A good friend of mine, Lt. Col. Sam McCallie USAF AFRC/SEF, a pilot with the US Air Force sometimes likes to talk about things that fly in the air, you know, airplanes. As a safety instructor, he stresses that being focused, knowing where you’re going and having the training to deal with bad situations is critical to avoid “bending metal.” Smart pilots are all about safety and typically don’t skydive, “Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” He understands…

F=ma. The vector sum of the forces on an object is equal to the mass of that object multiplied by the acceleration vector of the object.

I asked him to explain it to me, because I heard something that I believe correlates well in business and in our personal lives. As he described it in his technical terms, my brain translated it to something more easily understood – vector is both magnitude and direction. Vector is speed and direction.  It’s the difference between going 55 miles per hour versus going east at 55 miles per hour. When pilots say “all thrust and no vector” they mean that somebody has a lot of energy and motivation, but no direction, focus or purpose. I’m sure you’ve seen the type; lots of energy, but can’t focus enough to get a single job done. “All over the place.”

Do you remember Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker who 20 years ago would have you stand on a chair and scream “peak state” as you beat your chest? I still remember his seminars, especially the energetic vibe, though not necessarily his content. However, Tony’s more recent incarnation has to do with your personal direction, your vector.

Robbin’s Ted Talk Why We Do What We Do is an excellent splash of water on the face through questions that might challenge your vector. What is your motive for action? What drives your life today? Not 10 years ago. What makes the difference in the quality of people’s lives? What makes a difference in their performance? He then drills down further. Are you being punished or rewarded? The answer has a big impact on your “thrust.” Where are you going? What’s your direction, the path to your goal? I’m sticking with the belief that the defining factor in having the right vector is never resources, but in resourcefulness. Get the right emotion (thrust), and you can do anything. Your decisions shape your direction.

So let’s look at this for a minute. Let’s say we’re trying to change our own attitude or the attitude of those around us. How can we apply this science? How do we accelerate the pace of change? Let’s look at another aspect of vector – the size of the mass that is going somewhere. In my friend’s airplane, it was a heavy piece of metal. For us humans it’s either a group or it’s stuff in our individual brains. To get an object accelerating, the size of the mass, the force you apply and the direction of that force are key. The more folks that are part of a “mass,” the more impactful it is and that’s true for positive force and negative force, like complacency or low performance. Poor performance or complacency will continue to gain mass and become more and more difficult to change. Ouch! So what kind of force might you apply? Things that we’re all familiar with like individual and team incentives, coaching, training, skill set development, and even progressive discipline.

Now add the all important direction. Which I suggest you tie to a specific goal and even if it’s not a large group, add the cause or the “why” to the goal. The “why” something gets done, is the most powerful. Defining the “why” will help you from falling into the features and benefits of the solution and can even take away the fear of change. Think about when you’ve done something you didn’t want to or were afraid of, but the reason to do it was emotionally important.

Just look at what’s going on with Tesla – aside from the issues Elon is having with the SEC!  The cause at Tesla is to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and electric technology. A really big obstacle to achieving that cause is range or distance anxiety where drivers’ worry that their car will run out of power before they reach somewhere to charge it. The first answer was to build rapid charging stations up and down both US coasts and then in a line across the center of the country – looking at the problem geographically. Hmmm, not good enough. Next, Elon said “I want you to build a system that will allow Tesla drivers to drive into a rapid charging station, drop their discharged battery and exchange it for a fully charged battery in less than 5-minutes. And by the way you have six months to do it.”

As it turned out, they met the goal in four months AND they were so motivated they created a system that executes the exchange in 90 seconds. They believed in the why. They wanted to make sure drivers didn’t have anxiety. Note that the why didn’t have anything to do with making more money, by selling more cars. The engineers could relate to the emotional anxiety and felt good about trying to solve the problem.

Now before some of you write back to me and say that Tesla has abandoned the exchange program, I know that and it’s not the point, the point is the impact that the right “why” had – the right vector. I’m guessing and hoping that there are some places you can apply both thrust and vector and achieve great flight!