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I really enjoy moments when you experience an awareness of enlarged possibilities, a feeling that you are indeed capable of more than you thought. On my recent return transit trip through Dubai at the tail end of my family holidays, I got a chance to combine some moments of personal inspiration I got during my holidays ‘Down under’ with a gust of professional inspiration on aviation safety promotion. I met up with the safety promotion team at Emirates Airlines at their head offices.

In his book "Peak", famous Florida State psychologist Anders Ericsson and his co-author remind us of the value of hard work. Ericsson did the research that led to the so-called 10,000-hour rule. In his book, “Peak,” they downplay the importance of native-born genius (even in people like Mozart) and emphasize the importance of deliberate practice — painstaking exercises to perfect some skill. The 10,000-hour rule was brought to my attention through a connection I made last year through our aviation leadership development coach Gwen. Anybody who has observed excellence knows that Ericsson is basically right. Dogged work is the prerequisite of success. But excellence also requires moments when the mind and spirit take flight: moments when you are 'struck' by inspiration. Inspiration is not permanent and solid. It’s powerful but passing, which is why people sometimes compare it to a gust of wind. And when that gust is gone people long for its return. So when inspiration hits you, write it down or catch it on the voice recorder in your phone.

Inspired work stands apart from normal life. In the first place, it’s not about self-interest as normally understood. It’s not driven by a desire for money or grades or status. The inspired person is driven intrinsically by the work itself. The work takes hold of a person. David Brooks wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times last year about inspiration. In his piece, Brooks outlined how many people believe that in order to create, their inspiration needs to come from a wholly unique idea; something no one has ever thought of before. However, when you look at the creators of the most amazing art, inventions and ideas, you find the opposite. Pablo Picasso famously said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

This phrase became popular again in 1996, when the late Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) repeated it in a documentary called Triumph of the Nerds. In that interview, Jobs went on to say: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

What Jobs was talking about, was not ripping off a piece of work and claiming you created it. Far from it. He went on to explain that he and his team would “expose ourselves to the best things that humans have done”, and then try to incorporate them into something unique of their own.

And so it is with aviation safety promotion. There are numerous sources out there, well beyond our comfort zone of aviation, from which we can steal best practices on changing behaviour to help mature our positive safety culture. It was fascinating the learn that the manager of safety promotion at Emirates was recruited not so much for her safety or aviation background but for her background in education and her capabilities to bring fun to learning.

In other words, you’ll find sources of inspiration in aviation or outside. In my case, I found a gust of inspiration to professionalise our safety culture game during my visit to EK’s safety promotion. I hope that this edition of SafetyFocus may provide a spark of that to you - inspiration: The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative, give you an awareness of enlarged possibilities, a feeling that you are indeed capable of more than you thought. So master the technical skills, put in the hard work and be open for inspiration when you find it. Perhaps you can be the one bringing the 10,000-hour rule on deliberate practice down a little as you help your organisation implement its next big push in safety progress.

Best aviation regards, Tom

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