- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The Returning Bomber Paradox: a case of reframing the problem. More on Critical Thinking.

In WWII there was a curious episode of an injection of critical thinking, not entirely well publicised. Big bomber airplanes in the Allied camp were shot down more and more, and the lucky ones that returned to base did so with multiple bullet holes, all over the place in the fuselage.

It was obvious to people that this was a sign that the fuselage needed to be stronger, with more armour and protection. But heavier plates would not necessary help the performance of the airplane.

A Jewish mathematician who had fled from Hungary, Abraham Wald [1], was asked to look into the problem. I don’t know exactly why him. But the first thing he did was to sketch the distribution of the bullet holes in the returning planes. Doing so many times, he saw a pattern: the areas with more holes were wings, tail and the nose of the aircrafts, whilst others such as the cockpit and a section of the back were not. The answer was simple: these areas with the holes were the weak areas of the fuselage, the ones that needed the extra plates, the reinforcement, the thicker armour.


Wald turned the problem and the logic upside down. The reframed question now was not where the bullet holes were in the aircrafts that returned, but where they would be in the ones that didn’t. If areas of the fuselage needed reinforcement and the extra armour, it was not the ones with the holes – the aircrafts returned after all – but the ones with no holes at all such as the cockpit and part of the back. Presumably, this is why those aircraft did not come back.

Wald reframed and inverted the problem. It did not cost anything. Certainly at that time, sophisticated simulations that would have been the order of the day today, were not available.

Seeing the problem upside down, reframing and finding ‘the other side of the coin’, is a tool within a good Critical Thinking approach.

As in the previous Daily Thought, another case of  [2]Invert, always invert’ [3].


ACCELERATORS from The Chalfont Project


Renew, transform, re-invent the way you do things. Organizations today need to look at better ways, alternative and innovative ways to change the status quo. It’s not about being radical for the sake of it. Only if you try radical ways will you be in a better position to find your ‘fit for purpose’ goals.

As Michelangelo said: ‘The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark’. He was a radical in the way we talk about it.


At The Chalfont Project [4], we have crafted a series of short interventions called Accelerators [5]:

There may or may not be anything obviously wrong. Or maybe there is. But this is not a good enough state of affairs.

This high intensity, accelerated intervention takes leadership teams of all levels through a process of discovery and identification of both stumbling blocks and enablers will be followed by a clear ‘so-what’ and an action plan. It results in alignment around a well crafted Game Plan that reflects where they see the organization/team/department in the short to medium term and a detailed commitment to action that can be tracked.


In this short intervention we teach you and your team Critical Thinking Methods and Questions that will help you focus your time on the things that matter, make good and fair decisions and escape the dangers of human biases. We will also help you apply these methods to your everyday challenges in your organization.

You will learn about Strategy Acid tests and many Mind Fallacies, including various biases, and the practical Critical Thinking methods that you can use to address these.


These high impact, short interventions for senior teams, will:


Contact us [6] to find out more information or discuss how we can support your business.