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Month: January 2023

Book: ‘Spare’ By Prince Harry

I’m not attempting to do serious book reviews. In fact, I don’t even read anymore – I listen to audio books which is a relatively new activity for me and I love it. However, audiobooks tend to be overlooked after they’re finished, whereas a real book might hang around for a while, or be glimpsed on a bookshelf on a regular basis etc. And I’m also finding that my memory of audiobooks are starting to blur and merge. So these blogs are really just my way of documenting and reminding me what I’ve listened to.


Jeremy Paxman has described Prince Harry’s claims in his memoir Spare as a “series of moans from a very privileged young man”

Interesting review Jezza – I think that’s the whole point.

The book is in 4 parts. Parts 1-3 are fairly autobiographical which I enjoyed – listening to an audiobook means there is no imagery of the privilege and opulence (I’m not sure if the paper book has photos in it). And he refers to relatives as ‘Pa’, or ‘Granny’, or ‘Uncle’ etc – I thus frequently found it quite nicely detached from the Royal Family – much of the book felt like an autobiography of a military officer, of which I’ve read a few. I’m an ex military officer, helicopter pilot and a man with an older (and younger) brother – so I actually found myself relating to him in many ways!! I’ve also seen him around at RAF Shawbury – I was doing an instructor course at the same as when he was going through basic helicopter training – so I saw him knocking about with everyone else in the mess at lunch times etc. Just one of the guys.

I also had no idea of his true passion for Africa and the work he does in various countries within that continent.

Part 4 is where he dishes the dirt although I only perceive this is in the context of some fairly ‘common or garden’ family bickering. It’s the press and the ‘Royal’ aspect that amplifies this bickering into dark and deep treachery. I’d advise (for want of a better expression) a bit of ‘emotional intelligence’ all round to be honest.

I think the way Harry rationalises the fraught family disagreements is contrived because I’m sure they weren’t as controlled and one-sided as Harry describes. But there are also some cohesive themes and continuity throughout the book that I don’t think could be fabricated. I think the smoke does indicate fire.

But for me the overriding themes which no one seems to be talking about are: anxiety; mental health; bereavement; PTSD, harassment, stalking; racism, drug abuse. He doesn’t really talk about these per se at any great length but for me they’re the ‘elephant in the room’ – if he wasn’t royal, then you’d be giving him helpline numbers.

But Harry clearly wants to escape his gilded cage. And the pain of his mother’s death is central to what drives him. The Royal Family are all clearly living their own version of ‘eternity politics’ – driven by history, protocol, anniversaries and taking meaning from the past. He fears history repeating itself. Can you blame him for wanting to do what, in his very abnormal world, he thinks is right for protecting his family?

Ultimately it’s a love story?

Stop looking for what went wrong… Part 2

Below is a copy of an article I wrote for an aviation safety newsletter. It’s reproduced here and edited slightly for general readership.

I believe these concepts should be of interest; not just to people in safety-critical industries, but also of interest to anyone who desires to improve workplace quality and performance; I would advise that ‘Safety and Quality’ are close siblings.

I wrote an earlier post that introduces this: Stop looking for what went wrong – and look for the things that go right. Part 1 (Introduction)

Have you ever seen references to Safety II and “positive” reports? Safety II is still, largely unexplored and not fully embraced within safety management systems. But what is Safety II and why is a positive report a relevant thing?

Safety I

First a quick reminder of how we traditionally manage ’safety’:

Traditionally safety has been considered a matter of risk reduction, in both a proactive and reactive manner. Processes and guidelines are given to employees; training is supplied to the employees; equipment (eg aircraft) are engineered (and monitored) to withstand wear/ fatigue/stress and designed to be as easy to use as possible; and then work is done. After an accident, incident or near miss, processes are dismantled and examined. ‘Causes’ are searched for – a broken component, a broken rule or a human error is searched for until the “a-ha” moment is found and the cause or causes can be reported – eg, the cause of the accident was a failure to follow procedures, or a broken widget etc. These causes are important in Safety I systems because they allow the creation of more risk reduction, through more rules, or strengthened components, monitoring of trends, or penalties for guilty and negligent personnel1, 2.

However, Safety I is incomplete thinking: aircraft and their associated systems are too complex for every possible outcome to be predicted – therefore rules, procedures and trend-monitoring cannot be created for events that are not yet known.

Safety II

The Safety II model is based on building resilient systems that recognise that people and their behaviour are the solution and not the problem. Safety is built and encouraged based on successful outcomes – successful outcomes are shared and disseminated for others to learn from. A Safety II system might not even be thought of as a system but instead as an organic and live process that responds, monitors, learns and anticipates and is therefore resilient to the changes and variations of complex work systems and environments3. People therefore need to be empowered to have self-determination and collaborate to create safety based on the circumstances at the time, and not based on a previous risk-assessment or set of rules that may have become out-of-date or inappropriate.

In Simple terms….

In simple terms, let’s think of traditional safety as “what went wrong?” and “don’t do that because it’s bad” and “follow these rules”

Lets think of Safety II as “what went right?” and “do this because it works well” and “take the necessary action required at the time”.

How do I achieve Safety II?

You already are… but you don’t know it. Every time you operate and have no unsafe events, it’s because YOU, the operator made hundreds of correct decisions, used your experience & knowledge and collaborated effectively to achieve a completely uneventful outcome! Well done – sounds a little boring doesn’t it? Well before we start congratulating ourselves, let’s see how we can improve our Safety II culture. It’s important to look for the things that people do to make things work and succeed – and not just look for the hazards to avoid.


Normal, routine activity is interesting! Don’t take for granted all the little actions that you carry out when operating. Only a fraction of what we do is actually prescribed in a flying guide or contained in an SOP. The vast majority of our actions are the result of habits that we have created for ourselves. There could be many hundreds of positive little things that you do which have never occurred to a colleague. Have a think – can you share ideas and tips? Can others learn from what you do? If you’re in a training role then do you praise the little positive successes that you observe? Do you spot neat little ideas and think to pass them on to the wider community? Or are you just concentrating on finding errors in technique?

Here’s a quick example from Exeter Airport: when taxing out of dispersal the windsock is not easily visible to the pilot – but it is to the LHS Operator. When we leave the dispersal on a dark night with the airfield closed, the LHS operator looks at the wind sock and says, ‘Chris the wind’s from the south’ or whatever. Great – that’s added a little positivity to my situational awareness and helps me plan my departure. There’s no way that can ever be in a rule book. But it is one of many useful little things that build safety and create a routine successful outcome.

When flying with a similarly qualified person are you looking for the little differences? Are you saying to your buddy “hey, you do that? – that’s neat” and put it in your own back pocket… or are you concentrating on being “standard” and not messing up in front of your oppo, and in so-doing stifling the extra stuff you do? (The obsession with critique (in preference to praise) throughout military flying training/assessment has a lot to answer for I’m afraid…)

Safety Reporting

If you report an in-flight malfunction, then report what you did to create a safe outcome – did you use the AP (autopilot) upper modes (height, heading, guidance holds)? did you use ACANS (iPad mapping system) to assist with navigating to a diversion? did a member of crew make a suggestion? did Air Traffic Control give assistance? There are so many variables – but some key decisions about the positive actions you took is how someone else could learn to have a similar positive outcome. In other words, what did you do? Just reporting that “you carried out the drills iaw the flight reference cards and landed without further incident” omits a lot of Safety II opportunities.


Safety II is a big area but largely unexplored – it shouldn’t just be thought of as ‘best practice’ or ‘common sense’ or CRM (Crew Resource Management) or ‘correct techniques’. It encompasses those, but a Safety II culture also requires the sharing, learning, reviewing, updating, rethinking and positive enactment of all the little granular decisions and actions that you make every time you fly. People makes things safe; not rules and regulations.


1. Drift Into Failure, Sidney Dekker

2. The Field Guide to understanding ‘Human Error’, Sidney Dekker

3. Safety-II and Resilience Engineering in a Nutshell, Dong Han Ham

4. Trailblazers into Safety-II: American Airlines’ Learning and Improvement Team


I’ve also drawn on my own experiences in Quality Management in commercial business: encouraging employees to achieve quality work can generate similar barriers through fear of mistakes and error – telling staff what to do via a set of rules never worked! Giving staff guidelines, telling them what to achieve (and giving them the decision making power) achieves better outcomes.

A PDF of this article is available for download below.

Stop looking for what went wrong – and look for the things that go right. Part 1 (Introduction)

In 2020 I re-entered the world of professional aviation; we had all been in lockdown – and at home scrolling through Facebook I’d seen an advert for the National Police Air Service. I hadn’t flown for over 5 years but I comfortably had the experience they were looking for. I applied via an online process which included a Skype interview – my intent was 100%; my self-belief? about 10%. I simply had not been involved in the industry; safety in aviation is often correlated to recency of operators, and is not always about experience per se. Plenty of experienced pilots make mistakes… with tragic consequences. Anyway, they offered me the job.

Flying the helicopter is the easy bit. But safely navigating human behaviours? That’s more difficult. Healthy doses of humility, spoon-fed frequently, are required. And continue to be required. I was very excited and keen to be flying again but I wasn’t going to take this lightly. And, to be honest, I realised that the organisation which I had joined does not have a learning culture outside of its own safety management and reporting system (SMS).

I took to self-educating myself and finding all manner of accident and incident reports online for Police and HEMs helicopters around the world. I then started reading about aviation safety… and watching YouTube videos and a world of internet content – I was really heartened by what I found! There is some fantastic developments in the understanding of safety, performance, CRM (Crew Resource Management), Flight Risk Assessment models etc. What intrigued me most was the work of Erik Hollnagel and Sidney Dekkar in the concepts of resilience and Safety II. These are scholarly people. I could only interpret and extract the basic elements of their concepts. But it really resonated with me – because, in the context of their work, if you simply replace the word ‘safety’ with ‘quality’ then you also acquire a whole load of concepts that work for improving business and employee performance.

I had previously already discovered and begun to understand these concepts through my business and employee development. Analysing why something went wrong with a client’s contract (usually when an employee didn’t meet the client’s expectations) never really led to useful understanding and lessons. Because human behaviours get in the way – fear basically – fear of admitting mistakes, and an ingrained aversion to being open about anything that might threaten personal security, confidence and status.

But talking about the contracts that went right was always much easier! Emphasising and learning what went right, and how to apply it every time, was a more successful path of reinforcing and cementing good habits and standards.

Anyway, back to aviation: in late 2022 I attended a Flight Safety Course run by the UK Flight Safety Committee. I was excited. Then, when I attended, fairly quickly became disappointed. The content of the course was just a bit typical of the usual concepts that I remember from the last 20 years in the RN. There was no learning path, no suggestions for wider reading, no meaningful attempts at examining recent developments and concepts in Safety. Unfortunately, it was very much along the following format: ex military pilot with (X-000s of hours) stands up in front of the audience and speaks confidently about safety in various contexts. It was all very firmly SAFETY I – ie looking for what went wrong. Whilst this of course has value, I don’t believe it’s the whole picture. And the problem with churning out the same content, the same (swiss cheese) models and the same case-studies is that we stagnate; our openness deteriorates, we become numb to the messages; we become complacent.

It’s time to look for things that go right as well as looking at the old chestnuts of wrongness , error and violations. Learning new ideas and how to do things well is inspiring – and largely unexplored.

Part 2 of this blog is a copy of an article I wrote for an internal newsletter and builds on these concepts.

10,000 steps, a blog and a frog.

A Frog

Supposedly Mark Twain advised that if you swallow a frog in the morning, then you’ll have done the most unpleasant thing that day. My wife put me onto this idea. The analogy is to get up and complete the most awkward or difficult task of the day ASAP. Then the rest of the day is better. It’s a good idea – a useful framing mechanism for a serial procrastinator such as me.

10,000 Steps

The general advice is that 10,000 walking steps is the daily target for adults aiming to maintain a basic level of fitness. Bearing in mind that I sit in a cockpit or sit at a desk or sit playing the guitar, I’d say that 10,000 steps should be something to aim for. But it doesn’t count as a frog.

A Blog

I think a lot. I can drift off into a reverie and develop whole trains of thought… so many trains… all organised and running off in different directions. Years ago, my friend Bruce, who I’ve since lost touch with, said that instead of being ‘away with the fairies’ I would be ‘away with the theories’. I used to think that was a neat description.

I sometimes put so much mental energy into thinking about a subject that it keeps me awake at night… churning around in my mind. It’s time to write this stuff down in a blog… however, I would be mortified to think that I might publish, in a public place, something that wasn’t at least backed-up by some credible references and research. I f**king can’t stand speculation; eg, people who make sweeping political statements based on their emotional feeling about something… I’m sensitive to it because I do it! I recognise it within myself… which then makes me withdraw and not want to contribute to a conversation for fear of being wrong… and let’s face it: it’s almost impossible to know everything about a subject… and in all subjects there are the little knock-on effects, permutations, repercussions unintended consequences that I know exist but I I don’t know what they are… so why have a conversation about anything at all? Because the chances are I’ll be wrong or at least have incomplete understanding. Basically, it’s too easy to talk bollocks.

Which is why writing a blog (or an email for that matter) is a nice thing to do… it gives you time to say what you want to say after spending time thinking about and researching your point.

New Year’s Resolutions.

So there we go… not a list of prescriptive or objective aims. But a set of principles for 2023: 10,000 steps, swallow a frog every day and write regularly. Let’s see how I do…

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