Lift Off


At a conference recently, my hotel room afforded me a panoramic view of the runways at DFW airport.  One evening, in between functions, I watched the activity on those runways for about ten minutes, marveling at how effortlessly the immense machines appeared to climb through the sky and how gracefully they returned to ground.

What really struck me as I watched plane after plane engage in something akin to a gigantic waltz, is just how routine this dance has become.  Everyday, all day, at airports all over the world, it’s played out again and again.  A bit more than 100 years ago, what I was witnessing was barely conceivable.  Now, it’s totally normal.  Standing there, I imagined the glee Orville and Wilbur Wright would feel if they were in my shoes.

How is it that something so incredible can become commonplace?  The answer I find is quite simple in theory and enormously challenging in execution: it starts with one. The Wright brothers didn’t set out to fly a thousand planes in and out of many locations on that first-flight day in 1901.  They started with one.  Before that, even, they didn’t start by building a plane at all.  Fueled by the dream of the plane, they built a series of gliders over three years just to test and perfect their theories about wing control.  What they knew was the importance of integrity in the details.  If their dream was to become a scalable reality, the invention had to work reliably in all critical areas.  Get the prototype right and it can be replicated again and again.  This is something that engineers – and apparently bicycle shop owners – understand at their core.

Standing in that hotel room, my mind jumped inside the plane and scanned the thousands and thousands of parts housed inside the sleek shell.  Each was engineered to play an important role, and each must work…time after time.  The fact that all of those parts – big and small, individually and collectively – work so reliably is the reason the dance can go on.

Where do you see this same story?  The semiconductor, perhaps?  Franchise businesses?  The human body?  I think it’s just about everywhere people take for granted the very thing at which another toiled.  Hmm…as I think about it, that seems – at least at some level – like a pretty good definition of success.  And a couple things stand out to me as crucial to reaching that point: a dream worth chasing, and a commitment to make sure the most critical details work.

What are you building?  What will your dance look like?

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