Destructive Goal Pursuit, or not knowing when to say stop


Destructive goal pursuit is the inability to stop an activity because the goal is so important (especially in the eyes of the leader) that it takes precedence over everything. Even when the divergence from the original plan is so great there is now a considerable level of danger and the risks are now in excess of what was originally accepted.

Unfortunately there are numerous examples of destructive goal pursuit, two of which are below

  • Everest in 1996 where climbers went past the ‘point of no return’ 2 hours after the time when they should have turned back;
  • Northwest 1455 in 2000 where the crew decided to carry on an approach despite being too fast and too high at the entry point to the approach despite indications that it was going end in disaster;
  • or this clip I found today on Facebook.

where the crew had an opportunity to overshoot and go around.

In diving we normally operate as buddy pairs or teams and there is always the maxim that anyone can thumb the dive at any time for any reason. However, when you are task focussed on getting the job done, sometimes you lose track of what is going on around you, and even when you do realise that things are past the ‘last safe point’, you still carry on in pursuit of the activity, be that lifting that porthole, taking that photo or video, seeing more of the wreck, penetrating the cave further (delete as applicable). With the exception of emergency situations where you are trying to rescue a close family member, nothing is worth dying for underwater.

It takes a good level of mutual trust and respect to be able to put your thumb out and end the dive when there is considerable pressure to complete the task.  Unfortunately a number of fatalities and incidents have occurred because their pursuit of the goal took primacy over their own (or other’s) safety.

I am sure there have been times when you have been in a situation where you weren’t happy, carrying on a dive when you wish you had ended it, maybe the plan changed, the current picked up, the visibility reduced or you ended up in part of a wreck where you shouldn’t have been.  Now think about how the situation developed. Who was leading? What were the original aims of the dive? Did anyone say what the end state of the dive should be? What would you do differently?

Being able to end the dive easily starts with a good brief, a brief that will outline the goals of the dive so that everyone is clear, also what the ‘end parameters’ of the dive are. That might be max deco e.g. 10mins, or minimum gas remaining. By giving an end state, it empowers the ‘followers’ to end the dive.

We all make mistakes, sometimes looking back we wonder why, but only by reflecting on them and talking through the situation will future mistakes be reduced.  Thinking about reporting it to DISMS (Diving Incident Safety Management System) so that others can learn too.

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