Decision-making does little if it’s not based on all the facts. The facts are only available when there’s communication. That communication has to be honest regardless of how tough the truth is.
Here’s a perfect illustration of that hard truth:
Allan J. McDonald died last week at age 83. You’re certainly forgiven if you missed it or have no idea who Allan McDonald was. His brief moment in the spotlight was in 1986, though he had a profound effect on NASA and the space program.
Allan McDonald was the Morton Thiokol engineer who refused to sign off on the Challenger launch citing the temperature (18o) and the O-rings on the booster rockets–the booster rockets he helped design and build. On the day before the disastrous launch, McDonald and his team warned NASA of the dangers involved in launching. At first, his fellow engineers agreed.
I say at first because after a few hours of unrelenting pressure from NASA, including threats of canceling government contracts, the other engineers and the company gave their approval for takeoff. McDonald’s signature was still needed, the pressure on him was intense. His company, NASA, and all the other engineers said Challenger would be fine.
Hours before takeoff, McDonald refused to give the okay. His supervisor did over his objections. The rest is history.
In the aftermath of the ensuing tragedy, President Reagan immediately established a panel to investigate. It was headed by former Secretary of State William P. Rogers. Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride were on the panel.
Rogers had implicit instructions from the White House not to make NASA look bad. For a few days, Rogers did a bang-up job of doing just that. Then Sally Ride questioned the head of NASA’s booster rocket program. He was “unaware” of any disagreements from the engineers about launching.
McDonald, seated all the way in the back, stood, shaking, and yelled out that that was not true. His testimony was instrumental in the final determination of what caused the Challenger disaster – the O-rings he had warned about.
Despite repercussions from his company that required Congressional intervention, McDonald went on to design and build the new boosters, the ones that never had a problem through the rest of the Space Shuttle program.
Then he was demoted. He resigned from the company and traveled the country lecturing about “ethical decision making.”
Let me say it again, “Decision-making does little if it’s not based on all the facts. The facts are only available when there’s communication. That communication has to be honest regardless of how tough the truth is.”
I’ve always thought that our job as attorneys is to tell clients the hard facts about their case, the honest analysis of the needs/wishes of the other side, and, perhaps most of all, help the clients explore their truths. It’s seldom easy but I can look at Allan McDonald’s example, admire what he did, and know that when I speak truth to a client the lives of many people will be greatly affected, but rarely is their certain death at stake. I’d like to think if there were I’d follow McDonald’s lead.
When we represent you, we ask for all the facts and deliver the hard truths. If you know someone who would benefit from this blog, please pass it on. And if you are struggling with decision-making about your next steps, give us a call. Our attorneys are committed to giving you the facts surrounding your case – even when you’d prefer not to hear them. You can catch us at 919-335-7344.