‘Good Morning Ladies and Gentleman, this is your captain speaking, now that we’ve sacrificed a goat on the tarmac our earlier technical faults should be fixed and we are clear for take off, enjoy your Nepal Airlines flight.’
Airlines operate a business much like any other; where business problems and their corresponding solutions are typically found in culture. State run Nepal Airlines own two Boeing 757 aircraft in their fleet for long-haul international routes, one of which suffered a spate of technical issues, forcing two aborted take-offs and a 10 day grounding. Put in context, this was a loss of half the international business and aircraft engineers soon become desperate for a resolution.
Nepal is a small country of 24 million people, a population similar to that Australia but with an extra 330 million gods. One of these Hindu gods, Akash Bhairab is the god of the sky, featured on the Nepal Airline aircraft and a god who airline officials believe needed appeasement.
The faulty Boeing 757 was then parked on the tarmac at Kathmandu airport whilst two goats were bought before it and with a khukuri, a traditional curved knife, sacrificed in front of the plane.
Following the ritual an airline spokesman released this statement:
‘Nepal Airline Corporation officials worshiped the aircraft by sacrificing two goats to avoid technical glitches while flying... the glitch has been fixed and the aircraft resumed its flights’.
Raju Bahadur K.C.
And then the story gets better; the sacrifice actually worked as an electrical fault was identified and quickly resolved. The aircraft went on to make a successful flight to Hong Kong.
The failure to identify an electrical fault and the sinking morale of aircraft engineers is much like the riddle of the chicken and the egg; which came first? Nonetheless the ritual sacrifice was enough to restore hope in the engineers. It was a mechanism to shift thinking and open their eyes. It was a cultural solution appropriate for that time, that place and those people. Without it, perhaps the engineers would have fallen into an even greater depression and we would still be waiting on the tarmac.
In October of 2011, Qantas grounded its entire fleet in dealing with a union labour stalemate. Perhaps instead it should have slaughtered a couple of kangaroos? In principal, that is exactly what CEO Alan Joyce had done. To the Nepalese it was a ritual sacrifice, for Qantas it was an employment lock-out, but either way, it was a cultural mechanism to create an environment for a solution.
Push aside for a moment any value judgements on the actions of Nepal Airlines or Qantas. What rings true in both of these cases is that a cultural solution is required for a business problem because businesses have loads of culture - their people. We need to stop seeking answers by ‘thinking outside the box’, because our people think inside the box of their cultural context; and that is where the answers lie.