Fly the Safest Skies with a Smile

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Pilot DogI recently flew from Seattle to London to attend Wikimania 2014. As we were taxiing for takeoff, I pulled out a book I had wanted to read for months: Haruki Murakami’s tome 1Q84. But then I put it down as soon as Delta’s in-flight safety video began. Really, it was that good.

Virgin America and Delta were two of the first airlines to inject humor into their safety videos. Delta’s use of 1980’s kitsch—including an appearance by everyone’s favorite, fuzzy alien Alf—and the viral success of finger-wagging Deltalina quickly put them in the lead. United Airlines recently joined the race with mixed reviews. The competition has become so stiff that Gizmodo has curated a list of the top 12 best airline safety videos. Who knew?

While some argue that 30% of crash fatalities can be avoided and knowing what to do (e.g., actually paying attention to the safety card and in-flight video) can increase your chance of survival, others point out that 80% of us tend to freeze into inaction during an emergency. Still, I note the nearest exit, remind myself to buckle my safety belt, and believe knowledge can be power.

Accenture and I seem to be in agreement regarding the importance of knowledge. They released a survey this summer indicating that the aerospace and defense industries “want more from their investments in PLM assets.” As Charles Alcock of AINOnline notes in his response to the survey: “Respondents also indicated that while more than four fifths of their manufacturing functions have access to PLM data, 90 percent want more or better information than they have today.” Although Accenture and Alcock are concerned with producers more than passengers, the former’s research and the latter’s commentary touch on data that affects the safety of each of us in the end.

The aerospace industry is, and continues to become, increasingly complex. The design and construction of commercial and defensive aircrafts requires a variety of highly skilled engineers, mechanics, and resource managers—and, soon, even more robots. The majority of aircrafts are assembled from small and large parts produced around the world. It takes only a second to imagine the overwhelming amount of PLM data a company like Boeing generates and manages daily. However, as Alcock notes above, “90 percent [of Accenture’s survey respondents] want more or better information.”

Previously, I wrote about the DIKW pyramid: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Data isn’t the same as information. In fact, too much data can often obscure information. Simply providing your employees, partners, and collaborators with more data—or even more information—isn’t an effective solution. So, how do you provide better PLM information to your organization?

Consider the information seeker. What is her role? What kinds of information are relevant for her? Does she need access to information that will help her to manage down or up, or both? Does she prefer to skim, or does she prefer to dive deep? Which approach does she need to take to be most efficient? Is efficiency her goal or yours?

Consider the catalyst. Is your information seeker actively or passively seeking information? Is he trying to make sense of a situation by exploring, or is he looking for specific data to make a timely decision? What is the context for his information seeking?

Consider—and create—possibilities for discovery. Bringing stakeholders together to share information may result in challenges and surprises. For example, what can your product team learn from your service team? Often, weak ties between individuals and groups can provide more opportunities for discovery and new information. Sometimes, you may need to curate these opportunities.

I put down 1Q84 because the producers of that Delta in-flight safety video did a good job of considering my information needs, understanding my context, and allowing for humor to create the possibility for re-discovery. Better information isn’t always more information; it’s well-organized and relevant data that is timely and actionable. As a passenger, I don’t need to know how an aircraft engine works, but I do need to know how to buckle my seatbelt and what to do if there’s a loss in cabin pressure. Including Alf in the mix doesn’t hurt either.

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About the Author

Amanda Menking
Amanda Menking is a PhD student at the University of Washington's Information School. She's currently exploring gender dynamics and gender-based hostility in online communities. Amanda is a collaborator with the ... Read More 

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