Is there a Dr. No in your workplace?

whistleblowerI’ll bet you don’t know who Roger Boisjoly is. I didn’t either until I read an excerpt of Megan McArdle’s new book, ‘The Up Side of Down.’

Boisjoly worked for a company called Morton-Thiokol. Does that name ring a bell? It should.

Morton-Thiokol was the engineering manufacturer that produced the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints in the solid booster rockets intended to propel the Space Shuttle Challenger into the stratosphere.

The night before NASA’s disastrous launch of the Challenger in 1986, Boisjoly pleaded with NASA technicians to delay the launch. He was worried the cold weather forecast for the following day would cause problems with the O-rings. George Hardy, NASA’s deputy director of science and engineering at the Marshall Space Flight Center, told Boisjoly and his team, “I am appalled by your recommendation.”

The next day, Hardy made sure the shuttle launched as scheduled. And, sure enough, the O-rings failed, seven astronauts died and America’s space program was derailed for years

McArdle is a big fan of what she calls having a Negative Nancy or a Dr. No within an organization.

In fact, she says every workplace should have someone with the cojones to say, “Stop! This is wrong.”

McArdle says the totally ersatz 60 Minutes/Lara Logan report on the purported eyewitness account of the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented from ever airing IF CBS had had a Negative Nancy in the office who could have questioned the veracity of the sole source.

I see myself as a glass half-full, positive type of guy. But, I’m not afraid to be a Dr. No who points out something that doesn’t seem right to me (either within a client organization, Peppercomm or society at large).

At the moment, I’m playing Negative Nancy with operational and people trends at my own firm that, frankly, I think are going in the wrong direction. Of course, I also happen to be a co-founder, so I don’t have to worry about what happens to most whistle-blowers (Aside from Ed, I don’t think anyone else at Peppercomm can ostracize or black list me).

It takes guts to be a Dr. No. It takes guts to speak up and say “Now, hold on there, professor,” when you see something that seems wrong from a business, moral or ethical sense. And, in many cases, if you do speak up, you’ll end up just like Roger Boisjoly — the answer to an obscure trivia question.

That said I’ll bet if he’s still alive, Mr. Boisjoly sleeps very soundly. He may have paid a heavy price from a career standpoint, but he did the right thing at the right moment in time. As for NASA’s George Hardy, well let’s just say I couldn’t live with myself after doing what he did.

To quote the signs I see posted all around Manhattan, “If you see something, say something.”

Comments are closed.