Well, we are.

How we can get our head around all of this and more readily translate across teams and the organisation.

The ‘flying the plane and working on it at the same time’ metaphor has been around for a long time, but in this recent discussion the CEO and the Chief Transformation Officer picked it up with enthusiasm and really brought it to life how relevant it feels in these times of accelerated change.

“More than that, it’s like we have all these smart people all educated with different disciplines and in different decades and we are still debating about where to work first, and with what tools!”

“Yeah, and it feels like the faster everything is changing around us, the less we look like the industry-leading team we aspire to be.”  “We have so many sophisticated systems supporting our work we often find at the senior level we are often looking at different numbers and very different pictures.”

“It’s like the flights have been shortened too!  Remember in John’s time, our predecessor, we would think, set up, and implement strategy in three to five-year windows.  Our strategic imperatives are coming at us with way less time.”  “Yes, I want everything sorted yesterday!” shot the CEO to the CTO with a smile, obviously touching on a theme they had going on between them. “We need to simplify this picture for ourselves, let alone those across our complex and diverse organisation.

Most executives are very aware approaches in strategy and implementation thinking have been shifting from methods popularised in 20th century MBAs.  Short article reading in magazines or social media, talking with Consultants, and lived experience inform that environment scanning is quickly out of date; strategic planning cycles have reduced; internal ownership is always critical; and increasingly what got us here, will not get us there.  Reading heavy books on advancements in strategic planning and complex adaptive systems may work for one or two Execs around the table “nerding it out” on that stuff, but it is not that useful for broad leadership team engagement.

The ‘flying the plane while working on it’ metaphor is very memorable and resonates with lived experience.  How do we reframe to provide a more use-able systemic view, rather than generate a picture of catastrophe and a sense of overwhelm that this often engenders.


Reframing the flying plane metaphor to a more useable systemic view















(Diagram reference Steven Spear, MIT)


Keeping on track

Our Purpose/ our Why / our Cause can be like a North Star shining constant in the sky, but we all know the environment is constantly changing.  What customers / clients want or expect, what other options are available to them in the competitive landscape of changing service and technology offerings.

What we need to accomplish is in motion relative to current and emerging conditions

What is required to enable changes as the requirements change

External feedback loops are necessary to confirm we still know what is needed to accomplish our purpose, and that we have the necessary enablers in place to deliver on what we need to accomplish.

Keeping in Harmony as a whole

The complexity of modern organisations (disciplines and sub-specialties, cultures, functional systems, time zones, etc) and the dynamic (the pieces constantly in motion relative to each other) pulls organisations in many directions.

Internal feedback loops keep the parts synchronised well in a harmonious whole, aligning goals, removing cross-functional delays and errors.

The cycle time of feedback loops is critical to this picture of the plane in the air continuing to fly safely.

With detection and adaption times within the frequency of the environment you are operating in and you thrive.

With detection and adaption times longer than the frequency of the environmental changes you will be overtaken by the situation you are in.  That situation does not look good when we relate back to our ‘flying the plane while working on it’ metaphor.

A simple shared narrative and frame for navigating in disruptive times helps people make sense of what may otherwise be chaos, noise, anxiety, around us.

Reviewing and upgrading your leadership view and the organisational translation is such a high return activity – personally and organisational effectiveness.

What has been your experience?



For those wanting to go a lot deeper, and potentially “nerd it out” advancing knowledge on strategic planning and implementation excellent references I would suggest include:

  • Steven Spear, The High Velocity Edge
  • Adam Salzer, Whitewater Tx training program
  • Larry Quick and David Platt, Disrupted: Strategy for Exponential Change
  • John Turner, Nigel Thurlow, Brian Rivera, The Flow System: The Evolution of Agile and Lean Thinking in an Age of Complexity
  • Gene Kim, DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organisations
  • Gene Kim, Unicorn Project
  • Bernie Kelly, Traction: The 4 Practices of Change-Fit Leadership Teams


The inspiration for this article comes from discussions with leaders looking to embrace the challenges and opportunities, leverage strengths and insights for redirection and growth, and shape industries to fulfil their purpose, and the forward by Steve Spear in the recently published book The Flow System.