17 May We Can’t All Fly Jets, But We Can All Put Ourselves in That Frame of Mind
How to Put Yourself Into the Fighter Pilot Frame of Mind
When you look at a jet, three things stand out: the cockpit, the fuselage that houses the engine, and the wings. The smooth things off to the side that stay quiet and hardly get a mention, want to try flying without them? Not only do wings keep us airborne, they keep us steady at speed and through turbulence. As basic as they seem, we don’t get far without our wings so we invest to make them strong. Strong wings are essential. Apart from keeping you in the air, which is nice, they keep you steady when there’s turbulence. They also set boundaries for what you try out in the cockpit: you can’t do anything that the wings can’t handle. The whole machine may fall apart.
The wings of a jet are like the standards we set in business for our processes and culture, the training we gone to meet these standards, and the systems we use to access them. A high performance way of thinking allows you to rely on your wings, the simple certainty of your standards, so you can take on complex uncertainties. Keep your mind free for the hard stuff. Albert Einstein was famous for saying,‘Never memorize something that you can look up,’ when he couldn’t tell a colleague his own phone number. That was sound advice when you were living in the 1920’s, tackling the hardest problem known to mankind, working by yourself, surrounded by the few reference books you need, with all the time in the world.
Whether or not we’re in a jet fighter, our reality today is a little different. We work in teams, under time pressure, with infinite data available. If we stopped to look everything up, we would slow down the team, and most likely embarrass ourselves.
The layers of standards and learning
To understand how a company can best build and use standards, we need to make a few distinctions:
- There are organizational standards that have to be memorized, and training is essential to help them sink in. Training equals habits and new habits equal new behaviours. Essential for the continuous change we see in the world today.
- There are organizational standards and knowledge that you can look up, as long as there’s some way to look them up in a hurry. This includes all the
lessons learned and situational awareness that your company can draw on.
- There are personal standards—habits and techniques—that we rely on individually,but that can’t interfere with the organizational standards.
- There is personal initiative and creativity, all that goes on in the cockpit, which is what everything else is there to support.
That’s how high performance is built. We layer one set of abilities on top of the other, and keep learning.
Why have standards?
Standards ensure that each person on the team knows the process, and relies on the others to also know the process. They cut about two-thirds of the time needed for any discussion, and two-thirds of the risks from any mission.
Working to standards gives a team enormous confidence in facing new situations. When those standards are known and trained across an organization, they are powerful. They don’t have to be complicated: their power comes from being able to rely on them, absolutely, any time. As fighter pilots, our common standards allow us to work with pilots from other squadrons, bases, and air forces, if need be at a moment’s notice. We can trust the other pilots with our lives, because they know the standards.
This commitment to standards is generally not as common in business as it is in the military,but that only makes it more powerful when it’s used. It is a competitive advantage that can be used everyday, in every business.