The best business advice I’ve ever been given came from my flight instructor.
“Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. …in that order.”
Success in the cockpit relies on managing bandwidth. It turns out, so does success in any business. As my friend Steve [@StephenForce] likes to say, flight training is all about bandwidth packing. Making a business work is no different.
I try to balance consuming ideas and immersion. Much of what I’ve consumed in the last couple of years has been business advice and counsel. Eighteen months ago I had no idea what a “cap table,” was or what the heck, “preferred stock,” meant. I immersed myself in the lingo as I went about the business of starting a business. I’ve come a long way through immersion.
As I consumed most everything I could get my hands on to help me through each stage of the project, it struck me how many aviation analogies you find in business books. (Second only to military analogies by my count.) Startups have, “runway,” which is calculated from a, “burn rate.” We, “launch,” products and we hope the business, “takes off.” You get the idea.
Many businesses fail because of distraction. Don’t believe the hype. Human beings are terrible at multitasking. Entrepreneurs are notoriously distracted people. (Just ask my team, they’ll tell you after the laughter subsides.) Prioritization of attention is a critical life skill for both flying and business. Fixation is the enemy of any good instrument scan, and it can completely blow up you calendar too. Managing a business like we manage a cockpit may not be for everyone, but here’s my idea. Cockpit discipline can be a guide for how to structure time and help you manage your bandwidth better.
AVIATE – (Operations, customer service, production, finance, etc.) The tasks that make a business a business are the foundation. When I see businesses disappointing people, it seems most often due to distraction from the basics. My primary flight instructor taught me long ago, “Never drop the airplane to fly the mic.” Aviating must come first. If you’re a retailer, you should first and foremost be good at selling stuff. If you’re a flight school, you should prioritize your focus on tasks that get people flying. If you make stuff, make it better. See what I mean? In my case, since launching OpenAirplane I’ve tried my level best to always make the operational tasks my priority. Personally, this kind of discipline has never been my strong suit. I’ve adapted.
NAVIGATE – (Product management, design, planning, strategy, etc.) In flying and in business, we should always be asking ourselves, “What’s next?” My friend Jason [@TFPofFLYING] likes to stress how important it is to always, “stay ahead of the airplane.” The same discipline can be applied to your work. In every business there are opportunities to look ahead within to improve experience, refine processes, expand or cut offering to make the business run better. Sometimes we get task saturated and get buried in the day to day operations, but unless there’s the discipline to regularly step back and turn the focus to planning, we’re plowing forward without a map.
I’m a student of the design of business. Our industry mostly evolved; very little around us was designed. Much of the industry doctrine in aviation isn’t a product of regulation or design; it’s a product of inertia. On the commercial side, look at the lowly boarding pass as an example. Good luck trying to make sense of those things. Recently someone actually took on a redesign of the boarding pass. The results will make you wonder what took so long.
COMMUNICATE – (Marketing, advertising, public relations, promotions, etc.) I’ve been in some sort of marketing role my entire career. I default to it. But others do not; I get that. Our industry has evolved to be exceedingly efficient at communicating to our own community. Beyond preaching to the converted, the industry for the most part is incompetent. Lack of communications is killing us. Go to Oshkosh, and you’ll be saturated by the message of how amazing aviation is. But imagine trying to penetrate the aviation community from the outside. You might as well be holding an iPhone in a camera store.
Communications is a muscle few aviation businesses take seriously. There is a huge market opportunity for those who invest in outreach. Props to the folks at Icon Aircraft [@ICONAircraft] for making it a priority to grow the pie, not just carve it up.
One of our Operators nailed it when he shrewdly observed, “Aviation expects excellence, but it seldom rewards it.” Turns out the mental pegboard for achieving the balance we need may already be right here.
I try my level best to attack each day with the discipline I learned in my primary flight training.
It’s helped me hack my productivity, and maybe it can help you too. That, and starting every day with the Shepard’s Prayer couldn’t hurt.