Dennis Miller, the comedian, social commentator, and all around intellectual bon vivant, once had a popular cable program that was famous for two things. His guests were encouraged to disagree without becoming disagreeable. There was no shouting on Miller’s show, even when the topics were incendiary enough to have degenerated into a slobbering, spittle-spewing, scream-fest had they been conducted by any other host of the day.
But perhaps more than that, Miller distinguished himself by beginning each program with a rant. These five- to eight-minute long diatribes were pithy, funny, often on target, and written with a highly specific perspective in mind. Yet no matter what the topic, Miller always ended his rants in the same way, saying, “Of course that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”
Can you imagine how productive our culture might be if we all adopted a similar position? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to engage in a spirited debate on any topic with an adversary who argued fervently for their position — but kept in mind that he (or she) was ultimately expressing an opinion that could, in fact, be faulty. Just accepting that possibility would elevate our discourse considerably.
Yet who will be first among us? Who is willing to throw up his or her hands and admit, I could be wrong.
I will. What the heck, I’ve been wrong before and I’m fairly certain I’ll be wrong again. What’s the harm in admitting fallibility? It only serves to validate the expression ”to err is human.” Well, I’m human. I err. Big deal.
Unfortunately, you know what the big deal is. Most people cannot admit the possibility they are in error…about anything. Somehow they have come to believe they are experts even on topics they know almost nothing about. They’re virtually omniscient as far as they can see.
Which is the point of the matter. Anyone who believes themselves to be unfailingly right on all issues is as myopic as…well, an extremely short-sighted person, frankly. They can’t see the forest for the trees. They’re blind by choice. And we all suffer from this affliction from time to time, because we’re human.
Of course, knowing the inevitability of our failings doesn’t mean we have to accept them without a fight. We could reach beyond ourselves and take a page from Dennis Miller’s book to at least consider the possibility we might be wrong.
How many times have you flown into a destination only to find the FBO virtually devoid of life? We’ve all had this experience. Sometimes that FBO on life support is on our home field. The lack of activity these businesses foster tends to be a wet blanket on airport activities as a whole. Certainly there are places where the quiet of the terminal building is understandable. Whiteriver, Arizona, has a population of roughly 5,000 people and an airport with one runway, no tower, and no services to speak of. Consequently you will not often find yourself number 16 in line waiting for takeoff. On the other hand, Hartford, Connecticut, with its population of approximately 125,000 should be able to put a steady stream of customers and visitors through the doors of their FBO. Combine their population with those of the more suburban West Hartford, as well as East Hartford across the Connecticut River, and wealthy Wethersfield just up the way, and you’d think Brainard Field would be a beehive of activity. Yet it’s not.
Could that lack of customers in Whiteriver, or Hartford, or in your town have to do with an inadequate business plan? Perhaps the marketing efforts of the businesses on the field could be tweaked a bit. Might there be an airport committee or director who could get a bit more involved and consider the possibility that the status quo is not quite meeting the potential of the airport?
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve met businessmen or government officials who are convinced their plan is the only plan worth pursuing. Even after years of underachievement they’re still dedicated to the plan, often a plan they concocted themselves. It seems no amount of failure or underachievement can bring that simple sentence to mind: “I might be wrong.”
We can do better than this. Really, we can. There’s no need to lay blame, point fingers, or cast aspersions on the character or lineage of anyone, anywhere. But if we were to all look inside ourselves for a moment, measure how well we’ve succeeded objectively, and ask ourselves if that’s really the best the market can do — well, we might just take our first step toward turning the general aviation industry around.
Flying is no less exciting than it was in 1935. Seeing the world from half a mile up in the sky has not become such a pedestrian activity that nobody is interested in pursuing the experience. Having the ability to travel from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a straight line has become no less desirable over the years — and only aviation can provide those options to people.
The market is out there. Our customers are waiting for us to invite them into our facilities and share the excitement of what we do with them. But the first step in getting them to notice us and visit our airport businesses might just begin with us looking into the mirror and saying with heartfelt honesty “I might be wrong.”
Dennis Miller used to say that every week and he’s done just fine. Let’s consider adding that sentence to our lexicon and making some changes to the way we do business, shall we?