Is it Time for You to Fly the Plane Differently?

by Andy Wood on January 5, 2009

in Exploring the Possibilities, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Protecting Your Investment, Tense Truths

Tense Truth:  There are no solutions to problems that do not require some kind of change.  And there is no change that doesn’t create problems of its own.  The solution is not to avoid change or eliminate problems.  Rather, it is to anticipate future challenges with a solution-based mindset, even while we attack the problems of today.

John Miller, in his book, QBQ, The Question Behind the Question, tells the following story:

When Stacey was 12 years old, she and her father, a pilot, took off on a Sunday afternoon joyride in their single engine Cessna.  Not long into the flight, and about a mile up over Lake Michigan, the joy of their father-daughter adventure came to an abrupt halt.  Stacey’s father turned to her and in a calm, reassuring tone he said, “Honey, the engine has quit.  I’m going to need to fly the plane differently.”

Like Miller, I love the phrase, “fly the plane differently.”  It speaks of how problem solvers (read “leaders” here) approach changing conditions and frame crisis situations.  He didn’t look for somebody to blame, bail out of the plane, or give up on the laws of aerodynamics.  He also didn’t magnify the fear of the situation.  He didn’t try to fix the engine!  And most importantly, he didn’t stop flying.

He simply changed in response to a new set of information and a new horizon of challenges.

Tony Robbins on Problems

On a recent video blog, Tony Robbins said:

“Your only problem is that you think your problem is your problem.  If you didn’t have problems, you’d have nothing that stimulated you to grow.”

“Problems are our gifts,” Tony says.  “They lead to solutions, which create change, which creates more problems.”

When it comes to organizations or communities, this is where leadership comes in.  Leaders are the change agents.  Put those two ideas together, and here’s where you arrive:

If you aren’t CREATING PROBLEMS, by creating change and solving problems, you aren’t much of a leader.

Created any problems lately?

Seth Godin on Making Everything OK

There is an alternative, of course.  Using the pilot-in-crisis analogy, you could fly the plane exactly the same way and try to make everybody comfortable and happy on the way to your crash landing.

Yesterday Seth Godin asked,

Is everything okay?
Unless you work in a nuclear power plant, the answer is certainly no (and if you work there, I hope the answer is yes.)
No, everything is not okay. Not in a growing organization. Not if your company is making change happen, or dealing with customers. How could it be?
And yet, that’s what so many managers focus on. How to make everything okay.
We spend so much time smoothing things out, we lose the opportunity for change, or for texture or creativity.
Instead of working so hard to make everything okay, perhaps it is more helpful to work hard at living with a world that rarely is.

Sometimes Even the Problem Solvers Miss It

What if the pilot explained to Sarah that he was going to fly the plane differently, and proceeded to start filling up helium balloons?  Or opened the cockpit window and released a parachute?  Neither “solution,” of course, would have worked.  One used a solution to an old-school problem.  The other applied to the airplane what typically only works for individuals (though my brother-in-law actually owns a plane with its own parachute).

We make similar mistakes to problem-solving.  Sometimes we resort to the solutions or fights of previous generations, when in truth we’re dealing with completely different kinds of problems today.  That’s the mark of irrelevant leaders – taking what once was an innovative, daring stroke of change and turning it into the solution for every problem.  Real leaders and problem solvers face the challenges in front of them, not those behind them.

We also can be guilty of making a change in the same way a lot of people redecorate their houses.  Bored with the current look, we arrange a change just for the sake of a different set of scenery.  Hey, just because it’s different doesn’t mean you’re still flying the plane.

Maybe it’s time for a new look at your problems – your gifts.  It’s time to see them, not as threats that require smoothing out, but as opportunities to be a change agent – starting with your own life.  While you’re at it, see if you can anticipate what kind of future problems your current solutions will create.

Succeed at that, and you just may be a leader after all.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron@TheWisdomJournal January 5, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Sooo, how did he “fly the plane differently?”

Ron@TheWisdomJournals last blog post..The 12 Days of Christmas: Day Six – 6 Characteristics of a Great Employee

Andy Wood January 5, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I almost wrote about that, but the truth is, that wasn’t part of the story in Miller’s book. What I do know, and what I almost wrote about was that he went back to his training in how to manage an in-air crisis situation. What little I know about flight training says that pilot wannabes are required to stall an engine while in the air to know how to glide or restart the engine.

That reminds me of something not-so-famous said by Neil Armstrong after he landed on the moon. As he and Buzz Aldren were moonwalking, he exclaimed, “It’s just like practice!”

Wisdom and leadership, in my view, anticipates contingencies and problems and prepares rather than waits to react or panic. What are your thoughts?

Mama January 6, 2009 at 11:39 am

So, what’s the solution to flying the plane or facing other crisis? the idea of turning the engine off during filght training and learn to resart it in flight sounds good. Can we apply this to today’s financial crisis?

Mama January 6, 2009 at 11:41 am

Also, I’m trying to figure out how to come up with some money to invest in the Mutual funds while it is bottomed out. That would help in the future>>??>

Ron@TheWisdomJournal January 8, 2009 at 9:21 pm

I’d have to agree with you. Unfortunately, we tend to have too much panic, too much over-reacting, and not enough patience and faith.

—how do you “practice” walking on the moon? 🙂

Ron@TheWisdomJournals last blog post..10 Businesses You Can Start For Peanuts (or less!)

Andy Wood January 9, 2009 at 12:16 am

Hey, man, it’s NASA. They can do anything! They set up these simulations with low-gravity and also used underwater training to simulate it.

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