November 3

A phrase was coined in the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to describe the very dynamic that allowed it to occur: normalization of deviance. It seems that for years prior to the Columbia exploding upon re-entry, it was routine for foam to shed off of the external fuel tank during launch. This was so common that they actually coined the term “foam shedding” to describe it, and even though it was concerning at first, eventually it was determined to be harmless. Until, one fateful launch, the foam happened to damage a heat shield that subsequently failed upon re-entry, leading to the disaster. 

This is why the term “normalization of deviance” was used to describe what happened. Abnormal, deviant events were normalized and accepted over time as just being the way things are. This happens in may organizations as well. Unacceptable behavior like missing deadlines, being late to meetings, snapping back with sarcastic comments, and the like become normalized parts of the culture to the point that no one even questions them any longer. However, the long-term consequences of normalizing these behaviors can be significant. 

You can’t afford to allow unacceptable behavior to become normalized, whether in yourself, your team, or the people you lead. 

Normalization of deviance can quickly erode a culture and the collective creative process.

Question:  Do you see “normalization of deviance” playing out in your work? In your team’s culture? What can you do about it? 

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