The great ones use leverage

A fairly bright man from the ancient world said something to the effect of give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum to place it on, and I can move the world.

Admittedly, it’s been at least 2,200 years since Archimedes supposedly uttered these words. So allowing for transcription errors and smudged copies, I’ve chosen not to use quotes. I can’t possibly verify that he said those exact words, or any exact words. But the meaning of what he had to say is clear. Better yet, it’s as true today as it ever was.

That Archimedes was one sharp guy.

I’ll ask you to consider the SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo planned for just two weeks from today. This is the second largest aviation event in North America. It’s the largest convention held in the state of Florida each year. With an economic impact of tens of millions of dollars, SUN ‘n FUN is very much the elephant in the room. And they got this big and powerful through the use of some simple advice from good old Archimedes. They employ the principle of leverage.

I’m fortunate enough to live near Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Because of that proximity, I get to see the airport’s transition year after year. The difference is amazing. This wonderful facility is well used and creatively managed throughout the year. But one week each year is noticeably different from the other 51.

Suddenly traffic streams into the parking lots — lots that are little more than open fields the rest of the year. The number of cars, trucks, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and airplanes is simply staggering. They come from all over the continent. Their occupants come from all over the world. And they flock to SUN ‘n FUN’s gates with the regularity of swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano.

A few years ago I ran into a friend and colleague on the field during a special event that happened outside the one-week circus he’s used to seeing. Even after years of visiting and covering the big event, he was noticeably entertained to find the airport to be almost unrecognizable without the rows of tents, throngs of visitors, and continuous buzzing of propellers cutting through the air.

The difference was noticeable, it was obvious. But it wasn’t the tents and the crowds and the airplanes that were missing. It was the leverage that makes the big show possible. It was the lack of the grass-roots structure that allows this behemoth of a flying circus to get off the ground and stay there.

Believe it or not, this massive event is managed from a collection of modest offices that house barely more than a dozen employees. That’s it. It’s a lean, mean outfit.

The majority of the players aren’t on the year-round staff. Only a small coaching crew maintains the dream from year to year, planning, preparing, and leveraging their small number into a veritable army of volunteers who do the real heavy lifting.

And those volunteers are a proud lot. They travel far to stay in trailers, sometimes for months at a time. They oversee the parking lots, the ticket booths, the set-up of display areas, and wrangle permits. They plant flowers, take out the garbage, oversee the grounds, and help raise funds.

All without compensation, I might add. They aren’t in this for the money, and they certainly don’t do it for the notoriety. When it comes right down to it, I suspect each of them has their own reason for doing what they do, for volunteering for a few days, or weeks, or years to build an event they derive no income from. And yet they do it.

In fact, SUN ‘n FUN wouldn’t work if not for the thousands — and yes, the number of volunteers is in the thousands — who toil year after year to put their own indelible stamp of public service on this event they’ve come to love and identify so closely with.

Perhaps the most recent and visible example of what sort of impact these volunteers can have is the porch at the SUN ‘n FUN Radio building. For weeks a collection of volunteers have been arriving on site to spend their weekend digging holes, cutting boards, driving screws, and generally enjoying the heck out of expanding the footprint of this well used, but cramped deck space.

It’s nearly done now. A few details are being wrapped up. And many attendees won’t even notice the new deck or the effort it took to build it. Then again, those who use the deck will know. SUN ‘n FUN Radio head-honcho Dave Shallbetter knows, and he values the contribution of those who gave of their time, their scuffed knees, blistered hands, and occasionally rain soaked skin.

Like thousands of others, Shallbetter is a volunteer. He leads a crew of dedicated, talented volunteers who interview attendees, and exhibitors, pilots, and tire-kickers. They gather in the shade of the porch to write stories, share anecdotes, and enjoy the company of their friends — many of whom they only see at the show because they live so far apart. They and thousands like them are the leverage that makes SUN ‘n FUN not only work, but thrive.

The good news is that any of us could put the same principle to work in our own businesses and our own communities. Archimedes knew it would work. SUN ‘n FUN proves the point. So let’s get to it. Let’s leverage the heck out of general aviation y’all. 


  1. unclelar says

    I guess it’s good to have volunteers. Just don’t understand why you would volunteer for an organization that is very much for profit for those involved and one that loses more and more support every year due to their money-grubbing attitude at Sun-in-Fun as opposed to OSH.

  2. Len Assante says

    Archimedes was right. And so is Beckett. I don’t think it is possible to over-estimate the impact on aviation that volunteers have. Their economic impact alone must be in the millions, plus they pretty much keep recreational GA alive. And not just at SNF or AirVenture, but also at pancake breakfasts across the nation, smaller shows and fly-ins, and countless EAA chapter meetings and such. We talk about the high cost of aviation all the time (and rightfully so), but imagine the cost if these people were not around. I know of no other industry kept on life support (and showing some nice signs of life lately) by the unpaid efforts of so many. Truly some wonderful people in GA. Thank you all.

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