During World War II, the allies were losing a lot of planes to enemy fire and naturally wanted to reduce their losses. The initial thought was to add more armour to the areas on the returning planes that were getting hit the most – the wings, the tail fin and the central body of the plane.

However, a statistician named Abraham Wald pointed out that this approach was actually flawed. He argued that the returning planes were not the ones they needed to study – it was the planes that did not return. His point was that the bullet holes in the surviving planes actually showed the areas where a plane could take damage and still fly.

The missing bullet holes – those from planes that got shot down – were the areas where the planes were most vulnerable. These were likely the engine and the cockpit, where there were no bullet holes on the returning planes because hits there would cause the plane to go down.

Wald therefore suggested that the vulnerable parts of the plane that showed no bullet holes on the returning planes should be reinforced. This completely counterintuitive recommendation was put into practice and resulted in a significant increase in the survival rate of fighter planes.

The question for all of us is Where am I not looking for ideas? Where am I being blinded by what I can see? By the masses of data? How might my conclusions be skewed?

Questions in the Image:

  • Where am I not looking for ideas?
  • What am I not seeing?
  • What might be missing?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger (link to Amazon.co.uk). This book delves into the importance of questioning in life and work, exploring how the most creative, successful people tend to be expert questioners. It offers practical insights on how to cultivate the art of asking more and more effective questions.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – tiredness after a long weekend may be querying our gratitude. What did I most enjoy during the weekend? What is most memorable?

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.