Pay Heed to Your Subconscious


In his book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that decisions made in the blink of an eye are often the correct decisions. Gladwell does not believe in intuition, emotional reactions or gut feelings. Instead, he believes – and argues quite convincingly – that your brain is powerful and that it can subconsciously sort through past experience and available evidence faster than you ever could consciously to reach remarkably accurate conclusions in impossibly short periods of time. Whether it’s a first impression about somebody that you’ve just met or your initial reaction to the first two sentences of a new book that you’ve just picked up, you are basing your initial decision or reaction on the totality of your previous experience…even if you have no idea that that’s what you’re doing. 

In the aviation human factors field, researchers have indirectly endorsed Gladwell’s perspective on the power and accuracy of the subconscious. Snap reactions are often correct. Feelings of foreboding often turn out to have been justified. Within aviation, this has given rise to maxims like, “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”  

In the very specialized world of air shows, blink-of-an-eye decision making is often a necessary part of the air show professionals’ tool kit. For pilots, air bosses and event organizers, decisions must often be made quickly and with minimal data or evidence on which to base a decision. All of us should learn to pay particular attention to our subconscious in these situations.  Some examples: when bad weather is coming in from the west and our initial reaction is that the show should be suspended until the storm passes; when some element of our air show performance doesn’t feel right and we sense that it would be a good idea to skip a maneuver or break off and compose ourselves; when we are standing on the air boss platform and we know something is amiss, but we can’t put our finger on what that “something” is; or, when we leave a pilot safety briefing with the feeling that important information was overlooked even though we can’t exactly pinpoint what it was. 

That little voice inside your head is almost certainly smarter and more attuned to what’s going on than you think. Learn to pay attention to it.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.