Managing Resources


These days, if you use the initials “CRM” most folks in the business world will immediately think you are referring to “customer relationship management,” but in the world of aviation it initially stood for “crew resource management” and now “cockpit resource management.”  It has been said that the difference between the “Indians” (the pilots flying single-engine airplanes down low, nick-named such because they often flew Apaches, Seminoles and Tomahawks) and the “chiefs” (commercial pilots flying big jets up high) is that the “chiefs” had more resources at their disposal to manage.

But in this information age, even low-flying pilots (with sophisticated electronics) are inundated with “resources” to manage, which Oxford defines as “a stock of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.”

One of the postulates going around graduate school, allegedly based on some research somewhere, was that those among us who had the most organized filing system were the most likely to get the best grades.  After all, a filing system is nothing more than a way to organize the vast amount of information we were expected to learn.

And if words themselves could be considered resources (assets that can be drawn on), then getting them onto paper expeditiously can be a handy form of resource management, which is why I have often thought that the most valuable class I ever took in my life was my seventh grade typing class.  There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t use this form of resource management.

We all manage resources differently.   Not long after I started graduate school, with barely enough money to eat, I complained once to my sister that I was completely overwhelmed by details to be managed—“scutwork,” as it was called in those days.  She strongly suggested that I hire someone to do the thoughtless tasks that only detracted from the important things I needed to get done, such as reading and studying.   I thought her idea was completely absurd, given that I was living off of McDonald’s’ french fries.  But always drawn to absurd ideas, I found a way to eat less fries and hire someone at minimum wage to re-type my papers (those were the days when cut and paste meant literally to cut and paste), file articles, and run errands for me, and I have never looked back.   To me, a good manager is as good as his or her assistants.   And good assistants are those who, above all else, can manage their (and my) resources.

Entire books and book chapters are now written about cockpit resource management, and I suppose that “getting organized” has always been a popular concept for books and workshops.   I have an entire shelf of books about getting organized which, as opposed to many of the books on the other shelves, I have actually read.  Although I have long since given up the notion that one can ever actually “be organized”; that it is rather a lifelong journey than a destination–  those books are filled with valuable techniques, such as never touching the same piece of paper twice.  But here is what resource management often boils down to:  first, know what your resources are.   Know what is available to you and how to creatively obtain what isn’t.  Second: manage them.   Create the systems required to achieve the objective and follow them.  Third: evaluate them and change them in a circular fashion in order to function more effectively, as both the challenge itself and the environment around the challenge changes.   Those three elements seem like the proverbial no-brainer, but most of us often fail at one of these elements.

Those are the things that good pilots do well, as I suspect is true of all managers.  And, as I like to think, at the very least we are all managers of our own lives.

KISS Me You Fool

checklistSheila got out of bed on a bright, CAVU morning, checked her METARS via DUAT, saw that  there were no TFRs or noteworthy NOTAMS that might discourage her, dressed and made her way to the FBO.   Once in her airplane, she checked the ATIS, dialed up ATC, and was on her way.   Once in the air, she asked for VFR flight following, and navigated with her GPS from one VOR to another on a VICTOR airway, just for old times sake.  On her way to her destination, she kept her eyes glued to the PAPI as she gently descended to earth, but not before going through her final GUMPS.   And by the way, did I ever tell you the (true) story of the time I went NORDO on my way to SMX?

If you are a pilot, you understood every word I didn’t say.   Every trade has its shorthand.  Flying is replete with them.   Pilots live or die by them. The idea behind mnemonics– be they abbreviations, acronyms, or short phrases, is to make complex things simple.

One acronym everyone knows is KISS, which, in case you’re not one of the every, is short for “Keep it simple, stupid.”   That isn’t particularly aviation-related, although I have heard it more than a few times in that context.   KISS is what it is all about; if cleanliness is next to Godliness, then simplicity is next to cleanliness.

Complexity, of course, is merely a lot of simplicity all tangled up.   Understanding complex interactions is merely a matter of disentangling, disambiguating, or to use the popular word, deconstructing interactions so that we understand each component and how it builds on the previous one.   I could not have gotten through graduate school without a host of mnemonics– some of which were taught to me and some of which I made up myself.  Whenever anything seemed difficult to remember, I would construct some sort of abbreviation that made sense to me.  Ask me Freud’s psychosexual stages or the four subtypes of schizophrenia and I will tell you in a flash.   Go ahead, try me.

One form of mnemonic is the checklist.   Checklists are used religiously in aviation, and some believe that it is the procedure that has contributed most to the increase in aviation safety. (Atul Gawande writes about the importance of using checklists in surgery in “The Checklist Manifesto.”)   I have yet to need the checklist I have committed to memory for a major emergency, but it is designed to make sure that I not only do what I need to do, but that I do them in the right order.    The mnemonic is ABCDE, and it applies to all airplanes at all times.  If you are a pilot, you probably know it.   If not, you don’t need to.   If I had to remember to trim to the best airspeed (A), look for the best field (B), run through my systems to try to solve the problem (C for checklist), declare an emergency (D), and then, finally, grab the emergency landing checklist (E), all in exactly that order, I might get flustered.   But simply remembering ABCDE and applying each item in order makes it all simple, and perhaps with a little bit of luck or Divine intervention, that is one KISS that might save my life.