30 May 2013

Aviate, navigate, communicate: it's not just for pilots.

Abe Lincoln apparently said "If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I'll spend the first four sharpening my axe". He was lucky. Trees just sit around, waiting for you to cut them down. Running a modern small business is more like flying a plane than carving up forests, and if you spend four hours doing nothing, you'll plow into a mountain.

If anything defines this role, it's the constant conflict between flying the plane - operating the systems you have, right now, to stay in the air - and building it. Even a few moments spent improving processes has a huge long-term payoff, like compound interest, but only if you can spare those moments without becoming a plane-shaped indentation in the landscape. Cash is altitude. Revenue is thrust. Everything is a tradeoff.

So that's how I order my to-do list. First, aviate: is there a business-critical event (like a foggy mountaintop) about to hit us? Then, navigate: are we headed the right way? Finally, communicate: who can I usefully train, so that they can do more of the first two?

Really, this is just another way of thinking about levels of abstraction. But I've heard the 'axe' line a few times, and I'm tired of it. The axeman knows how much time he has.