25 years ago today, the tragic explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle took the lives of seven brave astronauts including New England high school teacher Christa McAuliffe. The ABC News video below looks back at the tragedy. On this day, we remember the courage of those astronauts and mourn their loss. Hopefully, we also remember the key lessons from that catastrophic failure.
For those who have not read it, sociologist Diane Vaughan wrote the seminal book on the Challenger accident back in 1996. That book provides a detailed systemic explanation, looking specifically at the culture of the organization. Vaughan argued that a process that she called the "normalization of deviance" had taken place over the years and led to the tragedy. By that, she means that O-Ring erosion had gradually become an accepted risk and even taken for granted at NASA. By 1986, O-Ring erosion essentially did not constitute an anomaly that triggered widespread concerns in the organization. As she says, when the normalization of deviance occurs, "the unexpected gradually becomes the expected, and then becomes the accepted." That process takes place over years, and it means that we gradually go down this slippery slope at times whereby we normalize greater and greater risks over time. All organizations prove vulnerable to the normalization of deviance and should be aware of this phenomenon.