Korean Air and the "Korean Mindset"

Following up on my previous post about Gladwell’s Outliers:

I was visiting Korean Air headquarters in Seoul yesterday and had dinner with some managers from the Maintenance & Engineering group. After the proper level of inebriation was attained, I brought up Gladwell’s theory about the link between Korean culture and KAL’s crashes in the 1990s. I was somewhat apprehensive about broaching this topic as you never know what might be considered offensive when talking about national culture. But the KAL people immediately agreed that one of the main problems that plagued their company was indeed the “mindset” of the pilots, as they put it. They readily agreed that changing this mindset and training the first officer to speak up more directly to the captain was indeed helpful in solving the problem.

However, when I asked them why Asiana Airlines, whose pilots are also Korean, did not experience a similar problem, they were stumped for an answer. After some furious debate between themselves, the explanation offered was that the Korean “mindset” was only part of the problem, and that other issues – such as faulty or missing safety regulations – also needed to be fixed at KAL.

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