Insight Story

The Helicopter Crash and Insight Stories

I've spent a large part of my career working in the oil and gas and mining industries where safety is always a primary concern. A significant issue in safety leadership is getting people to appreciate the importance of preparing for rare but extremely dangerous events. The following anecdote is a perfect example of the importance of preparation and training and is applicable to many situations.

As a young field engineer in March 1988, I was transferred at short notice from China to Australia. I had been expecting to take a helicopter from Tanggu base to my oil rig in Bohai Bay, Northern China but in a rapid turn of events, found myself heading for a rig in the Timor Sea off Darwin as a result of a shortage of Australian engineers.

The company engineer that met me at Darwin airport was sporting two spectacular black eyes and as we drove to the Darwin helicopter terminal, clearly still in shock, he related his story.

"I was the last one out of a helicopter that ditched into the Timor Sea and I was kicked in the face while trying to get out."

"We were a 100 miles out over the sea, cruising at about 5000 feet, when the engine exploded and we started falling from the sky. Incredibly, there were two helicopter safety experts on board and as we auto-gyrated down to the ocean they gave us a helicopter ditching training lesson!"

"They told us to expect the helicopter to land hard and then tip upside down and fill with water. They said they would open the door and we would need to swim down to get out and they also told us to remove our headsets and tie up the cables before impact because in the last accident they investigated, people had become tangled in the headset cables and drowned."

"Everything happened exactly as described, I was the last one out and got too close to the person in front of me, so was kicked in the face. We inflated two life rafts but both had holes them. So we were in our life jackets swimming in shark infested waters holding onto a deflated life raft."

"Fortunately, there was a US/Australian joint military exercise going on and a rescue helicopter winched us all out of the sea about an hour later."

The obvious safety lesson and insight from this story is that you may not be so fortunate!

Wouldn't it be better to be prepared rather than hope there is an expert there to teach you in your critical moment?


In the last few years, I've been teaching sales people how to collect and deliver stories to help them connect with and influence their customers. I counsel my students to always tell true stories (See "

The Ponytail and why your Business Stories should be True"

) and that got me thinking about my own favourite stories. So I resolved to check the veracity of the ones that did not happen to me directly.

I made the effort to track down the engineer that met me at Darwin airport. I couldn't remember his name but I did remember another engineer who was in Darwin at the time and through the wonders of LinkedIn and Facebook tracked down John Patel. John located the

air safety accident investigation report

and we compared our memories of  an event that he had tried to forget.

A few months later John attended one of our public story telling workshops and we got to tell the story again.

The Author (Left) with John Patel at a Selling with Stories workshop in Sydney this year.




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Insight


For Story Students:

The Setting: 1988, Darwin Australia

The Complications: Helicopter ditching

The Turning Point: Safety experts on-board the chopper!

The Resolution: Safe ditching in the Timor Sea

The Point of the Story: You  may not be so lucky! Be prepared instead.



Short notice transfer.

I got the phone call to transfer to Australia at 1 am in the morning. At 11 pm

on the same day

, I was on an oil rig 200 km out into the Timor Sea. That is a short notice international transfer.

Title photo credit:

Desert Storm - Mohamed's Story

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you

----- From ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling  ------

In 2011, Mohamed, one of our Story workshop participants, was asked to travel from Egypt to Iraq to represent his company in a dispute meeting with a major Iraqi telecommunications company. 

The Iraqi Telco was experiencing serious network failures and the main suppliers, including Mohamed's company, were all pointing the finger at each other.

It was dangerous to travel to Iraq and company security policy required Mohamed to travel by armoured car and dress in full military protective clothing including bullet proof vest.

Alone inside an armoured car en route to Bagdad, Mohamed lifted a bottle of lemonade to his lips to quench his thirst. As the armoured car bounced on the potholed road the lemonade went down his wind pipe and he started to choke.

With the bullet proof vest strapped tightly around his chest, Mohamed panicked. He couldn’t unstrap the bullet proof vest, he couldn’t get the attention of the driver and he couldn’t breathe.

As he fought for breath, Mohamed had a sinking desperate fear that he would die alone inside the armoured car. He even thought to send a text message to his wife with his last few seconds of consciousness.

But eventually he wheezed some shallow breaths and recovered just as the armoured car reached his meeting destination.

Entering a room full of angry, antagonistic suppliers, Mohamed was oblivious to the commotion. He sat calmly and luxuriated in every breath of air, so happy to be alive.

Suddenly accusing voices rounded on Mohamed’s company. It was all his company’s fault!

Wordlessly, Mohamed stood up and went to the whiteboard. The room fell silent. As he sketched the configuration of his company’s technical solution on the whiteboard, Mohamed calmly explained how the network fault could not have been caused by his company’s equipment.


“Ok! So it’s not their fault, it must be …” and the room descended back into acrimonious argument.

Mohamed walked back and sat down next to the local manager who turned to him and exclaimed “how did you do that?!”


Of course it was Mohamed's newfound existential perspective that allowed him to calmly manage that heated situation. 

It's a great story. We could just enjoy it for its perspective and humour but we could also retell it in a similar fractious situation to help gain agreement.

There is no chance of agreement when the opposing sides are highly emotional and it is the role of a sales person to persuasively shift the emotional landscape to a positive one. We call this type of story a 'sales process' story because it can be used to move a sale forward.

Great stories can be re-purposed and it is not necessary that the events happened to you.


Company: Large Telecoms Supply Company


Told in a Growth in Focus Story Workshop 2017

Story Type:



For Story Students

The Setting:

Iraq after the second gulf war

The Complications:

Mohamed nearly choked to death

The Turning Point:

Mohamed recovered and was calm and composed through a vitriolic dispute meeting

The Resolution:

Mohamed resolved the dispute in is company's favour

The Point of the Story:

Perspective makes a difference

How to use this story: This story can be used to calm a situation where disagreements are getting out of hand. It is an example of a sales or business process story. Here is 

another example

 of a personal story that can be re-purposed for a business situation.


How to Re-Purpose a Story

Do you know what it feels like to really help someone but they don't realise you helped?

In our business story workshops, we ask participants to

tell a story about when you helped,

 this is a preparatory exercise to help them construct business success stories (not to be confused with marketing case studies).

Most people tell business stories in this exercise but occasionally there is a memorable personal story:

Nick, a successful marketing manager, told about taking his then three year-old daughter to the beach to teach her to swim in 2011. Nick took her into waist deep murky water and kept her close and firmly in sight as she tried to swim.

Nick felt a brush against his leg and at first thought it was his daughter touching him, but realising that it couldn't have been her, reached down into the water and pulled up a young boy who was drowning on the sandy bottom.

The boy spluttered and recovered as Nick carried him to the beach.

When they reached the beach, the boy's mother came up and exclaimed "oh! There you are!". She took the boy by the hand and led him away before Nick could explain what had happened.

I recently told this story in a discussion with an IT company that was struggling with customer service. Even though the story is not about customer service, the emotions it evokes are universal which makes it a generally useful story if told in the right context,

If you get in the habit of collecting your stories you'll be amazed at how versatile they can be.




Source: Nick Horton personal experience

Story Type:


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2011 beach in NSW

The Complications: Nick discovered a drowning child

The Turning Point: Nick brought the child to the shore but the mother didn't notice

The Resolution: The story is unresolved! which is exactly the feeling it induces

The Point of the Story: Good stories can re-purposed

Evaluating Sales People

In mid-2015, Steve was one of six candidates for a head of sales position at fast growing Telecommunications software start-up. The company had engaged Growth in Focus to assess candidate sales conversation skill which was done using a simulation. Of the six candidates, Steve was outstanding and was offered the role.

Fast forward 10 months and Steve, now Head of Sales, contacted Mike about performing a similar evaluation for two sales candidates that he was considering. Mike performed a skill evaluation and neither tested too well.

When Steven watched the simulation video he was shocked. In Steven's words words it was "...sobering to watch".

Steven had met and interviewed these candidates and thought that they would be suitable but the simulation showed significant weaknesses in the core sales skill - conversation skill. This is a significant insight.

You might think "an interview is like a sales meeting, I can evaluate their sales conversation skill in an interview"  - and

you would be wrong

. It is necessary to analyse a well structured sales situation to properly evaluate sales conversation skill.

In response to this insight, Steven is now evaluating recruiting candidates and current team members to see what the training requirements are.

Steve continues to grow his international team and the company is going from strength to strength.



: Telecommunications Software Company


Mike Adams consulting experience with this company assisting them to hire the best sales people

Story Type:

Insight; Business Purpose


For Story Students

The Setting: Mid-2015 Steve applied for a head of sales role with a Telecommunications start-up

The Complications: The start-up needed to ramp up fast and hire head of sales and sales people all over the world. Steve was one of six candidates to be assessed via a sales simulation run by Growth in Focus

The Turning Point: Steve got the job and then started building his team. Eight months later Steve was considering two international candidates and decided to use Growth in Focus again to evaluate them/ Steve was shocked a the results

The Resolution: Steve resolved to simulation test all sales people including current hires

The Point of the Story: Steve resolved to simulation test all sales people including current hires

How to use this story: We use this story as a reference story to build our sales recruiting business


The Zambia Malaria Outbreak Story

In the mid 1990s, Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the World Bank after a long and distinguished career in the banking industry. Instead of the job he wanted, he was given what he considered a 'poisoned chalice' -  a role to implement knowledge management at the World Bank because the organisation operated all over the world but seemed to be repeatedly making the same mistakes.

It was the early days of PowerPoint and Stephen made what he thought was a compelling presentation full of rational argument and moving slides about why knowledge management was important. He took his presentation on a global tour but was unable to persuade any country to take on in his knowledge management initiative.

One day, back at the World Bank HQ in New York, Stephen was having lunch in the staff cafeteria when he overheard a story being told by some field workers:

A health worker who was part of a project to build a school in a tiny town in Zambia went to the Web site of the Centre For Disease Control and got an answer to a question about the treatment of malaria. This was in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, and it was in a tiny place six hundred kilometres from the capitol city. 

Stephen included this story in his presentation and there was an instant change in his audience response. The Zambia story connected with his audience and his quest to implement knowledge management finally started to gain traction.

Stephen Denning calls the Zambia story a "springboard" story because it was told and retold countless times and was the catalyst for organisational change



: World Bank


: Stephen Denning "The Springboard" How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations, 2001



Story Type

: Business Purpose; Insight


: Knowledge Management; Change Managment


For Story Students

The Setting

: Mid 1990s Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the world bank

The Complications

: Stephen was given the task of implementing knowledge management and found it very hard going

The Turning Point

: Stephen overheard a story about a malaria outbreak in Zambia and decided to use that story in his presentations

The Resolution

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

The Point of the Story

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

How to use this story

: This is a classic change management story. Use it whenever you need to talk about implementing change


9/11 Emergency Evacuation

The Morgan-Stanley Company occupied 22 floors up to level 72 in Tower 1 of the World Trade Centre in 2001; here is their survival story.

Rick Rescorla may be the greatest American hero you’ve never heard of. A decorated Vietnam veteran of British birth, Rescorla was the head of security for Morgan Stanley’s World Trade Center offices in New York City. With a workforce of nearly 3,000 people, the bank was the towers’ largest tenant.

Although Rescorla’s heroics hold a special place in the hearts of Morgan Stanley employees, his deep understanding of crises made him a pain in the neck to some…

Rescorla was an expert disaster planner. He worried that the World Trade Center represented a major terrorist target, so he put Morgan Stanley employees through frequent, random evacuation drills.

When Rescorla’s evacuation drill orders came, everything stopped. Every last person in the company knew the evacuation routes, time limits, and contingency plans - would practice them. Although Morgan Stanley traded hundreds of millions of dollars a day through its World Trade Center offices, every employee had to participate in Rescorla’s evacuation drills.

Rescorla appointed team leaders and fire marshals for every floor. They underwent extra training. Their jobs were to make sure the different floors would follow his comprehensive 22-floor evacuation plan. Every visitor to Morgan Stanley would receive a proper safety briefing before conducting any business in the offices. Some folks found Rescorla’s drills annoying - some wanted to skip the interruptions and keep working.

The first plane hit Tower 1 at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. The Morgan Stanley offices were in Tower 2. Office workers felt the explosion and saw the damage; they could see people breaking out of windows and crawling out to escape the heat and flames. Some were jumping.

Shortly after impact, the Port Authority came across the buildings’ intercom system - the order was for everyone, in both towers, to stay put.

Rescorla was already out taking action  right according to plan. He ordered his security staff, floor leaders, and fire marshals to evacuate immediately. He picked up his walkie-talkie and bullhorn and commanded the operation, floor by floor. The Morgan Stanley evacuation plan went into full effect, and the people responded the moment the order came down. They had been drilled in exactly what to do.

Seventeen minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., the second plane hit Tower 2: the jolt knocked people off their feet, desks and file cabinets overturned, papers littered the floors, the power went out. Many sustained injuries in the stairwells and on the Morgan Stanley floors. The stress on everyone jumped from high to extreme. But the evacuation continued according to plan.

Rescorla knew everyone in the building was in serious trouble. His people were performing well, but he needed to maintain their focus. He didn’t want anyone freezing - so he picked up his bullhorn and began singing songs from his youth. They were the same songs he’d sung to his men back in Vietnam. They helped people keep fear at bay and focus on the task at hand. The songs worked just as well in the World Trade Center stairwells as they did during the war.

In between songs, Rescorla paused to call his wife. “Stop crying,” he told her, “I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”

By around 9:45, the evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s offices was nearly complete. But at the bottom, Rescorla turned around and started heading back up. A handful of people were unaccounted for - including members of his security staff.

Then, there were the firemen, police, and people from every other office in the building. Everyone knew Rescorla wouldn’t come out until every last person had been rescued.

Rick Rescorla, American hero, was last seen in the 10th floor stairwell, heading higher. Not long after that, at 9:59 a.m., Tower 2 collapsed.

Thirteen Morgan Stanley employees died on 9/11. This includes Rescorla and four of his security team. But the remaining 2,687 employees, plus 250 office visitors, survived. [**Note the time lapse to building collapse was 14 minutes**]

They survived in large part thanks to Rescorla and his knowledge of something called “negative panic.”

They survived because Rick Rescorla had a plan.

[From Dr David Elfrig’s

Doctor’s Protocal and Field Manual

, Agora Publishing, Investment Advisory]



: Morgan Stanley


: Ralph Ritchie, 2013



Story Type

: Insight, Values


For Story Students:

The Setting

: Sept 2011, World Trade Centre

The Complications

: Corporate staff do not appreciate safety training or fire drills

The Turning Point

: Rescoria's planning and practice regime was critically needed when the twin towers were struck by terrorist controlled planes on 9th September 2011

The Resolution

: Rescoria's training saved 2687 employees out of a total staff of 2700 in the tower that day.

The Point of the Story

: Rescoria's training saved 2687 employees out of a total staff of 2700 in the tower that day. The story demonstrates the values of protection and safety

How to use this story

: Any situation where customers need to be convinced about the importance of emergency response preparedness