Flying-Part 2: Choosing a Seat

Stepping back from the last “flying” post, I see I need to set the scene for this one. When buying my airline tickets, I pay a little extra to pick where I want to sit. It’s not a ton of money, but the outcome for me is the perfect seat. My routine pick? The very last window seat on a plane (either side). That seems a bit odd, especially today when it’s first in/last out now on planes: I board first and wait until everyone else is boarded later for the take-off. It also means that I am last off the plane as they exit now by rows with front seats exiting first. And, unfortunately, it also means experiencing turbulence in a brand-new way!

What that seat gains me, though, is pure magic. I get to watch the intricate interactions of aviation: the outside gate interaction in the abundance of non-aircraft vehicles buzzing around planes in their own little “streets,” grounds crews doing their thing, and pilot-to-plane checks, and pilot-to-aircraft marshaller exchanges (more about this in the next post) which happen before a flight, and then I get to experience the incredibly changing landscape of the ground below when we are aloft. 

Sometimes I also get to see my luggage travel up the conveyor belt and into the storage hold. What an amazing feeling knowing that your worldly goods are traveling with you and not going someplace else!

Most of us travelers are pretty oblivious to what the airports and airlines do to make sure that our travel is seamless, that safety is maintained (especially during Covid), that everyone gets where they want to go and that there are as few problems as possible. This seat at the very back of the plane allows me to feel the inner workings of the airlines and the airport. It is symbiotic in nature – landside and airside, TSA and food vendors, aloft and ground, tech and non-tech, electronic control and manual checkpoints. 

However, I find great comfort in each part of watching the scene unfold before we taxi from our gate or lift-off. Watching each event helps me understand that as much as I wish to be in control, others are in more control who’ve done this a million times. They’ve taken advanced training and work like clockwork to enable an on-time departure and sometimes even an early arrival if we depart late.

There is great beauty in this clockwork: each person and vehicle in the progression of getting the plane ready to depart belies the intricacies of their training and their interwoven partnerships. It is that way with the warp and weft of our lives and in business as well. Each piece of knowledge, every bad and good relationship we’ve had, every good and bad decision we’ve made, every type of lesson we’ve learned – they all lead us to that place where we try to infuse goodness into the lives of others if we’ve learned our lessons well. Suppose we haven’t learned our lessons so well, though – in that case, it feels as if we are doomed to relive those lessons again and again until there is an aha moment when we actually “get” it (G. Santayana, Reason in Common Sense, 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”). 

Yes, we can take a lesson from watching our docked planes and the people we see scurrying around or walking unhurriedly through their checks and balances to get us to our new location. Think about this: if you see someone scurrying doing their tasks (as I saw in my last flight with a very late mobile gas-up truck) (and how does that make you feel, hmm?), you can assume that something or someone made them late in attending to their duties; if you see someone unhurriedly going through their tasks, you can assume that they are right on-time or even early in their duties (and you should feel pretty comfy about that – hopefully anyway). The main event, though, is that the plane leaves on time, with all its passengers and luggage intact, that the tasks are completed without a hitch and aren’t half-done, and that the plane is ready for whatever weather lies up ahead. It’s clockwork at its best!

My focus on teaming and accelerating startup teams has taken that clockwork to a new level. I understand about good bosses and bad bosses – and what I learned from each of them; I can talk about myself when I was clueless as well as times of greater understanding; we discuss what made some colleagues wonderful as well as some who created havoc for themselves, their teammates and their companies (and I add myself into this latter mix BTW) – all because none of us understood very well that the clockwork of teams needed attention. None of us is greater than another – no CEO is greater than an employee whose first day is today – we just have different parts to play. 

The interconnecting cogs of teamwork make sense of the world and the great gear and spring sets we call “business.” Keeping our parts working well in the environment in which they were meant to work, as in what happens on the ground outside of a docked plane, is a thing of beauty. Watch the interactions the next time you fly – see if you can spot the different communication levels, the different jobs, the different people and the way they interact with you and each other. Can you see their teamwork? Can you see their clockwork? It should make you feel very safe.