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Cirrus SR 20 landing Oakland at night

Flying through clouds.

When I learned to fly an airplane there were two licenses I knew I had to acquire, VFR and IFR.

VFR means you are free to fly the skies except through certain airspaces and sky conditions. The most significant limitation, put simply, is to NEVER fly through a cloud, hence Visual Flight Rules (VFR). If you have ever driven into Tule fog in California’s San Joaquin Valley in the winter you can imagine the lack of visual references when flying. Nothing. No lane lines or a trucker’s tail lights to guide you along. If either of those ARE seen while flying, you will understand why many instructors tell VFR students “there are rocks in those clouds.” Add in some turbulence due to a change in temperature/condition and your mind/body begins throwing all kinds of inaccurate information where a climb feels like a descent, a right turn feels left and flying right-side-up feels downright upside-down.

VFR pilots are taught a few cursory hours of instrument flying in the event – which seems very difficult to avoid in a lifetime of VFR piloting – where you may have to rely on your instruments at some point. JFK Jr. found himself in perfectly legal VFR conditions but with absolutely no visual references due to a black, moonless night, over a black body of water with no lights on the horizon as a reference to keep him from spiraling down into Davey Jones locker. IFR certification and training is paramount in those times when VFR conditions begin to lose the visual flight references required for visual flight.

Learning to fly in IMC (instrument meteorologic conditions [clouds]) opens up a whole new sense of freedom and safety — especially because I live and fly in the San Francisco Bay Area — with its four months per year shrouded in the ubiquitous morning and afternoon marine layer.

In addition to flying to deliver Odyssey’s leadership and teambuilding programs and visit our Chico, CA office, flying has also been a powerful teacher and metaphor.

And so I offer:

Odyssey was almost grounded this past December after we lost two of four good employees who covered all things logistics. We have since been in a crash-course to bring our business into the future using the cloud in order to navigate our increasingly virtual reliance on logistics and planning.

We’ve been in the cloud a bit using CRM (Customer Relations Management System) for several years, but it’s taken a long time. We’ve had some frustrating failures of relying on the old-school techniques of paper files and logistical information held by individuals and stored in their own unique methods and locations which rapidly became inaccessible related to the extent we needed that information in virtual, separate geographical locations when those two people left in December.

Like flying under Visual Flight Rules where we could see the ground, it was easy to navigate the logistical process of managing hundreds of events we conducted all over the world every year because, for the most part, we were all connected “well-enough.” Because we had not been trained to enter the virtual cloud, it placed a significant strain on our processes – and relationships when two employees bailed out of the plane.

We have always trained companies on the three pillars of success: results, relationships and processes. So, it became glaringly obvious that an upgrade and training of new processes was long overdue and the strain we were feeling in the relationship pillar was in some parts due to living in a virtual world with non-virtual systems.

Thankfully, our clients didn’t realize that we had crash-landed a few times in pulling off the logistics for their events. They exclaimed that it felt perfectly glorious from their seat with the accolades they delivered upon a smooth touch-down. However, in the cockpit, we were a mess pulling out charts and paper flying around from literally all over the place to find the runway and land the thing.

Entering and embracing cloud technology was as important as the first time we bought laptops for Odyssey employees in the early 90’s. This was the beginning of a more transient way of getting work done. There are drawbacks to being so plugged in, so connected, so remote from each other in a physical sense. But so it must be — like the first time flying through clouds with my newly minted IFR rating — that we must trust the system and each other to use it so we can have a better time in the cockpit flying this plane called Odyssey all over the world.

Lain Railroad

Life is an Odyssey.

Today I delivered our Life Cycles program to a really great client. The CEO of their business, Barry, is perhaps the best leader I’ve seen in years. This makes them a great client because it’s so easy to bring his concepts to life because they are not complicated.

Barry’s approach is to develop his leaders by having them deliver the leadership modules. Usually, companies bring in subject matter experts, authors of the five traits, or 7 habits. Barry simply asks his leaders to talk about x,y,z, principles of leadership by having them share a personal story of how these show up.

I was humbled by the power and effectiveness of each of their stories as they brought up the concepts. Each of them had their Odyssey to share.

I felt over-classed by these genuine people, sharing their stories. I did not plan to talk about Lain when I started but it just came out – it’s one of the most personal things in my life right now.

If you’ve not been following Odyssey on Facebook, Lain, my business partner and best friend is a Cancer Survivor – cancer free we hope, as of two days ago after a radical removal of tumor, glands, lymph nodes and tonsils in his neck.

Sharing my story, and relating it to the leadership concept of ‘Being There’  (by the authors of FISH) engaged me on a whole new level.  The building of bicycles and having the children come in the room to the surprise of the participants was as powerful as I’ve ever seen – and delivered.

Barry’s ability to compel others to bring themselves fully to what they are doing got me. It got all of us. And I think it will make a difference for Lain, battling heroically to recover from his surgery.

Thank you Barry for inspiring us all.

Bill John