It begins the moment you start to catch up with your airplane as a new and inexperienced pilot. At first, the aircraft is a quantity understood only on paper and your instructor watches you with eagle eyes, knowing you have absolutely no feel for what you’re about to undertake. It is awkward, and even the slowest training aircraft is faster than your brain can remember what to do next.
Slowly, you start to catch up. Your brain starts to associate the theory and checks you’ve learned with more coordinated muscle memory, and it starts to feel less like wrestling and more like a dance – even if you are still stepping on a few feet occasionally. Then comes that moment when your brain finally gets far enough ahead of the aircraft to coordinate its manoeuvring in advance. It all comes together in a prepared and aligned moment of flying – you are now “wearing” your aircraft.
That moment is earned, and somehow contractually “allowed” dependant on you continuously meeting the requirements to step up. The moment you stop fulfilling your end of the bargain, the consequences of your “unprofessionalism” could be dire – should your aircraft ever be allowed to get ahead of you again.
Such is the challenge of aviation. It is never the same day twice. Never the same conditions. Never the same contributing factors. Never the same landing. And we thrive on it. It challenges us every day to do what we do better than we did it yesterday. To continue to actively develop our skills – whether that’s our knowledge of the aircraft, our communication with our crew, the comfort and efficiency of the flight, or our feel for today’s particular set of conditions as we seek the perfect “greaser” landing.
The sporting world knows this mindset as “aggregate gains”. The concept is that if you find a way to do what you do just 1% better every day, by the end of a year you’ve made a 365% improvement. It becomes a personal challenge to live better. To elevate.
Recently, I’ve been blown away by the example that is the America’s Cup. It’s not a sport or competition that’s highlighted in my part of the world, and so I’ve had some strange looks lately regarding the fire it’s lit in me. Its trophy represents 170 years’ worth of world sporting history – predating even the Olympics – and the progression of the sport showcases innovation at a pace rarely seen anymore. What used to look like sailing, now looks more like flying – very literally. The boats used for the 36th America’s Cup just held in New Zealand requires the teams keep their vessels “flying” above the water with only their foils in the water. Even the technology used to depict the racing field and progression is next level. It’s been described as a “high-speed, high-tech chess game”.
Like aviation and the America’s Cup, the flight or race is the culmination of a thousand actions taken by a team of people in preparation for that outcome. A team of unseen people, taking unseen actions, all of which contribute to the success or failure of the ultimate accomplishment. A million points at which aggregate gains could add or subtract from the product.
For this reason, all of these disciplines MEASURE everything. Whether that measurement is time, weight, fuel used, energy required, heart rate, dollars, or any other metric – without measurement, there can be no comparison. Without comparison, there can be no intentional improvement. Without intentional improvement, your outcome is very literally left to chance. Hit and miss. Powered by luck.
There are numerous examples of where this attention to detail has elevated those willing to “indulge” it to new levels that their closest competitors just can’t reach. An important ingredient is the intention behind the effort which comes from a passionate desire and respect for elevating your discipline. Misplaced ego tends to wipe out lesser competitors early on in often-costly ways.
Making proper use of aggregate gains takes an invested interest in the outcome and the personal discipline to care. It takes the combined and inspired mindset of a whole team who are willing to aim at an agreed upon outcome because they believe in the contribution it will make. For this, you require a vision that is great enough to fire those people up. It requires feeling. It requires a healthy sense of pride in what you represent and are working towards. It takes a team of people who believe they are made better by the process alone.
Whilst this may sound overwhelming when you’re starting from a lesser space, it builds the same way our flying experience does. It builds with the satisfaction of catching up to what you’re trying to improve on, and finally pulling ahead of it. The first step is agreeing to challenge yourself. The second is figuring out what to measure so that you can compare your outcomes. The third is consistently assessing those measurements and outcomes whilst looking for small ways to make incremental gains, with the knowledge that every little counts towards the aggregate.
Challenge yourself. Measure everything.
by Christen Killick
March 22nd, 2021