Exposing Single-Loop Learning and the TFW Virus: A Case Study of the Columbia Accident Investigation by Laura Friesenborg

Like the cultures of many organizations, NASA's organizational culture during the space shuttle era was entrenched in the TFW virus, a system of dysfunctional behaviors driven by values and underlying assumptions adapted from industrial giants: Taylor, Fayol, and Weber. In 2003, the Columbia space shuttle was destroyed while re-entering the earth's atmosphere, resulting in the loss of human life. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board attributed this tragedy to NASA's dysfunctional organizational culture, which espoused the value of safety but approached work with "faster, better, cheaper" expectations and practices. By exploring the intersection of socio-economic theory and Argyris' theory of organizational dysfunction, this paper examines how NASA's culture perpetuated the TFW virus through a vicious cycle of single-loop learning, a dysfunction that was exposed, following the disaster, by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

Key Words: single-loop learning, TFW virus, organizational culture, Model I, socio-cognitive process, mental model, espoused values, underlying assumptions, Socio-Economic Approach to Management, Columbia space shuttle disaster, NASA culture.

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