Airplane engine coin tossing and the art of self sabotage

A few weeks ago there were news of a plane being grounded after an elderly lady decided to toss some coins at an airplane’s engines. This is not the first time it happens and a few cases in China have been reported in the past. Apparently, people doing it were following a superstition, whereby throwing some coins is supposed to bring blessings and good fortune.

This really got me thinking. How ironic is it that in trying their best to ensure a safe journey, they are doing precisely the thing that can prevent them from being safe?

The shocking truth is that we are all guilty of coin throwing. Not in the literal sense, hopefully, but in that our strong fear of creating a certain negative outcome is likely to make us behave in a way that will deliver exactly that outcome we are trying to avoid.

And I see this time and time again with some of my clients:

I see it in the highly paid general manager who, being the only breadwinner in the family, is so scared of loosing his job and hence his lifestyle, that he’ll keep playing it safe time and time again. What he fails to recognise is that the more senior you are, the more you are expected to make calculated risks. That is why he is being so well paid. His company expects him to make a number of good bets that will pan out very profitable in the medium-term. Yet, his risk aversion is making his contributions being very marginal.

And I definitely see it in the C-Level executive who is so worried of saying something wrong at the Board Table or being seen as less smart than her colleagues, that she would rather stay quiet than risk creating a negative perception. However, by staying quiet she is generating exactly the perception she is trying to avoid: “she doesn’t speak because she doesn’t have anything smart to say. Or perhaps she doesn’t speak because she doesn’t really care.

Whether it is a strong need for security, lack of confidence or a general fear, these crippling behaviours prevent good people from delivering on their potential and creating a lasting contribution.

Next time you feel like putting yourself in safety cocoon, ask yourself – what would I do or say right now if I knew I couldn’t fail?

And just go for it. Chances are you’ll have a positive impact. You’ll be appreciated. Perhaps you’ll earn some respect from your peers.

(As long as it didn’t involve throwing some coins into a jet engine.)


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