When in a state of panic, it’s reassuring to hear a calm yet firm, guiding voice. In this case, it was the instructor who sat to my right in the cockpit. “Stop listening to your head and read the instruments”.

A typical light aircraft ‘dashboard’.

I was flying a light aircraft at 3,000 feet above the featureless and flat Texas countryside but was ‘under the hood’, so I couldn’t see a damn thing. This is an exercise student pilots do to simulate flying in poor visibility, and I was making a real balls-up of it. My head kept telling me that the plane was in a gradual right turn (my instructor said to me that this is caused by the engine’s torque confusing the brain), which I kept correcting, even though the instruments showed straight and level flight. It took a lot of concentration to overcome my thinking and not put in these unnecessary adjustments. This event came back to me last week after a conversation with a client. 

Things were manically busy.

With the factory operating at full tilt, my client felt understandably anxious about the potential for problems. It was at a point where he was considering cancelling his plans for a long weekend away, in case something went wrong or the wheels came off.

After our conversation, I bumped into one of his operations managers. He confirmed that it was indeed busy, but he was much more relaxed about it. 

Data was showing that they were coping well. 

The operations manager’s opinion was that the business was as well-positioned as it had ever been to manage through this busy period.

It is possible to build most companies up to multi-million turnover positions using intuition, or gut feel, particularly if the people in charge have been around for an extended period.

However, there is a tipping point at which there are too many people, customers, transactions and moving parts to track reliably. At this point, we need data to track what is going on. 

This shift can present a big challenge for many people.

Information becomes critical, not as a replacement for your intuition; but rather as a means of calibrating and training it. But what is intuition itself?

The simplest description I have is that our brains formulate answers at laser-fast speed by comparing the current situation with the highly complex and detailed model we’ve built up throughout our lives. It does this faster than our conscious brains can cope with and expresses the results in ‘felt’ experiences that we refer to as gut feel or intuition.

This doesn’t mean it is always right, particularly when exposed to fast-changing or unfamiliar environments (like the cockpit of a student aircraft or a dynamic, fast-growing company).

This is where the company dashboard, just like the aircraft instrument panel, becomes invaluable.

It challenges/updates our understanding of the commercial environment we are working in, allowing us to fine-tune our ideas, decisions and actions.

At any point in time, we need to know the answer to a few simple questions:

· Is our performance getting better or worse, and why is this?

· Are we exactly where we need, and want, to be?

· How are we doing compared to how we think we should be doing?

· Do we have everything we need to keep working effectively?

So what is on your company dashboard? What would you need to know to experience a sense of feeling in complete control of what is going on?

Within just a few hours of ‘under the hood’ flying, my brain had adjusted and re-calibrated itself to stop me from correcting the imaginary ‘pull’ to the right. The instructor moved on and began putting the aircraft into different attitudes, getting me to work out what was happening so that I could correct the plane back to stable flight. In 90% of cases, I misdiagnosed the plane’s altitude and sometimes would have put in corrections that were likely to stall, even crash, the plane.