Sabotage: All in the Mind?

Sabotage: All in the Mind?

Disruption and delay at Gatwick Airport in December, followed by a Heathrow reprise in January, apparently caused by drones generated plenty of comment about those staples of detective thrillers, motive and opportunity.  With no publicised claims of responsibility for the Gatwick episode and some confusion about what actually happened, there is plenty of opportunity for creative thinking.

Let’s assume the drone sightings, the drones themselves and the threat they posed to aircraft were real, not imaginary. Amongst the possible motives, old-fashioned industrial sabotage has to feature. Disgruntled employees targeting current or former employers with physical or reputational acts of disruption and destruction have a long history. Amongst the motives discovered by psychologists, social scientists, investigators and judges, boredom, anger, wanting time off all featured quite frequently. Few acts of industrial sabotage were conventionally political. Few were anti-progress, aimed at derailing new ways of working, new technology. Instead, many were intensely personal and emotional, triggered by perceived slights, lack of promotion or appreciation, being disregarded or humiliated. Belittled employees wanted to show they had power and influence, too, however negative. Not quite Milton’s Lucifer, deciding it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven, but along the same lines.

This should give all managers pause for thought, especially change managers. Anyone disrupting and disturbing business as usual should think about emotional responses. No sign of physical sabotage but enough bureaucratic blocking to bring down the project. What are the potential drivers?

Once bitten, twice shy:

Someone previously committed enthusiastically to a project which was judged to be a failure, and will not make that mistake again.

Personal prejudice:

Highly unlikely to be stated, but something about you causes an unreasonable negative reaction.


Not actually against the project itself, but angry about something or someone else and you are the easiest, most accessible target.


Not my project but it should have been; not consulted, not included, but humiliated.


Genuine belief this will never work, be pointless, costly, and harmful.


If this project succeeds, fear of being diminished, losing status, being fired.

Like the drones over Gatwick, these fears and reactions may not be real, but they can be just as disruptive. Ask the passengers stuck on the ground when they wanted to be far, far away – real or imaginary, drones effectively sabotaged their plans.