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The Mystery of Flight, and Managing Change

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”

~ Heraclitus (c. 500BC)

As a teenager, I was fascinated with military life and had a serious interest at different times of joining either the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy as an Engineer Officer.  This led to a wealth of fascinating experiences as a youngster that I wouldn’t otherwise have had chance to explore, including a “Sea Day” spent on board HMS Hermes (a Royal Navy Flagship Aircraft Carrier), day trips to various RAF stations, rifle shooting (carefully supervised) at shooting ranges and taking a short flight in a glider.

One of the things that fascinated me had to do with flight, how something heavier-than-air, like an aircraft, could stay in the sky.  It turns out that the physics is fairly straight-forward, although making it work well is a little more complicated.

It works a bit like a vacuum cleaner or a leaf sucker.  A vacuum cleaner works by making the air pressure above the surface to be cleaned, lower than the air pressure below it.  The air is being sucked upwards, and it carries anything in its path upwards too.  Tornadoes work in a similar manner!

The same thing happens with an aircraft wing – when air flows over a wing, the shape of the wing causes the air pressure above the wing to be lower than that below the wing, thus causing the wing, and the aircraft it’s attached to, to be sucked up into the air like dust from the floor or leaves from the driveway.  The plane needs thrust in the form of propellers or a jet engine to generate the forward motion, and it needs the wings to generate the lift.  

Lift is generated when the air travels over the wing’s surface, and the amount of lift depends on both the airspeed and the shape of the wing.  Finally, take-off occurs when the amount of lift generated is greater than the weight of the aircraft being lifted.  

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?” 

~ Erin Hanson

So what does this have to do with meetings and managing change?  Well, quite a lot actually.  Most changes start out with a dream or a vision of the destination.  Whether it’s a new business idea for an entrepreneur, a new corporate strategy for a company, or a new product for a business.

The thing is that most new ideas fail.  A few change initiatives are very successful, a few are outright disasters, and the rest stay somewhere between success and failure with most ending up on the lower end of the success scale.  According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months.  Why is that, and what does it have to do with aircraft?

“Dream: an inspiring image of the future that produces passion in people and turns ‘have-to’ into ‘want-to’.”

To bring lasting change about, to bring it into reality and for it to stay changed, transformation efforts need so much more than a dream.  They also need something more than a great deal of effort.  The reason that many change efforts fail is due to a lack of excitement.

Rather as a plane needs to have both the thrust to provide the forward motion, they also need the wings to generate the lift.  It’s the same with a new idea; a new idea needs the dream to produce the drive, and it needs the excitement to make the dream fly.  Either one on its own will be insufficient.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

~ Socrates

This excitement can come in many forms, and just what that looks like will depend greatly on the people involved.  Each stakeholder will find their motivation comes from a different place, and a key element of being able to introduce effective change lies in finding the things that will ignite that excitement for all of the key stakeholders.

One definition of leadership is about moving people form “here” to “there”, however it seems that very few people want to leave “here”, until “here” is unsustainable and “there” is sufficiently compelling.  

“Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone.”

~ Billy Cox

Using our flight analogy, the thrust means that there is a good reason to change, makes it worthwhile, and appeals to the logical part of the mind.  The lift means that there is a motive to change, makes it exciting, and appeals to the creative part of the mind.  Successful change has both thrust and lift, both a reason and a motive, and is both worthwhile and exciting.

Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly.

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

When we next encounter a need for change, then we need to think about and work on both aspects and recognise that without sufficient lift, no amount of thrust will get the dream to fly.

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.