Piloting your business

What can flying a helicopter teach you about running a business? On International Civil Aviation Day, CC Managing Director Tom Wilkes breaks it down.


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit of an aviation nut. I’m just days away from picking up my PPL (H) helicopter pilot’s license, and there’s a framed photo of the Concorde hanging over the bar upstairs in our office. Given that today (7 December) is International Civil Aviation Day, it seemed like an appropriate time to bring it up, and talk about some of the things I’ve learned from flying which are applicable to the world of business.


I’ve been obsessed with flying since I was a kid. I used to watch a cartoon called Jimbo and the Jet-Set, which was about a talking plane called Jimbo and his buddies Tommy Tow-Truck, Phil the Fuel Truck and Amanda Baggage. Thankfully I picked Jimbo as my role model rather than Amanda Baggage, otherwise I might have ended up as a therapist…


I tried some fixed-wing flying about ten or fifteen years ago, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Since you are always moving forwards, the interesting parts were the takeoff and landing. Besides that, I found it a bit mundane. Helicopters were more for me - you can move in all directions, land more or less anywhere, plus you get a nice bonus of being able to enjoy the view properly.


When I first got into a helicopter, I found it pretty overwhelming. You have to use both your hands in different axes (a bit like rubbing your head and belly in opposite directions) as well as your feet to manipulate multiple directions, all while taking on the radio and keeping an eye on things like fuel consumption, height, direction and other traffic.


If you tried to take it all on at once, it’s too much to wrap your head around. You have to break it down into its constituent parts: first you learn to manipulate one control, then the next. You start figuring out where you’re actually going, then you communicate that information over the radio. Eventually, it all becomes second nature and you can add it together.


When I started Collaborative Creations, the company was primarily focused on business development. I quickly realised, however, that you can’t just focus on one thing. Clients were asking about PR and social media, so I learned more about how we could deliver these and brought some new people onto the team. In business, just like in flying, you have to master more than one discipline. The team only becomes streamlined - see what I did there? - when all of the pieces are working together.


You have to be adaptable, too. A key part of being a pilot is being prepared for the worst: while there is always a plan, you have to be very flexible if something goes wrong. Bad weather, mechanical faults...a written exam can only prepare you so much for things like this. It goes without saying that the same applies to business, too. We have a plan for how we want to grow, but need to be prepared for anything that might take us off on a diversion to an alternate destination. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s the importance of being adaptable.


As we move into 2022, I’m continuing to apply these aviation skills to the growing team at Collaborative Creations. Although I can’t reveal any specifics at the moment, we have some very exciting things to share with you in the new year, with some new faces joining us on our high-flying adventure. And while I’m on that note - if anyone fancies seeing their office from 3,000ft up, get in touch and we can organise some high altitude networking…


Lastly, it would be remiss of me at this point not to shout out Paul Green, founder of The Cockpit Method. He also came from the event world, and was a fellow ALD member that went into aviation as a commercial airline pilot. When Covid put a hard hold on his career path, he took the bold move to create a training company - The Cockpit Method. He’s been putting out some great material and I highly recommend following him on LinkedIn or at www.thecockpitmethod.com/