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Hidden in Plain Sight

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I recently had the enormous pleasure of witnessing the ground-breaking theatrical adaptation of War Horse at the New London Theatre – where the mind-bending talents of what must be the world’s greatest puppeteers brought man-made equine carcasses to life before my very eyes.

Walking on to an empty stage, 3 puppeteers (somehow that term seems derogatory) carried out the shell of a foal and brought it to life. My initial thought as they entered ‘stage rear’ was that this just would not work – how could I possibly be transported onto a 20th century Devonian farm with these imposters in clear view?

How wrong I was. Within seconds I was indeed transported within this beautiful story and was truly witnessing first-hand the tale of a magnificent horse named Joey. That the loudest applause at curtain-call (although there are no curtains) was for Joey’s animators (a much more apt term) speaks volumes of their talents.

What struck me on leaving the theatre was the realisation that; like the equine magicians (better?), many things in our lives are hidden in plain sight. Whether this be the glorious simplicity of the things we have stopped seeing in our personal lives – the beauty of our surroundings so upsettingly and perfectly described in the poems of the terminally ill Clive James; or perhaps the workers who cook, clean, and secure our daily grind.

And what about risk? Or process? Have our safe-guarding procedures become normalised? Are we really checking for faults and potential hazards – or are we performing a well-practiced routine that we perform automatically and sub-consciously?

Take the pilot who walks around the aircraft performing pre-flight inspections. Admire the grace of the flowing gestures as her hand sweeps the contours of the aerodynamic surfaces. Is this a sound system of ensuring that no part of the airframe is overlooked in the hunt for potential issues as the safety devices are removed; or rather a slow dance of habit where everything is seen as it should be?

This example has great resonance for me, as I’m an Aeronautical Engineer by birth; and have stood aside a Sea Harrier aircraft as the pilot ‘walks’ – waiting to explain the merit of a strip of bright Duct Tape running underneath the port side of the wing. The pilot duly carried out his ‘walkround’ and successfully completed it having noticed nothing untoward. That we had clearance for this bright silver monstrosity matters not. This was a last-minute addition that was genuinely not observed.

What about your processes and systems? Do you have a system in place to ensure your hazard-hunting or fault identification processes remains as robust and effective as possible? Are you observing potential issues – or do you simply see that which you expect?

Periodically we all need to refresh our policies and procedures. Can’t see the wood for the trees. Hidden in plain sight. Normalisation. Don’t wait until something goes awry. Get a fresh pair of eyes.

What do you do to ensure your processes remain effective? Share your story in the comments box below.

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