Normalization of Deviance Can Often Have Devastating Consequences

STS-109 Space Shuttle Columbia launch. Photo by NASA.

Diane Vaughan is an American sociologist who has spent her career studying organisations where deviations from rules and practices become the norm—often with devastating consequences.

Your phone bleeps while you’re driving and you can’t resist the temptation to look—after all it could be important! You check your messages and continue driving without incident. Given the frequency and banality of such occurrences, you might even start to tell yourself it’s perfectly safe to regularly perform the behaviour. The increased practice leads to familiarity and ‘habit’ such that the actions become a normal part of your driving routine.

The lack of bad outcomes can reinforce the ‘rightness’ of trusting past practices instead of objectively assessing the risk, resulting in a cultural drift in which circumstances classified as ‘not okay’ slowly come to be reclassified as ‘okay’. Diane Vaughan coined the term ‘normalisation of deviance’ and defines it as ‘the gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behaviour is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organisation.’

Flight Safety Australia

I invite readers to watch retired USAF officer and former NASA astronaut Mike Mullane as he walks through and explains the concept of normalization of deviance during a seminar given to the International Associations of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

See if you can identify and name some of the parallels that can be applied to everyday life, both professionally and personally. What about to the political landscape and why the GOP and Democrat Party are where they are today.

There absolutely are I’s in Team. Every team is made up of individuals. Otherwise, you are just a passenger of group think.

The idea of normalization of deviance can be applied to every facet of human behavior. It is also a good tool to teach the younger generation about life and life’s consequences.

Part 1: Normalization of Deviance – An Introduction: No bad consequences will lead to predictable surprises.

Part 2. Protecting Ourselves from Normalization of Deviance  – Know your vulnerabilities. 

Part 3. Avoiding the Passenger Mode –  Fundamentals of  Responsibilities.

Part 4. Courageous Self-Leadership – How you navigate obstacles and respond to adversity.

Success is a continuous life’s journey. Words to live by.

For further reading:

The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA 1st edition by Vaughan, Diane (1997) Paperback; Amazon

Safety in mind: The Normalization of Deviance; Flight Safety

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