Some people like to climb mountains. I like to build planes. In the air.


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Have you ever seen the old EDS commercial where they are building an airplane while it flies? Search “EDS Airplane Commercial” on YouTube if you’ve never seen it.

This video seems to resonate with every professional person I’ve ever shown it to.


I have a specific perspective on that clip, and it might not be quite what most people think. We will get to that in a moment.

The commercial focuses on the “workers” – the ones constructing the plane, the ones that are all completely caught up in the noble and exciting job of creating an airplane while it flies. If focuses on how important they are, how important their job is. That’s what the majority of viewers see, and why it resonates.

“Some people like to climb mountains. I like to build planes. In the air.”

The commercial goes on to tell how amazing and challenging the working conditions are, and how incredibly interesting the work is. It’s satisfying. It’s important. It’s a massive undertaking – a BHAG – a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.

These special airplane construction crews are on the cutting edge. Doing fun work that apparently matters – it’s exciting and meaningful!

About half way through the commercial the camera pans past a few rows of passengers. This – the passengers – is what I want to focus on for a moment.

If we change the focus of the commercial from the people building the plane to the customers, people riding in it, the entire perspective changes.

Think about it…

The passengers on the plane are undoubtedly having one of the worst airline experiences EVER. They booked a ticket in good faith that the plane would be whole, and were likely excited about the trip. They paid their money, bought the ticket, and were “all-in.”

Remember when you bought the ticket we just told you you’d have terrific OJ – we are meeting our deliverable. From the airline perspective, nearly every expected comfort is there, just like the airline sold them, but have you ever tried to drink orange juice with a 300 mph wind in your face while a seat was installed next to you?

The passengers have no choice. They are getting everything the airline sold them. They are strapped in and unable to change the circumstance after their takeoff… er… their delivery date… their grand opening… their go live. Call it whatever you like. The passengers, let’s call them customers, sites, divisions, departments or employees, are now in a situation far different than the one they were sold.

If you were the airline customer and knew this in advance, would you buy a ticket? Or would you simply wait until the aircraft was done, tested, safe and moderately comfortable?

When we implement change in to our systems – be they operational, electronic, human resource, or any of a myriad of things that affect our internal and external customers, step back, and look around. Are we building an airplane around them, or are we being prudent and building the airplane on the ground, testing it incessantly, training the crew and ensuring the experience of the passengers will be the best we can provide?

Even after the plane is complete and has served plenty of happy passengers, are we then maintaining it while it flies?

The child looking out the window in wonder and amazement at the end of the commercial is in the wrong sequence. Our passengers – customer, sites, departments, employees, etc. should be given a whole, tested, functioning system, process or program from the start.

Food for thought.

Gus Strand
Service Matters
I'm a lifelong service practitioner and customer evangelist. I've spent the last 20 years in a career in corporate L&D and credit my service focus to a grandfather that had an "old school" small town hardware store. You know the type - worn wood floors, china and Osterizers in the front window, a pipe threader out back and everything - including hot coffee - in between. I've a DNA-level service and learning focus with experience in companies that defined service in ways that other companies strive for: Wal-Mart in Sam's day, Coldwater Creek, Harry & David, Dell and more.


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