A Total Failure of Leadership: Boeing

Warning – Multiple f-bombs dropped.

I love video games, always have. I remember fondly sitting in the College of Business Administration computer lab with my friend Mark Sterling, playing the very first Madden football game on a PC. Crazy awful graphics and sounds that made your ears bleed. Ahhh, good times.

As games became more complex and the money and time investment skyrocketed, game developers started doing something incredibly smart. Instead of seeing their products as “one and done,” meaning each game was self-contained, games now are expandable through DownLoadable Content, or DLC. The process now lets you continue adventures for as long as the publisher offers DLC.

Over the last few weeks, news broke that Boeing was creating fucking airplanes the same way. Boeing’s latest behemoth, the 737 Max, apparently came with a baseline model, but you had to pay extra for the airplane equivalent of DLC to make it safer to fly.

Let me repeat that last phrase: Safer. To. Fly.

This wasn’t a code addition that let the pilot randomly change the color of the aisle lights or let the flight attendant translate their in-flight instructions into Swahili on the fly. No, this was a feature that let pilots know if their approach angle toward the fucking ground was wrong.

One more time for the cheap seats: It let the pilots know if they were going to crash their fucking planes.

Boeing is taking it in the shorts right now, and rightfully so, for the ultra douchey move of creating a plane where software that kept pilots from making tragic errors was deemed to be beyond the basic fucking package. The revelation should make all of us wonder what else Boeing deemed “optional” features, like if smoke detectors work or if they’re just glued to the ceiling. And all that about an inflatable life preserver under your seat? Not so fast, sparky. That was probably part of the “Super User Value Package” that cost extra.

I don’t run Boeing, obviously, but how in the blue hell does this happen? Which fucking genius in upper management thought “Ya know, it’s not good enough that we sell planes that cost a million dollars, let’s squeeze an additional hundred thou by selling safety features”? Even more, how in the hell does that go through an entire multinational, multi-billion dollar company without someone having the balls to say “Wow, that is a seriously bad idea” and going to the press?

This is what happens when you build a culture that treasures conformity and squashes asking questions.

This is what happens when you value your bottom line over serving your customers.

This is what happens you put a dollar amount on human life.

Not every company builds airplanes, but a ton of companies make the same mistakes. And although the consequences of their failures won’t appear in the New York Times (most likely), their errors will result in their companies dying. It’s inevitable. Except in a VERY few instances, competition exists in all industries, and if you demonstrate the incomprehensible level of hubris demonstrated by Boeing and value your customers so little and your employees even less, then that competition will destroy you.

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