The Clean Cockpit

What does "being a professional" mean when speaking of the time you spend doing your job?

I went to a "Civil Air Patrol" meeting a couple of years ago because of my interest in helping serve the community in some way. I had been in the Civil Air Patrol Youth Organization as a teen during a time when my father was flying "for fun" and we were learning about aviation.

During that meeting they brought up the topic of "A Clean Cockpit" and asked everyone if they knew what it meant. Some did, and some didn't. I certainly didn't.

"A Clean Cockpit" means that when you are flying, and especially on a mission, you keep ALL conversation limited to the task at hand, flying and whatever it is you are trying to do.

This means that ALL conversation be about flying. This means: no joking around, no talking about sports, or the opposite sex, or problems at home, or the boss, or politics, or anything thing else that has nothing to do with flying the plane efficiently and safely.

In other words, NO DISTRACTIONS!

I saw a little blurb on Facebook where Tom Hanks, the actor, was referring to a conversation he had with Sully after he saw the movie. Hanks said that Sully told him something he never knew before and that was that there is no conversation outside of flying the plane from the point of push back to being at the gate again. If there is a mishap and the FAA listens to the Blackbox recording of the flight and hears that you were talking about anything else, then that meant you weren't focused on doing your job.

Imagine that, people actually being "required" to focus on doing their job.

During my career, and actually all through my life, I have worked or participated in organizations with various levels of discipline. Nothing that I have done was ever critical in terms of life and death but still the principle applies. I always found that being in an atmosphere that was unfocused on doing what you were trying to do to be extremely annoying. When I got into a situation where the leadership required focus I found it to be extremely refreshing.

In the realm of musical pursuits it is very important that everyone be focused on the task at hand. There is nothing worse than being in a rehearsal where everyone is cutting up and "having a good time." In music the "having a good time" should come from doing the music, not telling jokes under your breath to the person sitting next to you. Especially as a conductor who has a limited time to prepare music it is particularly nerving which is why conductors always seem a bit on edge with people being not focused.

If you are in a 200 voice choir and people are messing around you'll get nothing done. This works also when you are working one on one with your teacher although often times the work a teacher does often borders on talk therapy.

However, the only way to really help someone is to help them focus on what they are doing, and not necessarily addressing issues outside of that.

Work is the answer to most problems. It takes you away from those life issues that tend to bug us so much. Work forces us to deal with reality and move the needle towards getting things done. The more you get things done, the better you feel. This is what accomplishment is. This is what success really is. Success is working on something till it is done, at least for the day, and doing it well because you focused on something real and weren't thinking about what to cook for dinner or whatever mundane issue that may be circling around in your mind.

When I got to my first full time job in a German theater in Bremerhaven, the "Oberspielleiter" or Opera director was very insistent on discipline during rehearsal. He called people out for "Privatisieren" during rehearsals, no matter if they were the main characters, the chorus, or the stagehands including the supernumeraries/extras. Never in any of those rehearsals did you have any clowning around. We often laughed and had a good time, but it was always within the realm of the rehearsal.

I loved that kind of discipline. It helped me focus and it made for what I call a "Professional" atmosphere. Pay Attention! Achtung! Listen!

The Way of the Wolf

In Jordan Belfort's book, "The Way of the Wolf", he talks about the "Straight Line" method of sales. As perverted as the movie described his past life as being, his business success was based on this philosophy and really it amounts to the same principle of a "Clean Cockpit". When doing business, talk about business. Rapport, he states isn't about finding common ground on unimportant things like the weather or sports, but rather finding common ground related to the business at hand.

The conversation should stay clean. You are trying to determine if the prospect is a potential customer before you try to sell them something. You want to guide the conversations asking to see if ....

  • a prospect is a candidate for your product or service
  • if a prospect needs or wants your product or service
  • what a prospect wants for their business or personal life
  • if a prospect can afford your product or service

Unless you are selling season tickets to the New York Yankees games talking about the New York Yankees isn't going to get you anywhere.

This is called being a professional. Focus on what you are doing.

When I look at my personal life, and my professional life at the moment, I realize that I am swimming around in an ocean of confusion. I'm trying to figure out what I am going "to do" for the rest of my life for my "work". Sometimes I spend so much time worried about finding "the thing" going forward I don't take care of the fundamentals of life.

The fundamentals of work in life are "Chores" that are required to keep the ship running smoothly. The area of "Chores" goes from things like keeping house, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, vacuuming, cleaning windows to keeping the books on money and adhering to a budget. "Chores" aren't about the big things, but the little things one has to do in life in order to live a good one.

If you consider a sailing ship, everyone on board has chores to do. Everyone is going to sail from point A to point B on the ship. That part the ship and the wind do. But the crew has to keep the ship clean, take care of the sails, keep the metal polished, paint the the ship to protect it from the elements, cooking so they can stay healthy on the trip. The captain and first mates all are concerned with navigation, the set of the sails, and seeing to it that the ship is kept ship shape.

The only thing that is going to bring that ship into harbor is when everyone is doing their job and focusing on their job while they are "on duty".

In life we have to know when we are "On duty" and "Off duty". We have to know when we are working and when we aren't.

I find that not knowing when it is time for a "Clean Cockpit" and when it isn't makes for a very unhappy existence.

Work is the answer to a happy life. The pursuit of happiness is in the quality of work you do and your ability to focus on that work, while you are working.

It is easier to rest when you are tired. You won't get stronger unless you work the muscles. So without work and focus you will never feel peaceful because there will always be something left undone weighing on your mind.

Keeping a "Clean Cockpit" in my personal life is something I have to focus on. Then I get things done, get them done right, and it will free up my mind to think about higher level stuff.