By: LT Dave Nobles
I was on a flight not too long ago when something stood out to me. Rather, some one.
It was just your run-of-the-mill Southwest Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago, about a week before the rush of holiday travel with people clamoring to get home to family to enjoy a heaping helping of Thanksgiving turkey.
But this flight turned out to be exceptional, and the one who shattered the humdrum, monotonous chore of air travel was an energetic flight attendant. I can see how it would be easy for any flight attendant to slap on a fake smile, give a half-hearted, robotic safety brief, toss passengers some peanuts and tell them “buh bye” as they depart the aircraft on the way to their final destinations.
But not this flight attendant. Her charisma was magnetic – contagious even. She joked with passengers, delighted everyone on the announcing system, gave an entertaining and informative safety brief and appeared to genuinely care about the passengers. She even sang the song, “Sweet Home Chicago” as we landed in the Windy City. All around, her effort made the flight enjoyable and memorable (at the very least, she made me forget about the painful “cattle call” seating experience!).
The great companies – The ones with endearing products that delight the consumer – have this same tendency to treat their work as art. Just like that memorable flight attendant. From Apple’s focus on getting even the smallest detail right to Stone Brewing Company creating amazing craft brews while having a blast to Whole Foods’ commitment to healthy selections and friendly service, those organizations that treat their work as art succeed. The effort is evident in the product.
In the Navy, our product is readiness. In a grander sense, what we deliver to our customers (American people) is freedom, but we do that by ensuring that our ships, submarines and aircraft are ready – Ready to operate forward, ready to deter aggression, and ready to win a fight if necessary.
The tough part is that readiness is difficult to quantify, and that sometimes impacts the motivation of our Sailors. The best measure of our readiness to complete the mission when challenged is often the final grade of an inspection. Over time, this has the potential to negatively impact Sailors’ performance – the grand question of purpose.
Was she focused on the bottom line for the airline? Profits and losses? Nope. She just wanted to be better. It was inspiring. It was working like an artist.
In the case of my flight, the genuine artistry of this amazing flight attendant resulted in a better flight. You could see it on every face on that airplane. For Sailors in the Navy, working like an artist is about being passionate and creative. It’s about finding ways to make things better and about killing the phrase “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
Entire books and blogs preach the practice of working like an artist. In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin offers a stream of quotables on the topic. He claims that rather than seeking a better job or boss, we need to all get in touch with what it means to feel passionate about our work, because people with passion look for ways to make things happen.
What can we do to make things happen, especially at junior levels? Look for ways that your ship, submarine, squadron or command can get better. Have the confidence to let your voice be heard, and the perseverance to see your ideas through. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be hard work. But, if we have courageous patience, we might actually get something done!
After all, like Godin said, “Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.”
So, let’s all be passionate about what we do. Let’s work like artists and sing “Sweet Home Chicago” all the way to a better Fleet.
LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned as Weapons Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.