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Lessons from the cockpit - below 10,000 feet

In Design Thinking…it’s known as a ‘mash up’.

In the context of human performance, we would call it ‘psychological safety’.

Through the lens of the mindset, it’s ‘a beginner’s mindset’.

Whichever way you look at it, there are valuable lessons from an industry outside our own.

And I learned about a new one over the weekend when an old friend who is a theatre nurse told me about ‘Below 10,000’.

Just like an aircraft cockpit, the power gradient is high in a hospital operating theatre. Hierarchy and status defined by position and title are obvious.

When an aircraft is below 10,000 feet, either in ascent, descent or on the ground taxi-ing – it’s a critical time when post-take off or pre-landing checks are being completed. At this time, all unnecessary chit-chat and non-essential duties stop so the focus is on mandatory safety operations.

Two clever nurses - John Gibbs & Pete Smith - from Geelong, Victoria (Australia) saw the potential that the ‘Below 10,000’ protocol could bring to the operating theatre. When patients are brought into theatre for surgery, they are usually awake, and aware of their surroundings. Many feel anxious while waiting for their anesthetic. Just like when an aircraft is below 10,000 feet, this is a vulnerable. time. This initiative is now being embraced in hospitals well beyond the shores of Australia.

The term ‘Below 10,000’ is called when the operating theatre is becoming too noisy or distracting, bringing the following benefits:

  • Providing a common language to convey a message

  • Building psychological safety so anyone can call it, regardless of status or rank

  • Creating space for mindful time to re-focus on the patient

  • Improving patient care and safety

This short post is just to prompt thinking about what we can do better when we look to other industries for inspiration. I encourage you to read more about ‘Below 10,000’.

Small things make a big difference!


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