Summary of What Did We Know? What Did We Do?

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8 Overall

9 Applicability

8 Innovation

7 Style


Fred Herzner, a GE engineer and head of GE’s flight safety program from 1995 to 2003, believes he might have been able to prevent the loss of 111 lives in a 1989 plane crash if he’d made one decision differently three decades ago. In the years since, his lack of action has haunted him. That led to this personal investigation of how people and organizations make consequential decisions and how they might do better. Herzner’s description of his journey provides an important warning to leaders that they must never grow complacent nor overvalue money, results or deadlines at the cost of ethics and safety. He offers a principles-based structure and a methodical strategy for making better decisions. Herzner’s heartfelt, honest guide speaks to all leaders whose decisions affect people’s health and safety. 

In this summary, you will learn

  • How tragic or scandalous events can result from a chain of bad decisions, often enabled by a flawed corporate culture;
  • How organizations set themselves up for making bad decisions and suffering calamitous events; and
  • What you can do to instill better decision making in your organization.

About the Author

Fred Herzner served as chief engineer and head of GE’s flight safety program from 1995 to 2003. Since retiring – and spurred by his involvement with the 1989 United Airlines Flight 232 disaster – he has focused on safety, organizational culture and the decision-making processes surrounding corporate ethics. 



United Airlines Flight 232

On a gorgeous day in July 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed in Iowa, killing 111 of the people on board. At the time, Fred Herzner was an engineering manager at GE, working on the kind of jet engine that powered the DC-10 that crashed. Herzner and his colleagues had worked on the specific engine part that broke and caused the crash.

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