Consider this situation:
A flight attendant is cleaning the fuselage (body) of an aircraft. Seat by seat he moves from the rear to the front. As he crosses the first row, he reaches the hallway to the front side doors. He cleans the doors and finds that in front of him is the cockpit of the aircraft. Although he is not supposed to enter the cockpit, he has always been attracted by the thousands of controls and countless number of meters on the dashboard of the cockpit. He looks to his left, then to right, looks behind and finds no one in sight. He knows if he gets caught he’d be in big trouble. Yet he finds his legs beginning to move towards the forbidden cockpit. He takes one step after another, his heartbeat rising with every step he takes towards the bright lights of the controls and the meters lying in front of him.
He enters the cockpit and looks at the empty seats with yearning eyes. These seats have been calling him since he was a boy. He puts his hand at the top of the seat, moves towards the front and rests his body on the seat of the pilot. Aah! A feeling of exhilaration takes him over. He plays with the controls in front of him for a while much the same way a small boy plays with a toy car at a shopping mall.
To his right he sees a box on which were written the words, “Open me and learn to fly!” He opens the box and finds a book in the box.
The cover of the book reads, “How to Ride a Plane Book One”. Interested by the title of the book, he opens the book, turns the pages and finds its contents. The book was a step by step guide for a novice to learn to fly the plane. He opens the chapter one of the book which says, ‘To turn on the Engines, press the Green button.’ He presses the Green button and the engines are on.
Excited, he moves to the next step which says, ‘To run the plane on the runway, push the throttle forward’. He pushes it forward and the plane begins to run on the runway at full speed. His adrenaline is already shooting up now. He goes to the book and reads the next step which says, ‘When the optimum speed is achieved, pull the yoke back to the desired pitch attitude such that your nose is in just above the horizon’. He does as it say and voila! The flight takes off! He’s flying the air plane!
This is undoubtedly the best moment of his life. He runs the plane here and there, enjoys the view from the sky, and feels what it is like to be a pilot.
After a while the thrill of flying the plane is replaced by the thoughts of his office and his pilot. At this point he thinks of landing the flight. He goes back to the book to know how to land. As he goes through the contents of the book, he doesn’t find any chapter on landing. He gets a little worried and flips the pages all the way to the end. The last page of the book says, ‘if you want to know more about flying and landing the plane, read “How to Ride a Plane Book Two”. He moves his eyes to the box only to find that there was no book two in the box. Someone had taken it away.
Despite having all the controls in his hand, the janitor who became the pilot now has no idea how to revert to being the janitor once again.
How to become the Janitor Once Again
And this is the question. Getting in to a project, a business, a job, an assignment, an education, a team is not difficult. The challenge is getting out of it.
George RR Martin in his books A Song of Ice and Fire series, by telling the story of Theon Greyjoy and his siege on Winterfell tells that it is easy to capture a castle. The challenge is in retaining it. It can also be said that while our government took off and flew the flight of demonetization in the country, the challenge became how to land it safely.
Learning how to fly the plane is easy. The question is how will you land it safely? And the answer to this question isn’t that easy after all. Why? Because most of the times before entering into any assignment, we have no clue how it is going to turn out and when and where, if at all, we will have to land.
Let’s look at this situation by going a little deeper.
Broadly speaking, our tasks may be divided into two categories:
- When we know how to land: Meaning we are in control of the means to achieve the desired end. In other words, we know how to end the task which we have begun. Driving back home, going for a movie are some such tasks where we know how to land and to get back should something happen.
- When we don’t know how to land: Meaning we are not in control of the means to achieve the desired end, i.e., we have no idea how to end the task which we have begun. Entering in to an education, a new job, starting a business are the tasks where the stakes are high and hence we have little idea of what we are going to do if things don’t run in our favour.
For these two types of tasks, we have the following choices:
- Fly: To take up the task, take the risk and move ahead.
- Don’t fly: Choose not to do the task.
Let’s draw a nice looking 2 by 2 to clarify these options.
So what’s this 2 by 2 all about?
To the left are the two choices that we have for any given task: Fly or Don’t Fly.
On the top are the two categories of tasks which we usually face in our lives: We know how to land, We don’t know how to land.
Now let’s look at the different components of the chart one by one.
- Fly, Know How to Land: These are the tasks where we know how to reach to the desired outcome, are generally of shorter duration of time and for these tasks we fly as there isn’t much risk involved.
- The task-type is mundane as these are ordinary things which we do in our daily lives.
- Examples would be going to bed in the night, brushing our teeth, studying for an exam, preparing a presentation et al.
- The keyword here is Need. We do these tasks because there is a need for them to be done.
- Fly, Don’t Know How to Land: These are the tasks where all we know is how (and probably when) to enter. Beyond entry, a lot of what’s going to happen is a surprise. This is primarily because the tasks are of longer duration and there are too many variables to keep the situations in control and hence the role of the Y factor assumes importance.
- The task-type is life changing as such tasks usually end up bringing about a significant change in our lives.
- Examples would be enrolling for a college for education, getting into a new job, a marriage, starting a new business et al.
- The keyword here is Essential. We enter into these tasks because these are essential to live a good life.
- Don’t Fly, Know How to Land: These are the tasks where we know how to reach the desired outcome and yet we don’t do them. Laziness takes us over and we just don’t do these shorter duration tasks.
- The task-type can at best be classified as boring. We don’t do them because we there is no enjoyment in doing them.
- Examples would be cleaning your table or your wardrobe, doing homework, waking up early in the morning for study or exercise et al.
- The keyword here is Laziness. Despite knowing how to do, we don’t do them because we don’t feel like, because laziness creeps in.
- Don’t Fly, Don’t Know How to Land: These are the tasks where we neither know how to accomplish them and nor we enter into them. We feel cautious and hence don’t take the risk of making a mistake and repenting later.
- The task-type is risky. These tasks are risky mainly because we don’t know how to end it, and hence not worth the effort.
- Examples would be opening your own for repair, taking medicine without consulting a doctor, becoming your own mechanic/electrician et al.
- The keyword here is Caution. Caution strikes and the judgment comes in not to do certain task because there is too much uncertainty lying ahead.
To Sum Up
The above framework covers majority of the things we do (and definitely not all of them) in a 2 by 2 format. There are situations when we become the janitor and fly the plane in front of us without knowing how to land. There are situations when despite knowing what to do we still don’t do it. There are thousands of situations which come in life where we either know how to start and finish or we don’t. For all those situations, we either choose to act or we just stay mum and not do anything.
At the same time, there may be many other situations as well where we go beyond the above 2 by 2 framework and do things despite knowing the risk. Adventure sports such as river rafting, going on long drives, ice skiing, skydiving and other adrenaline rush activities are definitely certain things we do where despite not knowing how to land, we still do them because of its thrilling.
Think-it-over: Have you ever flown a plane despite not knowing how to land it and hence ended up in trouble as a result? Well, now you see why! Risky endeavours are risky for a reason.
Next time you get in a situation where you have the option of flying a plane, think whether you will be able to land it or not. If the answer is no, well, there’s time for caution. And there’s nothing wrong in being a little cautious if it prevents getting out of unnecessary troubles of life. Time is a limited commodity after all. Best it is used for the best.