6 lessons from building a plane

From as early as I can remember I have been fascinated by flight. Whenever a bird flew past, I would watch it - distracted from whatever was in front of me. If a plane flew by it was even more engaging. Nothing much has changed. There's a photo somewhere of me in a posed bridal party photo. Everyone is looking at the camera. I'm gazing up at a passing aircraft that caught my attention just as the shutter fired.

Fairly early in my childhood the idea that I could build a plane was inserted in my head. A close family friend was building a small plane in his shed. Whenever we visited Perth I would spend time checking it out - fascinated by the structure and the possibilities. Building my own became a perpetual dream.

Now I'm about 5 years into the process of building. It's become a metaphor for many other aspects of business and life in general. Here are some of the things I have learnt.

  1. Get clear on the vision - While I was keen on the idea, there was never the energy to actually do it. Some dreams are like that, just fanciful ideas that will never see reality. Others need to take form. The turning point for me was seeing Martin Hone's beautiful Spacewalker II RR featured as the cover story in a magazine. Marty's plane is the first of it's kind in the world. It's a work of art. I showed it to my wife Donna. "This is what I want to build!" For the first time the vision had crystallised from a vague "I'll build something someday". I had a clear and compelling picture of what the dream looked like in reality.
  2. Get started - I'd been talking about building for 10 years. I'd even purchased plans and started on another less inspiring design. Once I found the Spacewalker, building it became an almost daily conversation. Donna gave me a great perspective on day when she said "You could talk about this for another 10 years, or you could start and be flying by then". Everything any human has created has started with an idea. Without action that's where they stay. Once you are clear on the vision, don't delay.
  3. Gather support - Few large and serious projects are a solo effort. While I am doing all the work of building myself, I am surrounded by a team of people who understand and support the vision. Donna enthusiastically allows me the time and expense. There's technical advisers who have build planes and can guide the process when I am out of my depth. They give comfort that things are being done to a standard that is high enough to commit the finished product to the skies. There's a group of 4 current builders internationally. We communicate regularly about our challenges, solutions and ideas. And Marty - the original inspiration is always available for a pep talk, advice, information from a flying version, and a flight or two! Find the people who can inspire the dream. Inspire literally means to 'breathe life into'. Who can do that for your big dreams to help bring them to fruition. Find them, invest in the relationships, and enjoy their encouragement and support.
  4. Set it up for success - The plane is in my shed at the back of my house. This has been a major factor in the success to date. Like many audacious projects, most aircraft builds get started but never completed. Having it at home means I can invest as few as 10 minutes and get something practically done. If it was even a 15 minute drive away, it would be much harder to find the time or motivation to make it happen. The shed is set up with the tools I need, so any time I spend there is productive. Work out what's going to get in the way and remove as many hurdles as possible. Work out what will help, and stack as many of those in your favour as you can.
  5. Show up regularly - There are times when building is interesting, inspiring and motivating. There's also times when it is tedious. Sometimes it's downright terrifying. Often I'm confronted with a set of tasks I have no idea how to complete. Over the 5 years theres been several periods when it would have been easy to just stop, and never start again. The discipline of showing up and getting things done means that even on the difficult days, a plane continues to emerge. For any large, worthwhile endeavour, it will be impossible to have all the answers. Keep moving, keep learning, keep doing. It will take shape.
  6. Areas of focus - I sometimes set goals for the completion of particular parts. It rarely works to the timeframe I set. Somethings are quicker and some much slower than I anticipate. I simply don't know enough to accurately estimate the time. It's been more useful to have an area of focus. I fix my attention on a particular aspect of the build and just keep following through on that. I'll say more about areas of focus in a future edition.

Whatever you are dreaming of doing - get into it! If you want encouragement, or help getting clear on the vision, get in touch. I love sharing people's big ideas and seeing them come to fruition.