The Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Embracing Disruption


AM6YMA F/A-18 Hornet jet fighter pilots atop aircraft, RAAF Base, Tindal, nr Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia

In the midst of the post-global COVID-19 pandemic, our world finds itself engulfed in unprecedented chaos, testing our resilience and adaptability. Yet, for me, this is simply another episode of disruption in a life filled with challenges… and opportunity! As fighter pilots, we’ve honed a mindset that treats disruption as just another day on the field, or in the office.

Life is never simple for any of us. We navigate intricate relationships, harbor dreams and ambitions, and often encounter external factors beyond our control that threaten to derail our goals. If we think about it, why do we view change as “change”, when really, it’s just a normal part of life, the same way breakfast is!

It’s during times of disruption that everything becomes murky, and shades of gray prevail. We often hear people refer to uncertain situations as “gray areas,” where the boundaries of decision-making blur.

Now, picture a fighter pilot thriving in such an environment. We are trained to make split-second decisions, weighing risks and consequences, while pushing ourselves to the extremes of the black-and-white spectrum. There is no room for ambiguity or complexity when lives are at stake. And this approach can be applied beyond the cockpit. The way we strategize, communicate, and execute allows us to bypass the realm of excuses and take personal responsibility for the outcome.

There’s something that we fighter pilots call the “excuse matrix.” It’s a collection of preconceived notions and justifications we all tend to fall back on when things happen to us outside of our control. You might hear statements like, “I could have closed that deal if not for COVID.” However, even within the realm of COVID and today, there are businesses experiencing growth rates of 200%, 300%, or even 400%.

Disruption presents opportunities in abundance. It’s a catalyst for innovation, forcing us to reevaluate our strategies and approach challenges from new angles. It demands that we adapt, adjust, and embrace change, rather than succumbing to the pressures of the status quo. The key lies in recognizing that within the chaos, there is a hidden order waiting to be unraveled—a path to success forged by those who refuse to be constrained by the circumstances.

The true challenge lies in following a set of straightforward steps that lead to clarity, creating a clear distinction between black and white in this sea of gray. As an experienced fighter pilot, I’ve learned the power of planning meticulously. Every mission requires a comprehensive strategy, considering various contingencies and adjusting on the fly. Similarly, in the business world, the ability to anticipate challenges and devise adaptable plans is paramount.

Effective communication is another crucial aspect. In the cockpit, concise and precise communication can mean the difference between success and failure. Transmitting vital information and receiving feedback promptly ensures a synchronized effort towards a common goal. In the business arena, open and transparent communication fosters collaboration, aligns teams, and enhances problem-solving capabilities.

Yet, beyond planning and communication, it is the personal responsibility we bear that sets us apart. Fighter pilots understand that excuses have no place in achieving objectives. We take ownership of our actions, accepting that the outcome ultimately rests on our shoulders. It’s this mindset that propels us to find creative solutions, adapt in real time, and persevere in the face of adversity.

In the face of disruption, embrace your inner fighter pilot. Acknowledge that the world is complex, relationships are intricate, and unforeseen circumstances arise. But remember that it is within these moments that you have the chance to rise above the chaos and seize the opportunities hidden within. By planning meticulously, communicating effectively, and taking personal accountability for your actions, you can navigate through the fog of disruption and emerge victorious on the other side.

So, as the world grapples with the challenges of COVID-19, take a page from the fighter pilot’s playbook. Embrace disruption as an opportunity to test your mettle, innovate, and soar to new heights. Own the disruption, and let it become the catalyst for your personal and professional growth. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it but to enable it.” Let disruption be the launching pad for your future success.