Many years ago, shortly after establishing my firm, I started taking flying lessons. How I came about wanting to become a pilot is a story unto itself. However, during the process of earning my license and various ratings, I developed and refined a thought process that has served me very well as a business manager.
Becoming a successful pilot requires a strong adherence to both structure and prioritization. The structure comes from working within the highly defined regulations and procedures mandated by the air traffic control system, the demands of flying safely, and the laws of physics. Prioritization requires the ability to focus on the most immediate mission-critical responsibilities, while remaining mindful of subsequent tasks; in the cockpit things can happen very quickly. The cost of violating these principles, structure and prioritization, can be quite significant.
My experience was that the mechanics of flying a single engine airplane on a clear, calm day was fairly easy to master, and most of the hours of flight training focused on skills not involving the physical control of an airplane. These hours were spent mastering the detection and effective management of system failures and other emergencies, flying at night and in poor weather conditions under instrument flight rules (IFR), situational awareness, and understanding how to safely and legally fly alongside other airplanes within the structure of the air traffic control system.
As with most subcultures, there are many adages within the world of aviation. One nugget that I’ve found particularly important is: “What are the three priorities when reacting to an emergency? Fly the plane. Fly the plane. Fly the plane.“ A second adage that also relates to flight safety is the sequencing of priorities in the cockpit: “Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.” Both offer outstanding advice for aviation safety, and, as I’ve come to realize, the managing of a business.
Running a business successfully is difficult. Perhaps this is not a particularly profound statement, but few will argue its veracity. Few also will argue that every business operates within a structured community of employment practices, regulations, suppliers, customers and competitors. Within these various aspects of business, the complete disregard of norms often comes at a price. And although the ability to “multitask” generally is viewed as a positive attribute, juggling multiple tasks does not substitute for the prioritization of those tasks requiring immediate attention.
I highly recommend taking flying for fun, and as a means of sharping business skills. During my many years of experience in both aviation and business, I’ve learned that developing and adhering to a structure, and prioritizing your responsibilities, greatly increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.