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Packing your own parachute

This article relates to the themes explored in David Meikle’s new book, Tuning Up in which he explores the impact of responsibility and control in relationships, and how different levels of responsibility and control influence productivity, quality, work satisfaction and stress.

You can find out more about Tuning Up here.

It’s available in Hardback here

As an e-book here

And a paperback here

Packing your own parachute

For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of heights. Not to the extent of it being debilitating, but simply significantly uncomfortable – so I can’t imagine a circumstance when I would choose to jump out of an aircraft with silk bedsheet strapped to my back upon which I was ready to rely entirely for my survival and to not end up as an unidentifiable pile of mush on the ground.

But people do. They elect to jump away from the safety of a perfectly good aircraft from an altitude of around 10,000 feet. For fun.

During World War Two paratroopers would routinely jump from much lower altitudes – 1000 feet – or less.

However, if I was to find myself with the desire to use a parachute in such a way, the one thing I would want to know would be who had packed my parachute. I would want to make sure that they were identified, known to me and accountable for successful delivery back to planet earth. If I miraculously survived a problem with the chute, once I had recovered and changed my underwear, I would want to know who had the responsibility to pack it correctly and the control by which to do so.

In his entertaining book, Why Did the Policeman Cross the Road? Stevyn Colgan, retold a story that appeared in Stars and Stripes magazine:

“… In World War II, US paratroopers had a problem with the fact that, allegedly, one in twenty chutes failed in some way.”

Precisely the nightmare that I could imagine. The question was, how could they get the failure rate down to zero. The answer was to increase the responsibility of those in control of packing the chutes.

Colgan wrote:

“The solution was to require the packers and inspectors to regularly jump out of airplanes using parachutes chosen at random from the store. The quality of the packing then rose to 100% and stayed there.”1

When 5% of parachutes had been failing, I doubt anybody was deliberately negligent in their packing or inspecting of them. But when your own life depends on it, no matter how bad a day you’re having, you’ll pack your chutes correctly.

That’s the power of aligning responsibility and control.


David Meikle, Author Tuning Up and How to Buy a Gorilla. Founder, The HTBAG Co pitch services, consulting and training for brands, marketing procurement and agencies.

1 Unbound 2016