We can’t all fly jets, but we can put ourselves in that frame of mind!


When you look at a jet, three things stand out: the cockpit, the fuselage that houses the engine, and the wings. The smooth things off to the side that stays quiet and hardly gets a mention, want to try flying without them?  Not only do wings keep us airborne, but they also keep us steady at speed and through turbulence. As basic as they seem, we don’t get far without our wings, so we invest in making them strong. Strong wings are essential. Besides keeping you in the air, which is nice, they keep you steady when there’s turbulence. They also set boundaries for what you try out in the cockpit: you can’t do anything that the wings can’t handle. The whole machine may fall apart.

Standards we set in business for our processes and culture are like the wings of a jet. The training we undertake helps us understand how we meet these standards and the systems we use to access them.  A high-performance way of thinking allows you to rely on your wings, the simple certainty of your standards, so that you can take on complex uncertainties. Keep your mind free for the hard stuff. Albert Einstein was famous for saying, ‘Never memorize something that you can look up,’ when he couldn’t tell a colleague his own phone number.With all the time in the world, that was sound advice when you were living in the 1920s. You could tackle the hardest problem known to humanity, working by yourself, surrounded by the few reference books you need.

Whether or not we’re in a jet fighter, our reality today is a little different. We work in teams, under time pressure, with infinite data available. If we stopped to look everything up, we would slow down the team and most likely embarrass ourselves.


To understand how a company can best build and use standards, we need to make a few distinctions:

  • There are organizational standards that have to be memorized, and training is essential to help them sink in. Training equals habits, and new habits equal new behaviours. Essential for the continuous change we see in the world today.
  • There are organizational standards and knowledge that you can look up, as long as there’s some way to look them up in a hurry. This includes all the lessons learned and situational awareness that your company can draw on.
  • There are personal standards—habits and techniques—that we rely on individually, but that can’t interfere with the organizational standards.
  • There are personal initiative and creativity, all that goes on in the cockpit, which is what everything else is there to support.

High performance is built that way. We layer one set of abilities on top of the other and keep learning.


Standards ensure that each person on the team knows the process and relies on the others to know the process. They cut about two-thirds of the time needed for any discussion and two-thirds of the mission’s risks.

Working to standards gives a team enormous confidence in facing new situations. When those standards are known and trained across an organization, they are powerful. They don’t have to be complicated: their power comes from being able to rely on them, absolutely, any time. As fighter pilots, our common standards allow us to work with pilots from other squadrons, bases, and Air Forces if need be at a moment’s notice. We can trust the other pilots with our lives because they know the standards.

This commitment to standards is generally not as common in business as it is in the military, but that only makes it more powerful when it’s used. It can be used everyday in every business as a competitive advantage.

If you’re able to “Follow the bouncing ball” when it comes to your day to day, aka follow the procedures, then you improve the likelihood of quality innovation and meaningful engagement within your team!

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