Monday Musings (The Pilot and the Photographer)


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Hi friends,

Greetings from Austin!

First, some somewhat secretive news. We’re planning to launch a Write of Passage program for high schoolers. It’ll be inspired by our flagship program, but designed for kids who want to explore their interests and find friends who share their passions.

Since we’re still in the planning phase, we’re not ready to do a big and formal announcement just yet. That said, we’re gearing up to launch a beta test program in the next few months.

Our first cohort will have limited slots, and we’re opening it on a first-come, first-serve basis.

If you’re a parent and want to hear about enrollment first, click here.

Coolest Things I Learned This Week

The Photographer’s Folly

Let’s talk about the time I wasted a bunch of money on a photographer.

I’d flown people across the country for the biggest team retreat we’d ever had. With the entire team in town, we had to hire a photographer. We had big dreams of spicing up our hiring page with pristine photos that reflected the camaraderie of our company culture. Finally, this was my chance to hand the reigns to somebody skilled. Worth a professional, right?

In order to save some cash, I hired a friend of a friend. Worry kicked in from the second he showed up.

“How do you guys want to pose?” he asked.

“Ummmmm… aren’t we paying you to tell us?”

I’d never seen a photographer so timid. He didn’t take initiative. Good photographers take control of the situation, but he didn’t want to offend anybody. Chaos resulted. Everybody in the group had a different vision for the kinds of photos we wanted him to take, which stirred up all kinds of confusion. Before we knew it, our poses looked cheesier than a staged family photo.

That day, I learned that in the world of photography, knowing how to take a good photo is table stakes. Every photographer knows about balance and shadow and lighting. But good group photographers are also leaders. They can command a group and get people to pose in ways that feel weird to them, but look good on camera.

I received the photo album a few weeks after the shoot. Even the best photos were only meh. In retrospect, they would have been better if he’d taken charge.

— —

The Pilot’s Wisdom

Flying an airplane is similar.

The difference is that the stakes are higher when you’re approaching the speed of sound. For pilots, the ability to take charge can be a matter of life and death.

I once had an opportunity to fly in the cockpit of a jet. I’d grown up so obsessed with airplanes that my father and I would drive an hour to the airport on weekends to watch them land. Now, I got to see how a jet actually flies.

The weather got so extreme that there was lightning on our radar, and the rain was represented in fearful hues of orange and red. Just as we got clearance for takeoff, the rain started pouring and we got word of wind shears in the area (wind shears happen when the wind suddenly changes direction in a given area and can cause danger, especially at low altitudes).

Back when I was flying four-seater propeller planes, one of the best lessons my flight instructor taught me is that the air traffic controllers work for the pilots, and not the other way around. Good pilots take charge. They push back against dangerous commands. That day in the cockpit, I saw how an effective and assertive pilot thinks.

The exchange between the pilot and the controllers went something like this:

Control Tower: “You’re cleared for takeoff on runway 36R. Fly heading 010 after takeoff.”

My Pilot: “Roger that. But because of the wind shears, we’d like to fly a 040 heading.”

Control Tower: “Negative. Your flight plan is filed for a 010 heading.”

My Pilot: “Copy. Not going to do that though. We’ll either hold short of the runway and wait or fly a 040 heading.” Once he was done on the radio, my pilot chucked and said: “Let’s be patient. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old and bold pilots.”

One minute later, the control tower responded and said: “You’re cleared for takeoff. As requested, we’ll give you that 040 heading on departure.”

And so we departed and landed safely enough for me to tell this tale.
— —

The Takeaway

Our culture has become soft. Out of a fear of offending others, people are scared to direct others even when the situation calls for it.

No matter how styrofoam our culture has become, human nature doesn’t change. People need leaders. Good leaders take charge when the people around them need them to. Otherwise, groups descend into inaction — just like they did at my photography session.

Be like the pilot instead. Don’t be afraid to take control of the situation. Knowing the skills required for success is table stakes. Becoming excellent at what you do often requires taking charge of the situation.

Ask yourself: Where in your life are you acting like the photographer, and where do people need you to act like the pilot instead?

Photo of the Week

This how it all began for me. I snapped this photo during my sophomore year of college, back when I looked like a squid and served as Sports Director for a school television show called Elon Local News.

Every week, I was responsible for filming and reporting on all the varsity sports. Throughout the week, I had an all-access pass to videotape the games. Every Sunday, I’d step into the television studio to write 5 minutes of scripted live television about what’d happened during the previous week of varsity sports.

Though I no longer work in television, that job taught me to speak in public and write quickly, which I needed to write about the pilot and the photographer today!

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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