life and death” as in aviation and medicine. Your post makes me wonder what we educators can learn from those industries that can’t afford communication breakdowns.
    Thanks for sharing this story, Fran.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. First of all, great read. Second of all, I love your writing style. It seems a lot to me like the way I THINK, but I can’t seem to get it all out in type that way. And lastly, I feel your pain. The older I get, the more days like this I seem to have! Happy Monday 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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