POSITIVE HABIT TRANSFER (Q2.4)
Passing Of Valuable Skills And Habits To Other Men
Positive Habit Transfer, the PHT, is the deliberate process by which one man passes valuable Skills and habits to other men.
To illustrate the PHT, let’s start with how my flight instructor taught me the takeoff. I had rolled out to the airport for my first flying lesson at about nine that morning. It was a hot summer day. Twenty minutes later I was sitting in the pilot’s seat at the end of the runway with my sweaty hands on the yoke, looking down the shimmering runway.
On the way over from the hangar, my instructor had taught me how to steer the plane by controlling the rudder with my feet. Once cleared for takeoff, I had haltingly maneuvered the airplane to takeoff position with the nose pointing into the wind. I figured we would sit there for a few minutes while he explained some things. Nope.
“What the hell are you doing?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” I answered. “I’ve never flown before. I thought I told you that.”
“Well look. You can’t just sit here. When the tower clears you, you have to take off. Look,” he said, pointing to a line of airplanes waiting behind us to get on the runway. “You’re holding up traffic son.”
“Yeah, but —-,” and then he pulled out the throttle and we lurched forward. As we began picking up speed I realized that he didn’t have his feet on the rudder, so I had to steer the plane. Which I did, badly.
“Straighten it out,” he advised. “You can’t take off sideways.” He seemed oddly calm for a guy in an airplane piloted by a man who had never flown before. When we got to the right speed, he told me to pull gently back on the yoke and just like that, we were in the air. I had learned to takeoff in about 45 seconds, an aspect of flying for which I had allotted about ten hours in my mind. As we flew over my car in the parking lot, I realized that I had left it there only twenty-five minutes earlier, and here I was flying already. Take out the takeoff time (and walking to the plane), and you were left with the twenty minutes my instructor had used to teach me the preflight inspection. Unlike the casual way he had taught me to takeoff, he had been very deliberate about the preflight. His emphasis seemed backwards to me, but what did I know? I just did what he told me to do, at least at first.
Every time we flew, my instructor made me execute the preflight precisely as he had taught it to me the first day. On a laminated card in the airplane was a checklist that had to be performed in the exact order listed. While I loved to fly, performing the preflight was my least favorite part of every lesson. I just couldn’t wait to get up and punch holes in the sky and each moment I spent on the ground kept me from that.
One morning I decided to save a little time on the preflight by only eye-balling the leading edge of the elevators instead of actually running my hand along them as the checklist prescribed. My instructor watched me do that without comment, so I assumed that he approved of my practical shortcut. With most Skills I had learned up to that point in my life, I had done them by the book to start with and then found more expedient methods with practice and repetition. I assumed that the preflight was no different.
When I was done, the instructor and I both climbed into the aircraft, as we always did. But when I reached over to start the engine, I found the key missing. I looked at my instructor, who just looked back at me. “Where’s the key?” I asked.
“In my pocket.”
“How am I going to fly this plane if you don’t give it to me?” I asked.
“You’re not.” He said. “At least not until you preflight this plane.”
“You did? Did you do every step the way it says on the card?” He asked.
“Yes . . . well, not exactly.” I admitted, remembering that I had not actually run my hand along the elevator looking for obstructions or cracks.
“Well?” He asked, clearly intent on making a point. So, without arguing, I got out of the aircraft, walked back to the empennage and ran my hand along the elevators like I was supposed to do. When I had climbed back (mildly exasperated) in the pilot’s seat the key was still missing from the ignition and the expression on my instructor’s face had not changed.
“What?” I asked. “Didn’t you see me do it? C’mon, let’s fly.” I said.
“Sure. As soon as you preflight this airplane. That means every step, in the order set out on the checklist.” I realized then that he wanted me to redo the entire preflight because I had Whiskey-Dicked one stupid step. I also realized that we were’t budging until I did it.
So I got back out on the hot tarmac and did the whole darn thing again. Each step, with exaggerated deliberateness. By the time I finally finished and climbed back aboard, with my shirt drenched with sweat and stuck to my back and chest, I was pretty huffy. The instructor slapped the key into my outstretched palm, but he grabbed my wrist before I could insert it into the ignition and asked, “what are you so pissed off about?”
“C’mon,” I said. “What’s the point of making me do the whole thing over again just because I skipped half a step? What’s the point? You could have just told me not to skip any steps without trying to teach me some kind of lesson.”
“I’m not trying to teach you a lesson about the preflight. I’ve already done that. Whether you do it right now is up to you. What I’m trying to teach you about is respect.” He said evenly.
“Respect?” I asked, surprised. “For you? I respect you.”
“No, it has nothing to do with me. It’s respect for the dead I’m talking about.”
“What dead?” I asked, perplexed.
“The men who died for each item on that preflight checklist. We didn’t just make that list up out of thin air. It’s a list of mistakes made by the men who died from making them. It exists so you won’t make the same mistakes yourself and die yourself, along with every poor soul stupid enough to get on an airplane with you. You can call it bullshit, but the least you can do is spend two minutes doing correctly what another man died not doing because he didn’t know about it.”
Now that I saw his point, I had to laugh. The guy had a way of searing important stuff into my brain, despite my cocksure unwillingness to listen.
“Where did you learn to teach this way?” I asked him.
“From my flight instructor smart ass. Where do you think? It’s called it Positive Habit Transfer. He transferred positive habits to me, and now I’ve transferred them to you.”
By nature I am not a careful man. My instructor (through his years of experience) recognized that trait in me and made sure to use a method of instruction that transferred the positive habit of preflight to me in a way that would stick. He was a HIM.
The Q has immediate IMPACT through the exercise of his own positive habits. But he will have a resounding IMPACT for generations by transferring those habits to younger men through the PHT.
None of us alone is a great man. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.