Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Trojan Horse Principle in Atc

Art by S. Schuenke

It was evening. The Trojans saw the large wooden horse outside their city. 
A Grecian soldier pretending to desert the army said that the horse was a gift offering to Athena, the goddess of war and giver of military strength. He added that the 'gift' was too large to pass through the city's gates. 
The Trojans rose to the challenge of getting the offering to their prized Athena. They destroyed part of their wall and dragged their 'gift' inside. We know how the legend ended. 
The question is, what lesson can we take from Homer's Iliad and apply to our Atc scenario?

The horse was not just a gift. To both the Greeks and the Trojans, it was a solution for their problems. Similarly, key issues in Atc and their accompanying solutions qualify to be labelled Trojan horses. The context of the legend or the circumstances surrounding the legend present other factors that we now consider to help us filter the issues according to their outcomes.  
Not all of the Trojans were happy about the gift. Those who were, had to be persuaded to take action. The dissenters were punished. The happy supporters were willing to destroy part of their impenetrable wall because they thought that the gift was beneficial. They did not contemplate the cost of their decision. 

The same reasoning applied to the Greeks. They had to be given an incentive to hide in a crouched position inside the horse. They too did not count the cost of their strategy. This gift brought them the double satisfaction that they wanted: reclaiming Athena and taking vengence for their families. Yet they paid the heavy price of fragmenting the Grecian empire. 
The hero or mastermind of Troy's downfall, Odysseus, wandered for many years, losing all of his soldiers and seamen before finding his way back home. 
We can deduce logically whether the Trojan horse was really a good idea considering the consequences of the Grecian solution - the gift of a horse; as well as the Trojan solution - destroy a part of their heritage for an apparent gain. The problem that sparked a strategic solution yielded disastrous end results. In fact the end results caused the central problem to fade into insignificance as both the Greeks and Trojans spent decades trying to recover from the fracas. Can you remember how the legend started?  Literary scholars will only be too happy to tell us about Achilles and Aphrodite and Helen and Paris - at least 4  possible beginnings that led to the ultimate batle at Troy.

We can find parallels in the Atc unit. What really is a Trojan horse in Atc? They are key issues with solutions that seem beneficial only at the outset. For these "beneficial" solutions really mask disastrous consequences in the long term. To help us understand the logic of the Trojan horse, I used some cartoons from a site on <<Decision Innovation>>.
Managers do not always count the cost of their decisions before implementing solutions. They can make a decision based on limited knowledge or inadequate training. They may place additional pressure upon controllers by implementing superficial rules. These are some examples of  situations that could favor the presence of Trojan horses. 
How can an Atc unit really deal with Fatigue and Just Culture while trying to accomplish a plethora of administrative objectives over a short time period in the absence of established policies? How can an Atc unit solve the problem of Absenteeism when administrative objectives bolster the problem? I wonder how many Atc units are aware of the legal working definition of Absenteeism? 

Trojan horses are also associated with economic myopia or adopting a shortsighted view of outcomes. It is useless to implement a decision if you cannot weigh the costs or predict the benefits of such a decision in 3 years. 
We can identify Trojan horses in Atc by looking at the performance of each Atc unit. It is not always easy to identify Trojan horses because even well-meaning decisions with the best of intentions can go awry. This is why we need performance evaluations of our Atc units. A performance evaluation of an organization is not the same as the appraisal of an employee. We will look at that in another post. 
Before writing about performance evaluation in Atc, I would like to digress and talk about narcissism. You may have noticed that I have much to write about strategic Atc management but very little to say about Atcos on the floor - the AOFs. So Sunday's post will focus on the hierarchy of management and the problem of narcissism
Have a good week!

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