What I wish the business world knew from building model airplanes

There is something relaxing about building aircraft wings from balsa wood. And for the last few two summers, I have taken a balsa wood model airplane kit on the family vacation to Maine to build in the spare moments between visits to the lake, campfires, and playing with my kids. This year, I built a "Moth" -- which according to some reviews is one of the best flying rubber-powered model kits ever designed!

When building models like this, patience is the best virtue and arguably the reason I build them. I want to be more patient. I want to take a break from the fast-world of business, technology, working with data platforms, and just focus on paced, incremental, intentional progress towards a goal. This applies is all aspects of construction, and especially to the adhesives used in the assembly.

Modern chemical engineering has given us epoxy, plastic cement, and cyanoacrylate (CA) glues which cure in seconds to minutes meaning that assemblies can be built quickly. For these balsa models, it's better to use the slow-cure glues like Elmer's white glue or traditional wood glue. It seems counter-intuitive, but these older glues give you a better bond in the balsa wood because they penetrate the balsa wood structure and seep into all the holes to "grab onto" the parts. And knowing that it takes several hours to cure, you build the model with jigs and pins to hold it in place as it cures. And since you are using jigs, you take the time to align the parts perfectly. And perfectly aligned parts yield a better flying airplane. So you build a few sections at a time, jig them up, let the glue dry for a few hours, then come back and build some more. Build-wait-build-wait, etc.

I only wish the business world could be so paced, intentional, and focused on outcomes.

In business, we equate speed with quality. We assume that activity = progress. We overlook and under-measure how time spent quickly putting thoughts on slides to brief the client actually moves the needle for their business functions. In the rush to share the idea we loose the importance of comprehension, we forget the importance of adhesion, and we disregard the structural-fit-test needed to achieve the intended result.

I wish the business world could be a bit more like building airplanes.

As a person with both a technical and a business background, I often get placed on engagements that need to leverage both skills. And in those engagements, we are often needing to solve complex problems, negotiate with stakeholders on resolution plans, develop a plan for how to get out of XYZ. Often time is of the essence. And because I work for a global consulting firm, clients assume that we have already addressed that answer "someplace else" and expect the resolution plan to be developed in minutes, hours, just a few days -- all to solve a problem that might be months or years in the making. I cannot manufacture results instantly. Frameworks, approaches, solutions, and plans take time to develop -- something treated as a commodity in business and not well parceled out with patience for creating those intentional, well-thought-out, and likely-to-succeed plans. Airplane designers have CAD, wind-tunnels, scale models, and other tools to test out their ideas to see if they will fly. I have PowerPoint and everyone's aggregated feedback. Different tools, different problems, but both require due-diligence, intentional design, and patience in approach to focus on the outcome.

In reflection, summarizing the thoughts above, business should realize:

  1. Done Quickly doesn't equal Done with Quality
  2. Patience in approach tends to lead to better outcomes
  3. Small decisions on how to do XYZ can have big implications on the eventual outcome of the initiative
  4. Having a stable reference-frame yields truer results
  5. Comprehension of approach, adherence to the plan, and intentional test fits are all crucial activities to yield great results
  6. Building to a plan at a balanced pace doesn't take away from the joy of flying!

For those of you who made it this far, here's the proof of my summer patience. A nearly one minute maiden flight at Larz Anderson in Brookline -- resulting in a plane that exceeded the boundary of the field and landed in a tall spruce tree about 20 feet up. Luckily, we got the plane down with a mini football with minimal damage. Unluckily, the football has sacrificed itself for the plane and remains in the spruce tree to this day! :P