At The Controls
The hand of the young businessman reluctantly reached toward the mouse. After he swirled it a few times to synchronize his mind with the cursor, he looked at me for the flight coordinates. We were ready for a new adventure!
Yesterday, he was sitting behind my desk in my executive chair and I was standing beside him, to be his guide. Waiting for us was an unexplored frontier, which I wanted us to look at together. As the CFO of a family business for the last couple of years, he has done everything asked of him, plus some. Rather than more words of instruction, I wanted him to have the experience of sitting at Command Central.
Since we learn by doing and the fun is in the doing, the purpose of our mission was to have fun learning!
A conversation with a businesswoman, earlier this week, is also a facet of this Thought du Jour. Recently, she enjoyed the opportunity to experience an aerial tour of a project, on which she is working, as a passenger aboard a large corporate helicopter. Part of our conversation included a discussion of best practices for bringing the next generation into an existing, and very successful, business.
How can we expect young entrepreneurs to captain the large ships of industry, when they seldom have the opportunity to sit at the controls?! That helicopter pilot learned the basics by flying small machines and, eventually, worked his way up to mastering the big ones. Guaranteed, he did not learn artistry of his craft by someone telling him how it is done!
Classrooms are not the same as Boardrooms; Professors are not the same as seasoned Veterans; and, Talking about something is not the same as Doing.
Young pilots, in training, sit at the controls. Next to them, in the co-pilot seat, is the instructor. The primary job of this instructor is to engage in a wonderful combination of activites which will build student confidence and scare them silly. The instructor will: by their words, tell their students what they need to know; by their actions, show them how to do it. Then, the real education begins, as the student learns by doing.
Typically, as in everything, the first few attempts are ugly. Improvement is made by practice, until the student thinks they know it all. At that moment of pride, their instructor makes a new believer out of them; by introducing an element of surprise. In the world of business, that is commonly referred to as a Variable.
For instance, a “stall” in the air is similar to one in business. The first time it happens to a young pilot and the new entrepreneur, hearts stop and breathing ceases. Same reaction: “Now, What?!” Same response: “Nose down, throttle up, regain composure and let the universal laws of physics and finances be your friend.”
Speaking of which, another conversation this week yielded, yet, one more gem of wisdom related to the importance of “hands on” education and experience. As a young man, my friend worked as a horse wrangler on a large ranch, which operated primarily for the benefit of encouraging and empowering adolescents.
The young people who came as guests, all, had one thing in common: they suffered from the insecurities of never having accomplished anything on their own. For six weeks on the ranch, they had a project and a choice. The project: a horse; their very own horse. The choice: work to connect with the horse as a friend; or, endure the relationship with the horse as an enemy.
As parents, we think training wheels on bikes are helpful and cute. Believing, they are a facet of building confidence. Generally, they are a crutch. The real joy on faces, only, comes after we provide the freedom to fail. Oh, sure, there are the looks of pure terror as our young people wobble, and crash. Yet, there are no words for the exhilaration of finding that first balance, on their own, and the accomplishments, which follow!
Later, our teenage student drivers discover a similar feeling, in the course of earning a license. The foundational principles learned in the classroom are important; what is practiced behind the wheel with an instructor, even, more so.
As we transition from the stories above into the world of business and finance, these same principles have merit. For instance: Spending an allowance is different from Budgeting a net employee paycheck, or business profit. The first is analogous to training wheels given to us; the second is the reality of producing results with our own hands on the yoke, wheel, or mouse.
As my young student clicked the last window closed and leaned back in my chair, our conversation turned to his frustration with some of his peers, who fail to consider the effect of key universal financial principles. When I asked him how he learned them, his response was, “You taught me.”
What began as a routine training exercise ended with a glimpse of the heavens; my spirit soared.
Let us, always, encourage our young people to fly!