Management decoded at 30,000 feet from seat 21H: American pilot serving in the US Army
On a 26-hour long flight from India to the States I was seated next to an American pilot serving in Afghanistan employed with the US army. After spending 6 months, having lived and hopped from one US base to another within Afghanistan and having hung out with only navy seals and marines it was his defining moment to see such a varied crowd of people across nationalities, age and religion.
A good interview is one that is memorable. It allows you for a moment, to escape your reality by assuming the reality of another person. The ingredients that are thrown in include curiosity, a rapport and the right questions.
What is the one thing about Afghanistan that leaves an impression on you?
The contrast of culture. On one hand you have the Pashtuns with their 2000-year-old Pashtunwali honor code that requires that hospitality and protection must be offered to all visitors at the expense of life without expectation of favor. On the other hand there is the Taliban and the Al Qaeda who will not hesitate to take your life if you speak another dialect of the same language or shave your beard.
After serving in a place like Afghanistan has it reduced the human element in you or made you a lesser of a human being?
If anything, it has done quite the opposite. I have come to realize the importance of ‘NOW’ and have become more grateful towards today. Always have a good word on your mouth for anyone you meet. It has helped me save my life and it will help you save your business. A local I meet today might be the one to offer me protection tomorrow and a person you treat right today might be your future customer and word of mouth propagator tomorrow.
One advice you’d give to MBA students?
Learn the art of incentivizing. A couple of months ago, we were getting the maintenance of the plane in line to fly out marines from one US base to another in Afghanistan. I happened to be the co-pilot for that flight. Luckily it so happened that a few minutes prior to departure we noticed a flat tire on one of the wheels. On questioning the maintenance crew they replied, “We just made sure the wheel fit right.” They did not care whether the plane made it to the ground safely after take off or not, what they cared about was checking off the task on hand. From then on we developed a system wherein it was mandatory for the pilot to be a part of the maintenance crew. No pilot is going to pass the maintenance test without being fully assured that the plane he is about to fly will make it to land safely. From then on we have faced no maintenance problems. Remember, the key to correct results is in incentivizing and allocating responsibilities in the right manner.
What is the first thing you look to doing or seeing when the plane touches the ground?
Green grass and a night of sleep. After having flown back and forth over rugged bare mountains and the cold red desert just a glimpse of green grass and an undisturbed sleep without the noise of a fighter jet taking off would mean a lot.
Any last thoughts you’d like to leave our entrepreneurs with?
We recently had our engine changed. You would assume that the plane would automatically be functioning more efficiently from now on. To your surprise, the biggest issues faced by airplanes are after a part has been changed or maintenance on the plane has been done. This is due to the lack of confirming whether the new piece fits in with the old aircraft in the right way. In the same manner when you hire employees for a start up, the decisions to fire have to be taken within the initial month. Either the employee fits in or he doesn’t. If left to the employee to get comfortable over a period of time, you could be risking the effective functioning of your organization.
‘Which class are you going back to today?’ he asked.
‘Business and game theory’, I said.
‘Do you find that area of study interesting?’
‘Well, if not it wouldn’t be on my list of classes’
‘I assume that means you will be attentive and thoroughly focused?’
‘Of course’, I replied.
‘I hate to correct you but in that case you don’t like your class enough because if you did you would be impatient and fidgety in your seat trying to apply the practical aspects of this class to real life situations and thus it would impair your ability to concentrate but at the same time increase your yearning for knowledge of the subject matter.’
To that, well said, Captain Jordan.