Author: peterjmsp

Flying Life #1 – “Have an out”

One lesson good flight instructors teach their students (over and over) is that they should always “have an out.”

Having an out is knowing where to go for safety. Whether it’s a place to land, or getting to good weather to make landing better, or even landing somewhere that isn’t a runway if that’s the safest option.

“Having an out” doesn’t have to be a complex plan. You don’t need to take a lot of time to come up with it, but we should ALWAYS have an out. Flying in marginal weather? Which way and how away is good weather? Launching a new product with the business? What do you do if it doesn’t work? Joining a partnership? Do you have an exit plan? It doesn’t need to be complex, and can save an enormous amount of stress, and allow for confident and correct decision making when circumstances require it.


Opportunities abound

While contemplating, often it helps to have minor distraction. When I’m contemplating at my desk, sometimes the minor distraction of choice is the game “FreeCell.”

Even playing FreeCell is an opportunity to learn something. One of the things it’s teaching me now is about managing opportunities. There are strategies to the game; they mostly involve maximizing opportunities — if you increase the number of opportunities you have, the easier the game is to play. There is also a hidden lesson. Even if you can’t see the opportunities, if you plan a few steps ahead, and try not to go down dead ends — other opportunities almost always become apparent.

To have a plan doesn’t mean you have to plan for everything. It doesn’t mean you need to know the whole road. New opportunities will almost always appear -especially if you’re creating a welcoming environment for them.



Vacuum Failure

One of the many inconveniences we train pilots for is vacuum failure. Some of the aircraft instruments use vacuum “pressure” to make them operate. The instruments are gyro instruments, called the Attitude Indicator (or artificial horizon) and the Directional Gyro. One of those instruments tells the pilot which way is up, or what “attitude” the airplane is in, and the other tells the pilot which direction the airplane is pointing. When the only thing that can be seen out the windows is a shade of white, this is very important information.

The reason  that vacuum failure is such a problem isn’t that the pilot gets less information. It’s that the pilot is receiving slowly degrading information. Learning how to deal with slowly degrading information is something that we can all experience, and it’s something that usually ends badly. It often ends badly for pilots.

The pilot antidote for vacuum failure is to “cross check” the gyro instruments with other instruments. They always have multiple sources of information and check them frequently. If there are contradictory indications, the problem is isolated. The instruments providing the wrong information are not only ignored but covered. They are covered so we don’t accidentally look at them and for a second think they might be right. We’ve been trained to look in this place for specific information. Breaking ourselves of this training while doing other things is difficult. Once the source of bad information is covered, however, we might not even know what we are missing. We make do with the remaining sources, and complete our tasks.

  • Are you running your business, thinking you’re doing okay, and slowly, you’re getting fewer calls?
  • Do you have a relationship that has been slowly getting more strained or dissolving?
  • Have you been making decisions based on information from a particular source, and are you making more poor decisions?

These can be an indication that you have a condition of slow failure. Something that needs to be confronted. In a couple of future posts, I will clarify antidotes and the means of handling this condition.

Here’s an in flight video from YouTube, giving a taste of what happens during a vacuum failure.

Learning & Potential Perils of “Negative Transfer”

A friend recently invited me to help him with a project. I was pretty excited to help out because he had a big job that required very large tools. One of those days where you get to accomplish a couple of those items on the bucket list. “Okay if I start you out on the bulldozer?” was the question he asked me when I arrived. I was in for a day of good fun. He gave me the quick tour of the bulldozer. How to turn, how to stop, how to move the blade. One of the things he showed me is the “decelerator.” It’s in the same place as you’re used to having an accelerator in your car, but it does the opposite: It slows the engine down instead of speeding it up. I could make the bulldozer go okay. I pushed some dirt around,  and actually got some useful work done. The first part of the “learning curve” wasn’t so hard. He made piles of earth and gravel and I pushed them around to make them smoother than they were. (My efforts at making a perfect grade were poor, but it wasn’t bad at all for a first effort.) The thing that I had the most difficulty with was the decelerator. I knew what I wanted to do, but what I had learned previously got in the way of this. I was experiencing a “negative transfer of learning.” My brain kept processing it as an accelerator — after all, a pedal there in my experience did one thing only for decades of my life. If my foot wasn’t on it, I did fine. When I was changing directions,  I kept getting tangled on that darn thing, and I even allowed myself to feel a little dumb for that. Letting myself feel dumb wasn’t being fair, though.  I was new to something that was the opposite of something I was used to. Getting tangled up on something that is the opposite of what you’re used to is called “negative transfer of learning.” It can happen in many ways, and sometimes not directly.  If you play guitar, and switch to a different instrument where the strings are tuned in a different sequence, you have a dual case. You have positive learning transfer because you have learned to play a stringed instrument, and negative transfer because the tuning sequence is different. As a flight instructor, one of the most interesting things to get new students used to is taxiing the airplane on the ground. The “steering wheel” moved controls on the wings and would do nothing to change your direction on the ground. You move the nose wheel to change direction on the ground with your feet. There’s huge negative transfer of learning going on when doing this, because people are used to driving their cars, they turn with their hands. The strategy I found that worked the best? “Student. Sit on your hands. Good. Now take the plane over there. I have the throttle.” Once the student is used to steering with his feet, the hands can come out again, and the negative transfer problem is significantly diminished. There are many applications for this when in business or life: 1) Expectations. If you expect a new task be done perfectly or even well when it’s first tried, you’re being unfair. 2) There’s always a learning curve. 3) Sometimes the things we’ve learned before make it more difficult to learn the new task. 4) If old learning is getting in the way of the new learning, find a way to sit on your hands. If you’re training someone for a new task and they’re having a hard time of it, it doesn’t mean they’ll be incapable, it may mean they need extra time to make the new learning fit with their old learning. If they have learned well in the past, chances are very high, that they will do well with the new thing too. It may take some time, however. New methods — even if they’re improvements over old methods, often require a period of “unlearning” the previous method. Give new methods time — for yourself and for your people.

Hit like you mean it

I met with someone recently who is spearheading a community effort to get a “public official” removed from his post. There is very good cause for removal. The evidence goes back for years. The people who could remove this official have left him in place for all of those years. There may be reasons why they haven’t forced his removal, but at this point those reasons are not the concern of those who are insisting on the removal.

Of course they want to be decent and let the proper authorities deal with the situation quietly and effectively. If the situation changed without a great deal of turmoil that would be best. The question we were thinking on went back to how much pressure do you bring to bear on the organization. If it’s too little, it’s possible the situation won’t be dealt with, too much and there are hurt feelings all around.

After a couple of days of contemplation this reminded me of a time I took someone fishing. We would catch a fish, and there’s a little club on the boat to hit the fish to kill it. It’s an unpleasant job. A person can get accustomed to it though. It is the price of catching fish for your own table. This person I took fishing would hit the fish, but instead of a good whack, the fish was repeatedly tapped on the head. The desired outcome wasn’t pending, the fish was in far more pain that it would have been on receiving a good whack. “You’re hitting the fish to kill it.” I said. “Hit it like you mean it.” A good solid hit and the job is done. A bunch of small hits, and everyone is miserable. You don’t want to hit the fish, but you have to do it again, and the fish –if it has the faculties to know misery and enjoyment– isn’t enjoying it either.

So, when the “next steps” part of the discussion were about to happen with the public official. I recommended that they make it clear what the goals of their interaction were: this official must be removed from his position. If that doesn’t happen, they will hit it like they mean it. Instead of an issue that is dealt with quietly within the office, they will exert every effort required to make it happen. They will make it a community-wide discussion, lawyers might be called. Even that lawyer in town that few people like but who makes a huge stink about any issue he gets involved with. We mean it. There’s a time limit and we’re going to follow through.

The specifics don’t need to be mentioned. The fact that they have a plan, are confident of their plan and are determined to follow through with it will show through will give them a significant edge in their negotiations.

Handling a very talented but argumentative employee

We’re sure you’ve seen this person at least once. Hopefully, you have a couple of them working for you. You’re lucky if you have found one of those very talented, smart, productive people. He may come with some issues:  he’s always right – at least in his own mind.

Sometimes, they cause big problems: it would be okay if this person thought you were wrong and still cooperated, but you’re either reminded often about how wrong your decision was, or you hear about how wrong this person is reporting you were from a number of other people. This can become a significant problem, especially if it starts to undermine your position with other employees.

This kind of person is often one you want to have around, if perhaps a little quieter at times. Good at solving problems – and cares about the job. Although when you make get the feeling this person is a saboteur, things need to change.

Of course each situation is different, and you need to roll with it, but here are a few of the many suggestions we might make while reviewing your situation.

Appreciate these people! The source of some of the argumentative nature is that they passionately want the best decision to be made. They really care about doing their job and your company, or they wouldn’t argue. People who passionately advocate for something they think is better for you are on your side.

Make it a habit to listen. Seek their input often. You may find some keen insights here. You may learn things you didn’t know, or gain other useful insight into the problems you face. Those are positive outcomes.

Make it clear that the decisions you make aren’t necessarily going to be ultimately the best ones, but they are what you, as the manager in charge of the implementation can work with at the time. A decision isn’t a conclusion – it’s not the end of thinking, it’s what you’re going to do right now.

Develop a record of admitting when you are wrong. It’s difficult sometime, but if you can look at your employees when they give you good suggestions and say: “Let’s do that, that’s better than the idea I had.” Your employees will recognize that if they had convinced you that their idea was better you would have agreed. They know that you can’t always explain everything.

If you’re up against a deadline, or feel other time pressure you need people to act on your decision. If the argument is still happening, get this employee to write his argument down.  Suggest that when things slow down a bit, that they can write their recommendation down clearly and concisely. Very often, the act of writing itself creates more clarity. Details that were not apparent before become clear. If you ask for this, you must take the time to read it. Not doing so would cause some hard feelings, and you may learn something from it.


You, the manager, should work with the best solution you have at hand – and part of that solution’s quality of being “best” is how well you understand it.  Make this fact clear to all of your employees.

People want to be heard and appreciated for their contributions. If it’s perceived that you reject suggestions out of hand, you will attract employees who are drones, and who want to do only what they’re told to. As much trouble as the argumentative and brilliant employee can be, they’re the ones that will help you improve and grow your business the most.

Learn some specific argumentative techniques. There are methods that can be used to maximize the positive output of arguments while reducing the blood pressure increase.

If the situation is complex, or the problem is large and the employee very valuable, you may wish to hire a mediator, what you spend on this service you will get back in peace of mind, peace, and hopefully you will learn to harness this talent and make it work better for you.