A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon the Human Benchmark Reaction Time test. Of course, being the curious and competitive person I am, I jumped at the chance to stack myself against some number of other people who took the test.
The test, basically a reflex exam, had me click whenever the red screen turned green and measured the difference between the screen appearing and the click.
After a long less-than-a-minute passed, I had my result. It was a blazingly fast:
Or basically right along the average based off of their bell curve.
Long story short, that test means that I, like most people on the internet with way too much time on their hands, react normally under fast-changing situations.
But what about situations with more layers of complexity?
Ever-changing colors of the wind
Aviation is one of the fastest-changing industries in the world, right up there with electronics, defense, and fad diets.
As of the day I’m writing this, it took just 41,175.216 days (112 years, 8 months, 23 days, 5 hours, and 11 minutes) to get to this point in the history of aviation. In that time, we went from literally flying be the seats of our pants to landing on the moon, flying faster than the speed of sound, and deciding that supersonic flights were so uneconomical that it was better off to stick to the airplanes we’ve come to know and dread.
And as a pilot, faster speed and increasingly-trafficked airspace mean that wiggle rooms are shrinking to the size of Jim Gilmore’s electoral poll numbers.
When flying in those conditions, pilots must have the technical know-how to navigate both the complexities of the airspace and of their aircraft. More importantly, they need to be able to handle the exceptions to the norm.
I’ve written about Verne Jobst before. Mr. Jobst was a man with a 40-year career in aviation, beginning in 1951 with Capital Airlines before going to United in 1961 and finally retiring in 1991 as their most senior captain. Jobst served as the air show chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual fly-in from 1970 to 1991.
By all accounts, he know’s what he’s talking about. From 1951 to 1991, the American airspace system oversaw countless evolutions ranging from safety to navigation to increased crowding and the commoditizaition of flight.
He, more than anyone, has experienced so much change in his career and in the world. Which is why his statement rings true now more than ever:
Flexible is much too rigid. In aviation you have to be fluid.
More flexible than flexible allows
Flexible implies movable, but with a physical constraint: it’s a rubber band that can expand and twist until it snaps.
Fluidity, on the other hand, is like the air. Fluidity has no physical constraints because like water or a cat, it changes shape to fit its environment. Fluids never break themselves, though they may break whatever container they physically occupy.
For us, being fluid means being adaptable. It involves rolling with the punches and never being afraid to completely throw everything out and start afresh.
If flexibility is a willingness to bend to achieve other goals, fluidity is re-defining the goal and its importance as a whole.
Obviously, too much fluidity is useless. Someone who constantly throws out goals at the first sight of trouble is nothing short of spineless. But someone so rigid that they refuse to bend for anything–even reality–turns every situation and every difficulty into the classic paradox of a battle between an immovable object and an unstoppable force with disastrous results.
Leading is hard
To be more than an ideologue, a good leader must be willing and able to take the lessons learned from those failures and quickly apply them to their lives, attempts, and efforts. The onus lies on them to ensure that they not only change, but change quickly and constantly.
All of those 1,534,178 books available on Amazon about managing change have one fatal flaw: they all focus on grand concept of the change and never on the delicate balance of the act itself–on all of the minute course corrections that leaders have to execute to ensure that everything stays on track.
Fluidity is about those minute course corrections.
It can’t get more simple than that.
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Cover image by Biel Morro