The 86th General Meeting Keynote Presentation
The following presentation was delivered at the 86th General Meeting Monday morning session, May 8, 2017. It has been edited for content and phrasing.
INTRODUCTION: John Foley was lead pilot for the Blue Angels, where he consistently performed in a high-stakes environment flying at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour in formations as close as 18 inches apart. He is also one of the most in-demand motivational speakers in the country. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Mechanical Engineering degree. Mr. Foley was a Top 10 Carrier Pilot six times before becoming a marine instructor pilot and a Blue Angel. He holds Master's degrees in Business Management and International Policy Studies from Stanford University, and a Master's in Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. In 2011, John established the Glad to be Here Foundation, where a percentage of his speaking fees are donated to charity. Through this program more than one million dollars has been donated to over a hundred charities affecting thousands of lives globally. Today we are excited to have someone with us who knows firsthand what it takes to perform in a high-pressure environment in excellence at an extreme level. At this time let us begin our program by joining John in the cockpit of his Blue Angel.
MR. FOLEY: Thank you. I want to start with “Glad to be Here.” Now, "glad to be here" was a statement of the Blue Angels that reminded us every day how fortunate we were. Most people think it's a pretty cool job; right? But it wasn't so much about the job as it was about who we surrounded ourselves with, our teammates, and really the impact that we could make on people's lives. And I think that's what makes this meeting between the National Board and ASME special. Look at who you surround yourselves with and look at the impact that you make on other people's lives.
How many of you have ever seen the Blue Angels fly, in person or on TV? Dad was in the Army and he took me to an air show and I saw some jets flying, and it sparked something in my heart. But the Blue Angels were always that spark, because I asked my dad later, and it turns out the Blue Angels were at that air show.
I know we have a whole bunch of military out there. How many people have served? Go ahead and please -- stand up, please. Let's all recognize the fellow veterans. Thank you very much. So when I ask that question, when you think of the Blue Angels, you know, what comes to mind, you know, we have got this awe factor; right? Give me another word. What are some of the other words that come to mind? "Dedication." Absolute dedication to your role and your job, which you all have. "Precision." Absolute precision. You know, one of the best comments I got after one of my talks -- someone came up to me and said, Hey, John, I saw you fly. And here is what she said. See, for me, that was the early '90s, that's when I happened to be on the Blue Angels. But she said, I expected the pilots to be precise. You know what blew me away? The maintenance crew, the ground crew, were as precise on the ground as you were in the air. See, that's what you all know extremely well. That's what the chiefs know here. It only works when it gets through the whole organization; right? Very powerful. Okay. Then you get some other words like this. How about "discipline"? Discipline, yeah, absolute discipline. How about "focus"? And then how about this word, how about "trust"? High trust. Do people trust you? Absolutely. Everybody who steps in an elevator or in this case mostly the pressure industry, they trust you. Absolute deep trust, and you can't break that trust; right?
So we know those are extremely important, extremely important. How close do you think we are flying right here? We start at 36 inches and then we eventually get down to 18. But what do you think that feels like? It's one thing to say it; right? What do you think that actually feels like? Let me give you a chance. Everybody reach out your arms; okay? Now, I know there are a lot of spouses in here, but still, how much do you really trust that person sitting next to you? Can you imagine at the end of these fingertips is a 22-ton jet, it's going four hundred knots, upside down? How do you get to that level of precision? How do you get to that level of teamwork? How do you get to that level of trust? And can you imagine if we put those back into your roles, the results that are possible.
So I would like to speak on high performance. And high performance is a pyramid. You knew this back in school. You know it in sports. There is this pyramid of success, and you all as the leaders have climbed that pyramid. And I get the rare privilege to work with many organizations all around the world, and what I have noticed is the teams, the organizations, the National Boards who are at the top of this pyramid, they actually do certain similar things. And do you know what they do? Here is what's interesting. They get together. That's why this is so powerful, this once-a-year meeting. You bring everyone together. Why? The knowledge is in the room, and then there is this thirst to get better. So you have these workshops for you all setting code.
I rode down with one of the chiefs in the elevator and I asked him what the best part about this meeting was, and he said it’s that we get together and discuss things. And I said, what do you discuss? He said, “One day we discussed for 45 minutes the definition of "near," and do you know what we came up with? That we’ve got to keep it undefined because we couldn't agree.” You know, it's interesting, though, the details that you all get to.
The one percent, they do amazing things, and there is process and systems, and of course safety is the number one thing. On the Blue Angels, we always started every meeting with safety. It's the number one thing. I think, though, that safety and operational excellence are two sides of the same coin. They don't differ; right? You have got to have both. But here is what I'm going to talk about. What happens in the top one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent? What happens in this next pyramid? Because if you want to go there, something else has to kick in. It's just not about process and systems and codes. Those are extremely important. But what else has to kick in is right here: The mindset, the mindset of a champion.
By the way, Martin's talk was amazing, wasn't it? And he talked about the mindset, not just the process. You know, he's talking about perseverance, some of this mindset. So this right here represents not the one percent, this represents the one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent of all the pilots in the world. There are hundreds of thousands of pilots, tens of thousands of tactical jet pilots. Only six of us got to wear this helmet. Here is what is pretty cool. Three of us were new every year. We had a 50 percent rotation rate right here of the leadership. The Blue Angels that you all know, it's much more than the six demonstration pilots. There are 120 individuals, all Blue Angels. I had a 33 percent rotation rate in my maintenance and my support personnel. So, see, I had the same challenge you have, which is not how do you reach a level of excellence. How do you sustain excellence? How do you sustain excellence under change? How do you sustain safety under change?
Is the world changing? Absolutely. So I think what this helmet really represents is a culture. And I will suggest this. I think it's a culture of excellence and a culture of caring, and we all know as leaders you need both. See, it's not enough just to be excellent at what you do. You have got to care; right? We have got to care deeply. For who? Well, number one, the people that work for us. Number two, the people we work for. All the customers and the people who are counting on you. And you have got to care for yourself too.
So some cool parts about this Blue Angel’s helmet. First off, you see this visor? It's gold. Who was alive when Armstrong walked on the moon, besides me? And I understand he was here, he and Jim Lovell; right? They talked not too long ago. A lot of you probably saw that. Well, I remember when he was walking on the moon. I was a little kid. I was at my grandmother's house in Brooklyn, New York, and I'm watching Armstrong walk on the moon. Actually, though, you know, this is Buzz Aldrin, but the reason you can see Neil is in his visor, you know, you see him; right? That's because he's wearing the same visor. I think these gold visors allow you to look directly in the light and not blink, which I think is a pretty cool leadership metaphor. When you think about it, when the heat is on, when the pressure is on, can you look directly in the light and not blink?
A couple other cool parts about this helmet. First off, see the crest? So we don't call it a logo; we actually call it a crest. Here is what's interesting. When you are selected for the team, you are not allowed to wear it -- you are not allowed to wear it until what? Until your teammates tell you you've earned the right. We have a peer review process. You have to earn the trust and respect of your teammates every single day. And there's another thing on this helmet, it's a nickname. So all fighter pilots get nicknames. Let me tell you first off, you don't get to pick it. If you like it, it doesn't stick. So my nickname -- we actually call them call signs -- my call sign is Gucci.
Well, no fighter pilot wants Gucci. You want Hitman, Viper, Iceman, Maverick, something cool; right? But see this. Look, I actually wore a thin black leather tie. It wasn't even cool in the '80s; right? And it didn't help that I was living on a sailboat and driving an Alfa Romeo at the time too; okay? But that's about how my teammates called me. But I think what this helmet is, it's an icon; right? We all need icons. We all need something where you know what it stands for.
Another question I get is what do I remember most about being a Blue Angel? What I really remember is the look in the little kids' eyes. I will never forget the very first time I got to go to the crowd line. So I'm pretty exhausted. You realize in an air show, which is about 37 minutes; you lose six pounds of sweat. I mean, try that sitting in a chair; right? A lot is going on. There is this physical and mental pressure. As I thought back to a show in San Francisco do I remember blowing through the buildings and blowing through the bridges? Yeah. But you know what I really like to do is go down Market Street and see how many car alarms I can set off. But what I really remember was this: Going in the crowd line. I will never forget the first chance I got to go there.
There was this little girl, she's jumping all up and down. And something hit me that second: It's not about me. It's not about John Foley at all. The only reason that little girl truly cared about meeting me had actually very little to do about me, but everything to do about what this gold helmet stood for, everything to do about that blue flight suit; right? And I remember feeling something in my heart that day -- and I think we have all felt this, I know each and every one of you has -- a deep obligation, a commitment to something which is much larger than yourself. It's this purpose. And I think that's actually where our energy comes from. You know, it's what gets us up every day. And this purpose on the Blue Angels, we actually called ourselves ambassadors. We are ambassadors of goodwill. That was our job, to reach out and inspire people. Yes, we were supposed to recruit, but we didn't -- I didn't personally care about recruiting for the military. You know what I cared about more, was just reach your hopes and dreams. And it wasn't just me; it was the whole team.
Take a look at this next picture. What you will see is every single person on the team's commitment was number one to the kids. I mean, that was our audience. It wasn't so much you all. It was more important to inspire the youth. And I still get the rare privilege to do that. I think it's a deep obligation.
I often get another question, which is, how did I get there? So let me just take a very few moments on my journey line. Because I think what you will find is it's actually very similar to everybody in this room, and that is things don't always happen the way you expect; right?
I was born in Germany because my dad was an Army officer and an engineer, and he was assigned in Germany. And I loved my dad. I wanted to grow up just like him. One day he took me to an air show. I will never forget, I was twelve years old, and I looked up in the sky and I see these six magnificent blue jets. I remember turning to my dad that day and saying, Dad, I'm going to do that. I was a twelve-year-old kid, and I had no idea how to get there.
Where do dreams hit us? Real dreams? Think about it the next time you have a real dream. I would suggest this: I think dreams hit you in the heart and not the head. But just like in business, just like in life, you’d better connect the dots; otherwise, there are a lot of unrealized dreams out there.
I realized, man, I need help. First off, I never had a single flying lesson, because we didn't have the money to afford it. It said that's okay, I will find someone who can pay for this. I will join the military. So I'm thinking jets, Air Force. I attempted to join the Air Force Academy. I get a letter in the mail, open it up, it says rejected. I'm rejected? That's not part of the plan. And I said I wonder why. And it says, well, you are not physically qualified, which surprised me. So I reapplied, and they reject me again. Now I have got to go through a whole year of medical evaluation process.
But I actually went to Colorado, walked on, played football. I actually did play football at Navy too and ended up being the last guy to intercept Art Schlichter from THE Ohio State University. But anyhow, now I get my medical waiver, and I look at it, and it says you are accepted to Annapolis. Which turned out to be a good thing, because it turns out the Blue Angels are actually Navy. I had applied to the wrong team. And I've got to be honest with you, I didn't graduate number one in my class academically. I didn't graduate in the top 10 percent. I actually graduated in the half that allowed the other half to be called the top. But I graduated high enough to get a pilot's license. Now I upped my game. And Navy has got a pretty cool policy; it takes two years' training to be a pilot. And then in those two years, the number one person who has graduated in the entire United States, they can pick where they want to live and what airplane they want to fly. It's pretty cool. So I finished number one, and I walked into my commanding officer, and I had one request: F-18s. Coolest, best jet at the time. He looks at me and he says, You can't have it. I said, What do you mean I can't have it? I thought that was the rule, the number one person gets to pick? He said, Well, it's more a guideline than a rule.
He basically said I was too young and too inexperienced. I don't know if you have ever heard that; right? And bottom line is he said, You know, come back in twenty-four hours and pick any other airplane. And by the way, we are going to make this movie called Top Gun, and you might want to pick that, an F-14. And I remember walking out that door that day going, wait a minute, that's not the answer I wanted.
Now, how do you react when you don't get the answer you want? It happens a lot in life; right? So this meant something to me. I'm a student pilot in Needville, Texas. I pick up the phone and call the Pentagon. I get through the whole switchboard, I get to the head admiral in charge of all aviation detailing. I said, This is Ensign Foley in Needville, Texas, I really want to fly F-18s. I will sweep the floors, I will clean the bathrooms, just give me a chance. He goes, Whoa, slow down. What's your name and how did you get this number? He says, I will get back to you. Hangs up the phone. I'm thinking it may not have been the best career move; right?
Turns out later the next day, I'm in the break room, that's where all the pilots hang out, the phone rings, the duty officer goes, Foley, Pentagon, pick up the phone. A leader who did what he or she said, he got back to me. Remember, I'm not in his or her chain of command. In fact, he's dealing with all the important people in Washington. But here is what he did. He took five minutes out of his day and he changed my life. And here is what is interesting I think for all of us in this room. We all have the ability to impact and hopefully change someone's life. The real question is: are you present, are you aware, are you aware when those moments happen. Same thing with safety; right? Awareness is the key.
He said, Ensign Foley, in my three years of being in charge of all the real pilots in the real Navy, you are the first student who has ever called. And because you asked, I'm going to give you something. (I'm thinking this is cool.) He says, You know those F-18 orders? You can't have them. You are too young and you are too inexperienced. (By the way, chain of command won points, and that's true. And I think that's what's critical about the National Board, setting standards that actually apply in every state.)
And then he started to mentor me at this point. He said, Here is what I would do. If I were you, I wouldn't take the F-14; it's fancy and cooler, but I would take this airplane called the A-7. It's ugly, it's underpowered, and no one is going to pick it. But if you can get yourself assigned to this squadron on the U.S.S. MIDWAY, it's forward deployed in Japan, those squadrons will be transitioning into the F-18s faster than anybody else.
This is inside information; right? So I walk in to my commanding officer and I said, I will take the A-7s. He said, Why do you want those? They are ugly and underpowered. Sir, I have got a plan; right? And so everything is looking good. I finished number one, I'm assigned to the MIDWAY.
One last flight, the last flight the Navy pilot has to do before you deploy is land your jet on an aircraft carrier at night. It's one of the hardest things. Here is a picture of me coming aboard. That's an F-18, but here is the challenge. There is a 750- 850-feet-per-minute rate of descent. You are going about 170 miles per hour. That tail hook there has to catch one of those cables. Now, there is only 40 feet between the cables. If you are perfect and the flight deck is not moving -- which it always is because you are at sea, the tail hook misses the ramp by 11.4 feet.
I will never forget the first time I touched down. You go to full power, by the way. It slams you forward in the straps. My hands came off the controls, my feet came off the rudder pedals, my head actually went between my legs. I looked up and I go, Hey, it worked.
The first time you land a jet on an aircraft carrier, you do it solo. You know why? There is no one stupid enough to ride in your back seat, let me tell you.
So anyhow, you do a bunch of carrier landings, and I did that. And then I was assigned to this squadron called VFA-22, Fighting Redcocks, 87th Squadron. I did three years on that squadron, working my way up. As you all know, you have to work your way up. I went from just a wingman to a section lead, division lead, starting leading multinational strikes around the world, till one day I accidentally shot a missile by mistake. Yeah, this is a safety incident, by the way; okay? I don't know what you call it in your world, but it ain't good. And bottom line is we learned from the mistake. It wasn't just me -- even though it was, it was pilot error -- we had some processes and systems that needed to be changed.
And what we found out was this. I was doing an alert airplane. This is back in '86. We are off the coast of Iran. And I had an airplane that had live ordnance. And then we decided, well, we will just go for a practice flight, and we decided we were going to save someone some time, the ordies. The ordies are the ones who put ordnance up and down an airplane. So they said, Well, we will just slap on some practice bombs, go out there and lead the hop.
So I brief the hop, I lead it, and I said, Hey, make sure you don't accidentally shoot a live missile, by the way, because it's been done before. And so we practiced it, and I do my practice bombing, and all of the sudden I come up, and a wingman joins on me. And he goes, Hey, Gucci, you have got a hung bomb. I look out there, and one of the bombs is stuck on the airplane. So you want to get rid of this, right, because you don't want to land on a carrier with bombs bouncing around the flight deck; right? So you've just got to jettison; right?
And so there are procedures, and normally what you are supposed to do is take out your checklist and go through the procedures. But we are in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I said, I will just get rid of this thing. So I raise the red garter switch, hit the emergency jettison button, shew, the missile went instead of the bomb. I was like, Come back.
Anyhow, I had gotten my switchology screwed up. So when we land, I go walk in to the boss. He goes, What happened? I said, Boss, I blew it. You know, I didn't break out my checklist like I was supposed to and I got the switchology mixed up and hit the button, the missile went instead of the bomb.
He says, Okay, thanks for telling me. You are grounded. Grounded and pilot don't go together; right? But what I learned was that it was not only a mental error. What the real root cause was -- because we all try to get to root causes, right -- was I had gotten too complacent. See, I got too comfortable carrying live ordnance. The first time you carry it, let me tell you, the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck. But I got too comfortable doing something I shouldn't be comfortable with. And I think with this crowd, you know, that's an important message; right? Because you are working with boilers and you are working with pressure, things that can really impact people. And I'm sure the first time you started working with that stuff, you were very aware.
The question is what about now and what about the people who work for you; right? And we also found out that it wasn't just pilot error. See, we had taken a shortcut as an organization. We tried to make someone else's job easier and we left the live ordnance on. So in the safety debrief -- and I'm going to take you into some really cool stuff here -- we decided let's change that policy. Let's just take the extra ten minutes that it takes to download the ordnance, and we called it fire break procedures. And we sent it to the other eleven squadrons on the ship, because there are eleven squadrons. They all, by the way, said that's a good idea and changed their procedures, because they were doing it the other way too.
We then sent it up to the Pacific fleet, and the Pacific fleet said that's a good idea and they changed their policy. We then sent it to the Navy. The entire Navy changed their policy. Based on my mistake? No, based on the corrective action we discovered from the mistake. Big difference. Big difference. And you all know this in your world. You know, do you learn from each other? Of course. It's one of the most powerful things about this organization. And you can learn from not just what's going wrong, but what's going right. I think that's the important thing too. So very powerful. I'm still accountable. They could have fired me. They came real close, by the way. But I ended up working my way up, became a marine instructor pilot, and then eventually got selected for the Blue Angels, and my life changed.
The reason that I took those moments to discuss that is, isn't it very similar to everybody in this room? You know, think about it. What's your goal, what's your vision? Are there going to be obstacles in the way? Of course. What's the resiliency it takes to overcome obstacles? You all know this. You know. And then as an organization, you can set policies and procedures, can you discuss things, and can you communicate them in a way that helps others? Very, very, very powerful. Deep obligation.
I mentioned it earlier, but I actually am kind of curious. Anybody in this room ever seen the movie Top Gun? So it turns out I did some of the real flying in that movie. Now, they didn't pick me because I'm some great pilot. I'm in the right place at the right time. That is what life is. But you watch, the next time you see this movie, plug in the DVD, you are going to see the aircraft carrier, it's going to be the ENTERPRISE, and you’ll see the filming crew is going to come up to the flight deck. You will see me taxiing up to the catapult. You will see steam coming off the catapult. You will see my teammates all around me. I will salute the catapult officer, they will salute me back and, bang, you get launched off that carrier. You go from zero to two hundred miles per hour in about 1.8 seconds.
There is a song that became famous in this movie, we were just playing it. I'm curious, anybody know, what's the name of that song? "Danger Zone," "Highway to the Danger Zone." Who was the singer? Kenny Loggins. That was the '80s. Now I know my audience, by the way.
They have actually done a lot of studies. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is truly one of the most dangerous places in the world. But I want to take you in a place you know extremely well, I want to take you in a place you operate in every single day. I call it the high-performance zone. Now, if you think about it, with boilers and pressure, you have to be extremely aware, but what's the high-performance zone? What you will see is to me it's much more than just when you are dealing with the boilers and the pressure.
To me the high-performance zone is anything in our life. It's simply the gap between where you are and where you want to go. Because we do this all the time. We set goals, we set visions. Maybe it's safety. If not now, when?
You set goals, you set visions. You measure yourself. What is there? There is a gap. There is a gap between where you are and where you want to go. Here is the real question: How do you close the gap? How do you close it quickly? Here is what I want to share with you, a process and a mindset that I believe closes performance gaps faster than anything else. That's a pretty bold statement. You might say, Well, heck, where does this come from? It actually comes from my post-Navy career. After the military, I went into the civilian world. My dad showed me that you could have multiple careers. You all know that too. And he used schooling as the bridge, so I did too.
I went to Stanford Business School. I was working in venture capital right around 2000 and 2001. Anybody remember what happened in technology at that time? Yeah, it's the thing called the internet bubble; right? And I remember being in the inner circle there one day and having to make some tough decisions, decisions you have to make all the time too. You know -- who are we going to invest in and who are we not, what management teams get the resources and which don't.
And all of the sudden a thought hit my head: How come? Not how come the internet bubble burst, that's not my question. My question was how come some people outperform others and some don't? How come some teams consistently outperform others and some don't? How come some organizations, like yourself, can consistently perform at a high level, others don't?
I started to unpack that question, and I said, Wait a minute, when was there a time in my life where we did it? I thought back to the time when I was a Blue Angel. I will suggest this. Every time you see the Blue Angels fly, you are going to see that same level of excellence. And the pilots are different, the ground crew are different. There are new people every year. Yet you see this same level of excellence.
So I started thinking to myself what were the major factors. And I remembered back in strategic management theory, they will teach you this -- everybody in this room already knows it -- vision, plan, execute, feedback loop. Okay, great. We all know that. What's the vision? Come up with a plan. Execute on a plan. Hopefully have a feedback loop, that's what's so critical in your world.
In the .01 percent, we talk differently. Here is what we talk about. We start with beliefs. It's not about vision. We understand vision. We start with beliefs. Because I think it's what you ask of each other every single day, it's what you are asking about in this conference, it's what people ask of you to believe, it's what your families ask: To believe in you, to believe in safety.
Let's see what is possible when you surround yourself with others, like you have in this room, who not only have high beliefs, but a high commitment to those beliefs. Here you go.
(A video file with audio is played.)
MR. FOLEY: I don't look at this job as being dangerous. It's inherently unforgiving. (Video ends.)
MR. FOLEY: Do you see how close we were flying there towards the end? That's that 18 inches right there. See, we got better every single day. We had this thirst to get better. Same thing in this room. How do you get better? How do actually the best get better? Well, it starts with a belief.
There is this principle in cognitive psychology that goes like this. It says human beings, you and I, we actually don't perform at our full potential. You don't and I don't. Where we are actually performing at is a belief level. If you can elevate your belief level, your performance will follow. If you can elevate a team's belief level, your team's performance will follow. If you can elevate an organization's belief level, success will follow.
I remember the first time I heard that. I said, okay, that makes intellectual sense to me, but when did I feel it, when did it become real? I thought back to my first ride as a Blue Angel. (VIDEO/PHOTOS) How about that maneuver, though? You know, when I think about it, see that maneuver where there is one airplane and all of the sudden it became two? That's me in the back. Try this, try flying upside down, period. Now fly upside down a hundred feet off the ground. Now fly upside down a hundred feet off the ground in formation. Then the leader actually takes the back. Why? It's harder in the back. Leadership always takes the harder role.
Then you roll your jet 240 degrees, it's a blind roll. You roll inside the belly of your airplane, you come out, you see the rivets of your teammate. If he or she would let up one-tenth of one G, you would hit. Talk about trust. How do you do that over three hundred times a year, because that's the number of practices and air shows we did. You notice how I didn't differentiate between a practice and an air show. You know why? You die either way.
So how do you do that? Well, I think it starts with the belief. I started thinking back to how do you raise belief levels? And I thought back to the way we did it with the Blues. When we bring a new person into the squadron, for six weeks you only have one job: To observe. To do exactly what you are doing right now.
So I'm in my observation period, and the boss walks up to me and he goes, Hey, Gucci, you want to go flying today? Now, what he meant was not fly an airplane. What he meant, they are going to give you a ride.
We have a No. 7 jet, it's a two-seater, and we do VIP media rides. You probably noticed that, we fly a lot of celebrities. It's really not because they are celebrities. See, the Blue Angels are a marketing machine, so we don't care who we fly; we care who comes.
My first year I got to be the No. 7 pilot, and it's a cool job, because your job title is, “Give an Experience of a Lifetime.” I got to fly all kinds of people in my jet, and one day I get a call from NFL Today and they say they were doing a special on Merlin Olsen and Ronnie Lott and asked if I would fly them? I said, Absolutely. So Merlin Olsen calls me the night before, and he says, I understand we are going to go flying tomorrow, and I just have one question. What are we going to do?
I said, Well, Merlin, the game plan is to have fun. Then he asked me what he should eat, and I said, Bananas. He said, Bananas? And I said, Yeah. They kind of taste the same coming up as they do going down. He didn't laugh as loud as you guys are!
But now I get my ride, and I'm excited, I'm like a little kid. I have got thousands of hours in F-18s, but this is the first time with the Blue Angels, and it's different. I will never forget, we taxi out onto the runway with four jets, and the wings are overlapped. Then we actually go onto the runway for takeoff, and we are going to take off with four jets and the wings overlap. Now, the last time you took off out of any airport, Alaska or anywhere, how many airplanes are going to be on the runway?
MR. FOLEY: Yeah, there is a good reason for it. Don't change it. Talk about safety. I mean, you get a flat tire going a hundred miles an hour, there is going to be a lot of metal on this runway real quick. And I remember a thought hit me in my head: Am I afraid? Am I afraid? I can honestly tell you at that second, the answer was no. But I was scared. And I think there is a difference.
The next time you feel fear, I would suggest it will feel like a force coming at you, something out of your control. What's the result of fear? Stop this. Watch it. Watch it in yourself, watch it in your teams. Heck, you can see it in a nation.
What is scared? Scared is different. Scared is the little hairs that stand up on the back of your neck. Scared says maybe I won't walk down a dark alley late at night. Scared says maybe as inspectors we need to be aware of something. I say that's good. That's your instincts. Trust.
So I started thinking to myself, wait a minute, why was I scared but not afraid? Because I had a belief. I had a belief I'm going to make it. I didn't want to die that day. I said, okay, where did these beliefs come from? So I came up with what I call the four Ps, so you can hopefully take this back and apply this to the people who work for you.
What did I believe in that moment? The first thing I believed in was the process. The Blue Angels had a process, they had a system, they had a way to do things since 1946. Your industry since the early 1900s established process and systems. It's one of your big charters, codes. I believed in those. The second thing I believed in was the product. Now, my product happened to be the F-18, it could do the things I wanted it to do. You all have to regulate many different pressure systems. But I believed in those. Third and more important P is the people. And as I look around this room, I realize, you know, look at how many people you impact. Not just in this room, but all the people who work with you or for you.
So I said, okay, those are the first three. I believed in all of those. And guess what? Most people have those, most organizations do. But there is a fourth P. I think it's the most important. I will call it a purpose. And I would suggest it must be a purpose larger than self. You know, if you think about it, and we talked about that earlier, connecting back to that purpose which is larger than self I think is the most critical thing. And as we recognized the awardees, you could tell that, you could see it in their faces, this purpose larger than self.
So luckily, I'm not flying the jet. Because guess what? There is 128,000 pounds of thrust. You realize that's more horsepower than the whole starting lineup of Indy? I get the rare privilege to work with some high-performance teams. Let's see what we have got coming next. That's me and Roger Penske; right? So two years ago Roger called and he goes, Hey, Gucci, can you come work with our team? So I worked with the Penske team. And I will never forget being at the Indy 500 on the track. That's actually on the track right before they start the engines, and I've got right next to me Will Power, he had the pole that year, I've got Helio Castroneves next me, I've got Juan Pablo Montoya behind, and we ended up taking three of the top four positions that year; right? And I will never forget, when they started their engines, you can feel the asphalt move.
Do you realize in my left hand I had more horsepower than all those drivers combined? Pilots like the full afterburn; it knocks you back in your seat. A hundred miles an hour went by, no flat tire, thank you. About 160, we get airborne. The pilot does this violent left wing down, we go slicing underneath the wing tip of the No. 2 jet.
The next thing I know, we are tucked underneath the afterburners of the boss. And you know how loud those jets are when they go overhead. Can you imagine being 36 inches underneath this? I'm telling you, the flames are coming out, the airplane is shaking, there's metal all around me. These guys are going straight up. My eyes get this big. The thought that hit me, How am I going to do this?
See, what the Blue Angels were saying that day was this. They were saying, John Foley, you want to play in this game, you want to play in this game, you need to raise your performance 300 percent. We as a team, an organization, are going to raise our performance 300 percent. And guess what? You have got three months to do that. What would your safety numbers look like? What would all your numbers look like if you had 300 percent improvement in one quarter?
See, that's what they were asking me to do. And I didn't make up those numbers. Here is where they come from. Prior to that second, the closest I had flown a jet to another jet was ten feet. Most pilots never fly formation, period. Sometimes in the military you fly formation but you keep it wide apart. But pilots like to look good, so you come over the field and you tuck it in. Well, you tuck it in about ten feet and you hold it for about 45 seconds straight run. Here is a group, here is a team that says, No, that's not good enough. We fly at 36 inches, we get down to 18 inches, we do aerobatics over the field. 300 percent improvement over the best I ever felt.
I will give you another example of how the Blue Angels were challenging me. So we have this maneuver called Section High Alpha, and what's that? Well, it's this maneuver where you fly the airplane slow. We actually stand the jet on its tail. Now, this is challenging. You know, jets are made to go fast. It's easy to fly them fast. So this maneuver that you are seeing right here had never before been done as two airplanes.
This is Thumper and me in 1992. See, prior to this year, only three teams in the world had even tried this as a single airplane: The Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds, and the Russians; okay? And what you have to do is you have got to stand the airplane on its tail, and you are actually walking it with the throttles. The lift is coming from the engine more than the wings. Very precarious.
So when we talk about innovation, Thumper and I were sitting around one day and we go, Hey, what do we want to do? Let's put it in a new maneuver. Well, everyone wants to put a new maneuver in, but it's hard. The hard part about a new maneuver is not so much the maneuver, it's the coordination, because you are asking other people to change.
Now, if you think about it, when you set codes and when you change things, what happens? It's challenging, because you are asking other people to change. So I have to work with my team, and we tested it, we did a test run, we, you know, pull an engine back, see what would happen if you lose an engine. We basically figured out it could be done.
But here is the challenge. So when I was in Top Gun and used to dog fight, if you ever put that airplane into what this is called, slow speed flight, you have to be above ten thousand feet AGL, above the ground; okay? And the reason we do that is to give you some safety buffer.
Do you remember in the movie Top Gun, there was a scene where Maverick shoots down Viper? Viper is the top gun instructor. And then they get back in the debrief, and Viper says, You know, Maverick, you really didn't shoot me down because you busted the hard deck first. What he was talking about is what I'm talking about here, you have got to be above ten thousand feet. So the best fighter pilots in the world have to be above ten thousand feet to do this as a single airplane.
Guess what altitude Thumper and I are here right now? Two hundred feet. Yeah, something else is going on. Best pilots in the world, ten thousand feet. We are down to two hundred feet. So something else is going on. How do you get there? Well, I'm going to show you some other video. I'm going to take you into that experience. But one thing I want to share with you is that what I'm talking about is repeatable, it's transferrable, and it works. These processes, these systems work. And so as I'm talking, I know you are already connecting the dots back to what you do every single day. But this is what's interesting. Watch how I change some things. So here is what I thought I would do. I would share with you another video. We all know preparation is important. If you think about it, how do you prepare, you and your teams; right? So I thought about, well, let me show you how we prepare. So here is what we are going to do. We are going to go in a video. I am going to call it the brief. You are going to watch us preparing before we go flying. Now, here is what's cool about this video. First off, you will notice there is a picture. This is the game plan. By the way, it changes. Just like you, I have got to adapt to different things; okay? Watch how we focus our minds. Here is what's really cool. Watch how the boss' voice is not going to change from when we are on the ground to when we are in the air, this ability to perform under pressure, a mental pressure, not just a physical pressure.
Let's go to a place few people ever get to go. Let's go inside my briefing room. Here you go. (A video file with audio is played.)
You go through each maneuver, and if you notice, the boss and we are all together, he would talk some maneuvers just in their name, and then he would go through certain calls. I use recitation of the words so that each pilot can hear those words. So, for example, I will say, okay, we are parking in reverse order, for remote reverse slow down. (Recites maneuvers.) When I'm saying those things, those are what they are going to hear on the radio. Some of the guys will close their eyes and they will visualize, and some of them move their hands a little bit. They will visualize what they are going to be seeing out there while that's occurring.
MR. FOLEY: Tell me, is that what your meetings look like? Okay, probably not; right? There is a lot going on in there. It's a little bit different. So first off, what I will just tell you is we did that every day. We did it every day. This idea of process and systems. We knew that it was important to have the right standard operating procedures. You know, keep them simple. And you all know that incredibly well. That's why process matters; right? But there are some other things going on in that room. So, first off, we called it the brief, and what's the brief? You know, we get together and discuss the game plan, where is the safety objective. We talk about those every single day, right, and we bring awareness to the organization.
So how are you all -- more importantly, the people who you set codes for, how are they actually assimilating the information? A process, a system, keep it simple. Okay. We know that's important. Here is, though, what I want to talk about for you all. How about focus? You see the focus that was in that room? You know, how do you focus your mind? It's interesting, there are so many distractions in the world today. Anybody know, how many minutes can the average human being focus on a single point? Anybody know? How many minutes do you think it is. Ten? Slightly less. Three?
It turns out -- two? I set you up. It's not even minutes. It's seconds. It turns out the average person can only focus for twelve seconds. If you have any doubt about that, look at your grandkids. Look at yourself. Look at what it takes before you grab your cell phone and you are checking your e-mails and all this kind of stuff.
It turns out that we are actually being bombarded by information, so the question is can you focus, can you learn to focus, can you block out distractions? Because it's a skill; you can learn it just like anything else. I will give you an example of how we needed to focus. The way we did our meetings is we flew on the weekends in air shows and Monday was a day off (really not a day off because you have to catch up on your paperwork). We go three hundred days without two days off on the Blues, but we love it.
Tuesday we have a schedules meeting. What's that? Well, that's the game plan. Where are we going? Is it Anchorage? How are we going to get there? What are the checkpoints? So we do that on Tuesday. Then we practice an air show on Wednesday and we brief. We take the jets there on Thursday, we brief. And so it's one thing to have the game plan on a piece of paper. What we do, though, is we actually draw up flight lines. What's the set-up point? We draw a flight line. We say what's our one mile, two mile, three mile checkpoints. Sounds like milestones; right?
But it's not enough to have it on a piece of paper. That's one thing I want to share with you. All the regulations, all the rules on paper, you have got to transfer it from paper to the mind. You all know this. So here is what we do. On Thursday when we show up at an air show, we split up into twos, and we start to get our checkpoints. So this year I'm No. 6, so I'm following No. 5, Spurt, my leader, and we fly, stop over the centerpoint, and hit our stopwatch. We time for nine seconds. I look down and I say where is that one mile checkpoint, where is that road intersection I expect to see? Boom, put it in my brain.
Time for another nine seconds. I say where is my two mile checkpoint, where is the white house? So Spurt comes up on the radio that day and says, Gucci, two mile checkpoint, we will use the white house. It gets worse. Here is what he said that day. He says, Gucci, two mile checkpoint, northeast corner, two-story white house, upper window with the green shade. Yeah, I have got to be honest with you, that day I couldn't even find the house. This guy wants me to see the green shade of a window. Because he knew something I didn't. He knew how to focus his mind.
Now, I've learned how to do that. But once you learn how to do that, you can actually fly upside down four hundred knots a hundred feet off the ground and see the green shade of a window if you know what you are looking for. If you don't know what you are looking for, it's a blur. Same thing in life.
So how do you focus your mind? They have done a lot of studies. One of the things I'm getting to work with, I work with Mayo, some of the top neurosurgeons, so we are trying to figure out how the human brain works, because I think the greatest advancement in the next decade is going to be our understanding of the human brain. Because what's really neat is they have a thing called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity just means your brain changes; that's how you learn. Now, what we don't know is how it really works. So a good question would be, how long does it take to form a habit? Anybody know? Fifteen, forty, three days, 21? Okay, who is right? Exactly, you can say nobody, or you can say you are all right. Here is the point, we don't know. We really don't know. I asked that of a neurosurgeon, and he says, John, you are asking the wrong question. He said, What you really need to ask is what are you trying to do?
See, that's what varies; right? So let's say you want to do something simple. Let's say you want to wake up every morning and drink a glass of water, which is good, healthy. Put a glass of water by your nightstand. It takes somewhere around seven to 21 days and that will start to become a habit. You want to do something like that, tuck-over roll, fly inverted, 240-degree roll inches from another airplane? Over a thousand times. I did that over a thousand times before I put it into the air show and before I had what they call unconscious competence or muscle memory.
So it varies; all right? But here is what we are learning. This is maybe a good number. Ninety is a good number. That's why we do quarterly plans. But 66 is a good number. That's apparent. If you want to do something, let's say -- well, let's make this real. Let's make this real. Let's not make it about business. I like to wake up happy. Anybody in this room like to wake up happy? Nobody likes to wake up happy in this room? Okay, good, a few of you, I hope. Here is the question. Do you wake up happy every single day?
Do me a favor and check the first conscious thought that hits your brain tomorrow morning. See if it's a happy thought, or see if it's like, What am I late to, what's the next crisis I have got to solve? I bet you tomorrow is a good chance it’ll be a happy thought. Why? Because look where we are, we are in Alaska. You are at your national meeting. But here is the real question. Check the next 66 days. See if your first thought is a happy thought.
It turns out you can train your brain to wake up happy. They have done a lot of studies on happiness. Anybody, give me a quality, what's a quality of a person that self-assesses themselves as happy? There is no right answer here. I'm just kind of curious. What do you think it is? Go ahead. Positivity. Turns out, positivity is actually one of the big qualities. People who are often just thinking positive typically have a happier life. Now, it's not exactly true, because I would say positivity without a plan, you are screwed. You know, you have got to have a plan, too; okay?
Turns out smiling matters. It takes only 14 muscles to smile; it takes 34 to frown. You want to kill yourself faster, get angry. Seriously, watch the next time you get angry. The next time you get angry, do me a favor, just grab your hands and choke yourself, okay, because that's actually what you are doing. When you get angry, you watch. Your body constricts, you are actually constricting the energy in your body. The opposite happens when you smile. When you actually smile, you are opening up your energy.
Here, try this. Next time you are angry, smile. You can't do it. What will happen is this. You will slowly start to get un-angry, because you physically can't stay angry and smile at the same time. Over time, you will see.
It turns out the studies show the number one quality of a person who self-assesses themselves as happy is gratitude. Gratefulness is the number one characteristic. So when I learned this, I said, you know what, I want to wake up happy, so here is what I'm going to do. I'm going to do my Glad to be Here wake up. What's this? You can try it tomorrow. I did it this morning. I do it every morning. The very first thing I do when I wake up is I just say, What am I grateful for?
Today it was pretty easy. I said, Look, we are in a beautiful hotel. The next thought that hit me was you all. I said, In a few hours I'm going to get the rare privilege to share some information with others who have an ability to impact others' lives. You know, it's an opportunity; right? Here is what's interesting, though. The human brain doesn't care. The human brain doesn't care if you are actually experiencing something for the first time or you are remembering. So we get extra brownie points for just remembering good things.
So here is what I do. I go back in my day, 24 hours, and I just say, What happened yesterday that I have something to be grateful for? And then I go forward in my day -- and most people forget to do this. This is kind of cool. Go forward in your day and say, What's going to happen today? And if you think about others, not just yourself, you will start to cut grooves in the brain. The neurons of your brain, they change, and what fires together wires together.
So we talked about the path of least resistance. I think your human thoughts will take the path of least resistance. So if you want happy thoughts, put those in your brain and you will start to see more happy thoughts. Don't believe me about this, by the way. Just try it. See if it works for you.
Now, here is what we know. Even though this is a highly-educated and wise group, less than a third of you will actually do it. Less than a third have the discipline to do something for 66 days even though it's good for you. Now, just because I mentioned it, that number is going to go up because now you are aware of it. Now you are aware of it.
So it's one thing to focus yourself. How do you focus a team? How do you get more than one individual aligned? Because you all know in your world, it's not about you, it's about getting people aligned. So I said instead of talking about it, let's do this, let's watch a video. Here is what you are going to see this time. All six jets are going to go straight up in the air. This is flying in formation. This is everything going incredibly well. Now we are going to go six different directions. Now we are going to turn around and we're going to cross, we are going to cross over a point. I'm going to call that a center point, and then let's talk about it. But let's watch it first. Here you go. (A video file with audio is played.)
MR. FOLEY: Hey, tell me, does that feel like your day sometimes? I actually bet it does, you know, stuff coming at you a thousand miles per hour closure. By the way, we are off right here. So where is the center point? Well, see those three jets that are kind of in a line? Below there would be a tractor-trailer truck over land, it would be a boat over water. The center point is a defined reference point we are going to make decisions off of. Now, we use this as a leadership tool. Now, we are off right now. This is what it looks like when we align the stack; okay? That only happens about once every two weeks. Why? Coming at each other at a thousand miles per hour closure, if you are one second off, you miss by two football fields. A little bit of precision; right?
So what's the concept, though, that we can learn real quickly? Use this at your meetings. When you are discussing things, ask a simple question, say what's our center point? Do this when you go back to your states and you go back to your rules, ask the question, what's your center point? What you are really asking when you ask that question is what should we be aligned on, what's the priority? Maybe safety is the center point. Great, then what do you do? You align the stack. You all know your industry better than anybody, and you align the critical elements. Bam, you have results. You can do this.
And not just safety. You can do it in your personal life. You can say what's the center point in my life, and then you can align all the important things up there. It's a powerful concept. So now you have got yourself aligned. More importantly, you have got a team aligned. And then what's the next thing that happens? Things change. All right. We used to have a saying, the minute you get airborne -- we used to brief a hop, and the minute you get airborne, things change. Is the world changing right now today? At a fast pace. So the real question is not, “Do things change?” The real question is how do you adapt to change. Maybe even more powerfully, how do you lead through change. As the National Board, how do you lead the change that's going on in the world.
So I started again to think back to a time in my life where not only I, but my whole team, the whole organization had to change. It happened to be in 1989, this example. I had just got selected for the Blue Angels. What else happened in 1989 in Eastern Europe? Anybody remember? The Berlin Wall came down. This was a big deal, countries changing at their foundation.
So remember, I told you earlier that the purpose of the Blue Angels, we call ourselves ambassadors of goodwill. So when the Berlin Wall came down, I went into the boss, and I said, Boss, let's go to Europe. But let's not go to NATO, Western Europe; we have been there. Let's go to eastern Europe. Let's go to Bulgaria, let's go to Romania. Let's go to Moscow. Let's go fly against the Russians.
This had never before been done. So you all understand government. It took me three years to get through the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the White House. In 1992 I take the team to Moscow. Now, we decided we are not only going to fly against the Russians; we are going to collaborate. Collaboration is a big word. You all are going to collaborate this week. What does collaboration mean to pilots? It means you get to fly each other's jets; okay?
So here is what you are about to see. You are about to see a guy named Valery Maniski. Now, Valery Maniski is the hero of the Soviet Union. He's their top sniper pilot. He's going to fly in my back seat; I'm going to get a chance to fly in his. Now, we have got a problem: I can't speak Russian, he can't speak English. We are going to fly with each other. We are going to switch controls. We came up with a simple way. You pilot, me pilot, shake the stick, that's it. The reason, though, I want to share with you this video is watch the nonverbal communication that's going on between Valery and myself right before we go flying. Okay, let's go to Moscow with the Blue Angels. Here you go.
(A video file with audio is played.)
CROWD OF SPECTATORS: Welcome to Russia, Blue Angels. ("Back in the U.S.S.R." by the Beatles is playing.) (Video ends.)
MR. FOLEY: Okay. Look at the guy in the background. He's kind of smirking because he's like, These guys are going to go flying with each other? Well, first off, I'm surprised. We already had the briefing. It was all Americans on one side, all the Russians on the other side, just like this room. We had talked about this. This is moments before climbing into the jet. Do you know what my perception was that day? Some guy is sticking his finger in my chest; right? It happens to be my biggest competitor. You saw my reaction: I'm sticking my finger back in his chest, but I'm going, Okay, pal, game's on. Game's on. You made a big mistake. Get in my back seat first.
So we taxi out. This is Kubinka Air Base, the master jet base right outside of Moscow. I call up on the radio, Blaze No. 5 owns airspace, which means just get out of my way. I do the dirty roll on takeoff. That's where you roll the jet with the gear down, just miss the runway. I had to practice this. Then I squat the airplane on its tail, I roll inverted. Now, don't do this leaving Alaska; right? Do you realize even with an ejection seat, it doesn't matter, you'd just ping off the concrete; right? So I'm going, please, engines, don't konk out on me. The next thing I do, I accelerate up to 300 miles per hour. Now I turn around and I'm going to fly down the flight line. And I will never forget this sight. I look out there, I see all these beautiful Su-27s and MiG-29s. They are all lined up nice and neat, all these Russian pilots are standing in front of them. I said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; right? So I squat the airplane on the ground about seventy feet off the deck. I accelerate up to 700 miles per hour. Now I'm going to go right over their heads. I turn the smoke on. Does anybody know what the smoke is? It's oil. What you do is you inject the oil in the back and the heat vaporizes it. Or most of it; right? You know, so I'm about to go right over their heads. The next thing I do is I roll inverted. Now we are upside down 700 knots, 70 feet off the deck. I look in my rear-view mirror, here is this Russian in my back seat, he's like this. We get to the end of the runway, I roll the jet 270 degrees and I bury the stick in my lap, which means flight control computers give me every ounce of G forces the airplane is capable of. By the way, G force is the force of gravity, so it comes down on you. So we are minus one because we are upside down. We go through two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine Gs, the whole earth is caving in on you. I roll the jet out. Knocked him out. Exactly what I was trying to do.
Now, I don't know, how do you guys treat your competition; right? So now I have got this guy knocked out in my back seat, and I say, you know what, he's going to be a little disoriented when he wakes up. Why not wake up upside down? We do this in F-18s. So I parked the jet upside down. I'm waiting five seconds, ten, fifteen, twenty. I go, My God, I killed him. This is going to be great for international relations; right? Luckily he woke up, and he learned English real quick because he starts yelling at me, Okay, okay, okay. So why do I tell that story? I don't know, I just like reliving the story; right? It's fun.
But actually there is a lesson. It's the lesson that I learned from my so-called competitor. See, we got to spend extra time in Moscow. We did things other than flying. Went to the ballet. Fighter pilots at the ballet? I went to a state dinner. You know, the White House had a state dinner for us, and what happens at dinners? You know, you all are going to have dinners and stuff. You know, we have conversations. And it's just basic conversations. You know, where do you live, how many kids have you got, what's going on in your life? You know, basic stuff. That's just human beings connecting; right? And the first thing that I'm realizing is just how fortunate I am. Because back in 1992, the number one thing that the Russian pilots wanted was more gas money. They wanted to fly more.
We in the U.S. were flying five times the number of flight hours they were doing. You do something five times more than somebody else, you get a little bit better. You know what else they wanted? Opportunity. Opportunity for not just themselves, but their families and their kids. I said, Wow, I'm really fortunate. And then the guy looked at me and he goes like this, and in pilot speak it's, What airplane did you fly? So I looked at him and I went two, five. So I told him Su-25. He looks at me and goes, No, me, two-seven pilot, much better. I said, I'm sorry, give me that opportunity. Then what happens is right out of a James Bond movie.
This guy gets up, he goes to the head table and whispers in someone's ear. To this day I have no idea who it is. He came back, he grabbed the napkin that is on the table, drew a picture of the Hotel Moscow -- that's where we were staying -- drew a picture of a car, he wrote five a.m., he circled it, handed me the napkin. I get up at five a.m. Right in front of the Kremlin, there is one car. I know it's KGB. I don't care; right? I have no idea where it's going.
Forty-five minutes later, we go back to Kubinka Air Base. He's waiting for me. The very first thing he does, he takes me to the officer's club to have breakfast. I said, No, I don't need to eat. He goes, No, you must eat, you must eat. Turns out it was just a privilege the officers have, trying to share it with me. Next thing we do, we go to the lockers. He grabs other people's stuff, he throws it on me, we go running out to the airplane. We get real close. Someone goes, Hey, hey, hey. He goes, No, it's okay. Throws me in the back seat and closes the canopy real quick. Taking a chance.
We taxi out. It's about six a.m. Then another Su-27 taxies out, then another Su-27. All of the sudden I realize I'd be the first American ever to go flying with the Russian demonstration team. But here is what's cool. On the morning of the biggest game -- see, that afternoon we are going to fly over Moscow. 1.2 million people are going to see us do something that's never before been done and has never been done since, the Blue Angels fly against the Russian Red Knights. He so much wanted me to experience his airplane, he brought me into the inner locker room of the opposing team on the morning of the biggest game, and said, Here is what we are going to do. Can you see Belichick doing this? No.
We did a tail slide at a thousand feet. That's crazy in an airplane. He pulled nine Gs. He tried to knock me out. He couldn't; right? We had fun; right? So we flew against each other that day, and I guarantee you we beat them. But when I left that country, he climbed in my cockpit, he gave me his cover, he gave me his wings, he reached inside his flight suit and gave me a picture of his family. And something changed in my heart, and I think we have all felt this. As human beings we are all more similar than we are dissimilar. Every single person, not just because you represent Canada, North America and all the States, but everybody in this room, and even beyond this room, human beings are more similar than they are dissimilar.
In fact, here is how we left the country. Right in the middle there, that's me and Valery. The guy I've got my arm around, that's the guy I knocked out three days ago. When I left that country, the Ambassador to Moscow comes up to me and says, Gucci, what you and your team members have done for international relations in three days is more than I have been able to accomplish in three years.
Why? Because we connected at the heart, not just the head. So that's why actually I have a lot of hope for what's going on in the world today. Why? Because I know you can do this. I know you can do this very quickly. And I think you all know this as an organization. You realize that you all are more similar and you connect at the heart first. Then you can get into all the code and all the political stuff. But we have got to connect to the heart first.
So it's one thing to be self-aligned and for the team to be aligned and you are adapting to change, but how do you execute? I think that's the key about safety, and it's really about anything in life: How do you execute every single day? So it's one thing to have a meeting, but how are you going to go back and your teams execute?
Now, what's really nice is as leaders and chiefs is that you are going to have a lot of tools in your tool kit. You know, when you leave this meeting later this week, you will have a lot of tools. But if there is only one, if you are only going to go and do one thing differently that you think would increase execution, I wonder what that would be after this week, just one thing you are going to focus on.
I will give you a suggestion, because it will be interesting to see what it is. For me it would be trust. If I were you, I would say let's focus on trust, because I have a belief if you can increase trust, execution will follow. Now, there is a challenge to that belief, and that is trust can mean different things to different people. Let's see what it meant on my team. Here you go.
(A video file with audio is played.) Every day you fly, you put your life in others' hands, just as your contract to them is that you are going to do your job so they know they can count on you. I count on 2 and 4 and 1 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8, and everybody else to be doing what they need to do in order to make the whole effort successful, and they in turn count on me. There is no room for any conflict of interest or personality conflicts. There is no individuals on this team, it's the group is what is impressive. And there is a lot you can do with a team that you can never ever do as an individual. So I think it's teamwork and we are helping each other out. And every day is bright, it's better. You only have to pick people like this. You have to know what they are going to do in an emergency. It's almost like second nature how they are going to react if something goes wrong, because things go wrong. You will see a beautiful show out there. There is always something that doesn't go according to the line, and the reaction has to be instantaneous. You have to have somebody that you -- you have trust in what he's going to do. We have a way to do them. However to make them -- to perfect them and have a really good one is just something between the two guys that has to click. And that builds that closeness to where he knows what I'm thinking, I know what he's thinking. Sometimes we are maneuvering the jets and we don't even need to talk because we know what the other guy is going to do with the airplane. And that's important. If you didn't have that kind of bond, there is no way you would ever be able to have any kind of program at all. When you do opposing maneuvers, roll full sail, opposing four-point, we are rolling the airplane and stopping each time at 90 degrees. Each time we have 90 degrees to roll, we have to stop exactly at the same time and roll to the next one based on a call over the radio. Ken is my opposing. We could approach each other at a thousand miles per hour closure within a wingspan. He goes by so close sometimes that I feel a thump because the air flow changes and you can hear the engines go by. Yet because of the contract and the trust and the bond that we have, it's not dangerous. It's just unforgiving. There are no small mistakes up there. (Video ends.)
MR. FOLEY: Okay. Hey, you noticed I was the shortest guy? I think that's bad camera work. But anyhow, you see how that trust went well beyond the pilots? That was the whole team. Everybody had this obligation to trust. So how do we do it? We call it what I call high-trust contracts. What's a high-trust contract? It's not the written requirements at this point. This is looking someone in the eye and saying, You can count on me, I am going to count on you. It's the verbal and nonverbal agreements we have to make. I will give you an example of how we used verbal and nonverbal contracts to increase execution.
There is one maneuver in the air show; it's called the knife's edge pass. What's that? It's one of just thirty maneuvers. It's Thumper and I coming at each other a thousand miles per hour closure, cross within a wingspan. Remember if we are one second off, we are going to miss by two football fields. So how do we do it? Well, we had briefed it, we put a game plan together, but now we are airborne. And just like you, I have got to coordinate.
So I have got three miles crowd right and I've got Thumper. I'm three miles crowd left. We are six miles apart; okay? I have got my other team members four miles over here, virtual; right? Working. And then I'm listening on the radio. As soon as I hear a call from my boss, I know I have 50 seconds, 50 seconds to get my two jets over center point. I know it's going to take me 45. So at 50 seconds I come up on the radio and I ask Thumper, my wingman, one simple question. I say, Are you ready to take a mark? Why? Because what I'm asking him or her is are you in position. Because I don't know; you are outside of visual range. So we have a contract. You could say no. Now, 99 times out of a hundred he was ready, but that one time I needed to know. Now, if he was off in that time, his next contract kicked in. He had five seconds, five seconds to get his butt ready. I'm going to ask him again. Guess what? 100 percent of the time he was always ready that second time.
Next contract was this. 20 seconds, 20 seconds, I want you on your three-mile tunnel, I want you on altitude, on air speed, on time. Guess what? Player-coach agreement, I will do the same thing. So if he was on altitude, on air speed, on time at 20 seconds, guess what he told me? Nothing. You want to decrease your voice mails and e-mails, put this into place. If you are where you are supposed to be, I don't need to hear from you. But if you are off, I need to know, and I need to know quickly. Why? Because we need to make some adjustments. So if he was a half second off, he just came up on the radio and said, I'm working a little late. If he was one second off, he came up, he said he was late. But we didn't hide things. It's a single-seat cockpit. No one is going to know.
Then who corrects? If he was late or early, who corrects? Yeah, I do, the leader. You all can correct faster. So if he was early, I would speed up. If he was late, I would slow down. We are going to get to where we need to go. Next contract was this. Don't rush to your one-mile checkpoint unless you have the other plane in sight. Why do you think pilots have good eyes? You know what an F-18 looks like nose-on two miles out? It's a dot, and this dot is getting bigger at the rate of a mile every four and a half seconds. Sometimes I look out there, his nose is coming in, I go, Dude, we have a problem, there is going to be an impact point, it's not going to be pretty. Then I needed to trust my teammate to do what he or she said they were going to do, and they needed to trust me.
Here am I in contract with Thumper. I said, Thumper, I will be on the flight line. It won't be five foot left or five foot right. I will be right on the flight line. I will set the altitude. I will give you the command to execute a full stick deflection roll. You, my wingman, have one job. Miss me. Yeah, it's the biggest game of chicken you ever played. But it wasn't a game and it wasn't chicken. Why? We had discipline, focus, a contact. I remember looking out there sometimes and go, Man, I hope he corrects. He would go by so close, he saw my head get thumped from the air flow going over the canopy. Meanwhile I have got to re-cage my brain. Why? Because I have got 29 other maneuvers to do in the next 30 minutes.
Now, we did that all through verbal and nonverbal contracts. So here is a question. As you are starting this week, what are the contracts you can make right now with the people in this room? What are the ones you are going to be able to make in the break-out sections? What are those contracts that say, verbal and nonverbal, you can count on me? Right? Very powerful, very powerful.
So now I'm going to take you to the fourth and final facet. I think this is the most important, and it's actually the one that is being least done in industry. You all understand this better than most, but still I don't think you are doing it at the level that I'm about to show you. Here is the real question: How do you get better? What about continuous improvement? How do you actually get better at something? I am going to take you to another video. We are going to go inside my debriefing room. Now, you all understand the concept of debrief, but I'm going to call this a “Glad to be Here” debrief.
Watch the dynamics that are in the room and think about how you and your teams are going about it, and then we will unpack it. So let's go to what I call a sacred place, my debriefing room. Here you go.
(A video file with audio is played.)
We are as wide open as we can possibly be to criticisms, and we want to become our own worst critics. We debrief everything. I will tell you how specific it gets. We even debrief the march to our airplanes and our march back. And you get picked on for every little thing. And most of us haven't marched in ten years of being in the Navy. So they get very, very specific.
The debriefing process takes probably twice as long as the flight deck itself. Rank doesn't come into play, or experience levels. Those are good, but you have to set those aside when the criticism starts to come, because that's the only way you are going to learn the maneuver and that's the only way you are going to get to where the maneuver looks good and it's safe.
I think I was a little bit late dropping you guys off, so we are a little low on the drop. But other than that, smooth air was nice. There were little open spots for us. Glad to be here.
Cross-over flying turned out nice. I mean, I had a couple of safeties in the line ref and left that flight time pass. Coming over I didn't acknowledge the go diamond call, just concentrating on where I was going, how quick the maneuver was going to be. And I was 20 feet low on the low-break cross at 280 feet, and I can fix all those things. So glad to be here.
I had the safety coming back in. For some reason I thought we were going right 45s, and then I even called turn to the left when we were turning right. So it went pretty good for me up until we got to the drop site. I am happy to be here, and glad to be here.
We have really good tapes, videotapes we look at, and the tape can be stopped, it can be reversed, slowed, played back. You know, we do a lot of that. That's how we get toward the levels of performance that we want.
You guys did a good job. It went really well today for the conditions.
When we make these mistakes and we fess up to them -- and we do it every time we fly -- it's just an extremely important aspect of what we do. What we do after we said this, I made this mistake, and I will fix it. You always say that you are going to fix it. And what that leaves the rest of us with the feeling is that you recognize your mistake and you are going to take corrective action not to let it happen again. So it doesn't drop our confidence level in another person in the formation.
If you don't take it seriously and don't debrief, if you ever get complacent, you are going to kill yourself or you are going to kill somebody else. You have got to be able to learn each and every time you go flying, because there has never been the perfect flight demonstration we have put on, so we are always looking to perfect it. (Video ends.)
MR. FOLEY: Okay, very powerful room. Actually what was the last statement everybody used in that room? "Glad to be here." See the power of that? Actually I think that is the essence.
I left you a hashtag on your seat [a #gladtobehere sticker]. You probably sat down on it and said, wait a minute, what the heck is this? It is meant to be a reminder of why we do what we do, what's the purpose in your life.
Here is my request: put it somewhere that's going to remind you why you do the things you do. I put it on my cell phone, because I pick this thing up so many times; right? But it's really the why behind the crazy. That's the secret sauce. All this other stuff I'm talking about, yeah, it's important, but this is the secret sauce.
I would suggest this: If you can get Glad to be Here into the DNA of your own heart, if you can get Glad to be Here in the DNA of your teams, if you can get Glad to be Here in the whole National Board and your families, it's amazing, what can happen because it connects back to the purpose.
When we are in maintenance, we do things other than flying. We work with the Make a Wish Foundation. Every Thursday after our practices, we bring the Make a Wish kids out, and we bring them into the airplanes and we can talk to them. We spend extra time. And I remember the impact that that had. So I started a thing called the Glad to be Here Foundation. And what is this? It's simply a way to give back. I realized -- and you all know this too -- you are here to give back, as the National Board, as an association.
I always give 10 percent of all my fees to charity. In the last few years, we have donated to over three hundred charities. One was featured on 60 Minutes two weeks ago. A good buddy of mine, Dr. Geoff Tabin, is co-founder and chairman of the Himalayan Cataract Project. He's an eye surgeon, and he goes to areas in Ethiopia or in this case the Himalayas where people don't have the money to get cataracts taken off. And it turns out that in our world, a cataract is no big deal; you can get that taken out. In the underdeveloped world, you become blind, and then you become an actual liability to your family. If you can't work, you are another mouth to feed. It's a huge deal. So he's figured out how to actually manufacture a lens, and he's got a surgical procedure and can do a cataract surgery in four and a half minutes. So in a weekend or a week, he will cure a thousand people of blindness.
Guess what it costs for a person to get their eyesight back? Twenty-five bucks. Now, they don't pay anything; this is just what we donate to them. But for $25 dollars you can cure someone of blindness. So those are the kinds of things that we are connecting to. Because of your event here today, we are going to donate and probably cure about 50 people of blindness.
One thing that I would like you to do is take out your phones. I’ve seen many of you taking notes this morning, and we can get this information to you if you go to the website called GladtobeHere.com, you can get the model that I'm talking about. More importantly, you can become an ambassador, if you choose, because my goal is to inspire a billion people to live life in all its fullness.
Now, we have only got a couple hundred in this room. It's still a big number; right? I can't do it by myself. My hope is you become an ambassador to be the light you want to see in the world. And if you need any help, that's where you get it.
Let's go back to the debrief diamond real quick. Let's unpack this very quickly and then we are going to wrap this whole thing up. But that debrief video was powerful. There is a lot going on in that video. I suggest it's one of the most important things. But what did you see, what did you observe in that room that you found was powerful? Somebody just shout it out.
Honesty. Brutal and open honesty. We called it lay it on the table. That was one of the first things. Don't hide things. What else do you see in that room you thought was pretty interesting? Humility. Let me ask you a question. Do you think fighter pilots have big egos? Okay. Do you think chiefs have big egos, and everyone else in this room? Of course; right? We say that's okay, just leave it at the door. Check your ego at the door. We are in this for the bigger picture. Anything else you observed in the room? Trust. Absolute trust and respect, everybody, everyone in the organization.
There are actually five dynamics. Here is what I think of the five. If you can get these into your organization, not just as the National Board, but back to where you work – it's amazing what can happen.
So first is you have got to create a safe environment. I think you do that through respect. Second is check your ego at the door. Work on that humility. Third is lay it on the table, that openness. Fourth, you saw accountability. Actually I think what's more important is you saw personal responsibility, this idea of ownership. We talk about it all the time. And then the fifth and the most important, by the way, is the Glad to be Here. Don't forget that. Gratitude. Otherwise it can just be a little confrontational, but we made these confrontational because we were in it for a higher purpose. And when you do this, what will happen is this. This last arrow becomes real important. It allows you to reassess. And as inspectors and as engineers, you know how important reassessment is. You reassess and you reset belief levels, and now you get the spiraling up process of high performance.
So it's one thing to talk to you as leaders -- which is what I'm doing because I know you are leaders. You represent the National Board. But at the end of the day, it's really not about us. It's about the actual troops and the technicians. It's the ones who actually get the things done. I think back to the word teamwork, and teamwork is one of those words that people say all the time but it means different things.
What does it look like when you are really part of a high-performance team, when you actually apply what I'm talking about? I thought I would just show you some video of my team. Here we go.
(A video file with audio is played.)
The maintenance crew is the heart of the team, the heart of the team, because they are the ones that make it happen. If they weren't out there fixing airplanes and keeping them ready and getting them ready for us to fly, there would be no demonstration. The Blue Angels, you know, it's a total team concept of a lot of people. You know, for obvious reasons, the general public think the Blue Angels are the six demo pilots, but the whole team is the Blue Angels. And, yes, probably more than anything, the maintenance department, the troops, don't get as much of the credit as they obviously should for putting airplanes in the sky and giving the guys quality jets to fly. They know that they do real well, the pilots know that they do real well, and they are in the sky because of the maintenance department.
My job consists of keeping him alive, making sure of the safety of the aircraft for the pilot. That's my main purpose there. If something breaks, even if it's during any one of those flight times, if anything breaks, we are there to fix it. We have an issue with an oil pressure problem. Just because the Blues are airborne doesn't mean the maintenance crew can relax.
During one demonstration, the No. 5 jet piloted by Lieutenant Commander John Foley is forced to land with an oil pressure problem. By the time he has parked the plane, the maintenance crew has a spare jet prepped and ready for takeoff. Without missing a beat, Gucci, now flying the No. 7 jet, is able to rejoin the team for the remaining maneuvers. No problem is too big or too small for the maintenance crew. They will take as much time and do whatever is necessary to make sure all six jets are ready to go. It's kind of like an old George Will story where he talked about one aspect of a program being the thunder and other aspect being the lightening. Well, we are kind of the lightning. We go out and flash around and everybody looks at us. But the thunder, the heart, the strength and the force and where it comes from is the maintenance crew. (Video ends.)
MR. FOLEY: Wow. Every time I get to see that video, it brings back such a warm feeling in my heart, because I get to see Joe and Sue and Pete. And I was thinking about the people who work for you, the troops who are making it happen. Very, very powerful. Now, you can't fake that, by the way. So how did we do it? Well, we did it with respect and we did it with caring, with the Glad to be Here attitude.
You saw in the video, by the way, I had an engine problem. I landed my jet, I taxied over to the spare jet, I climbed in, I put my hands up, two crew members strap me in. Ten traps, have to be perfect. I did not have to double-check them. I look down, the right engine is already going. I had 126 switches in the exact correct position. I got airborne in a minute and 29 seconds, not because of me, because of the troops.
You see, we actually applied what I was talking about. We had the training. Sue, my jet engine mechanic, was on the radio, she's listening. We talked about contingency planning. We had a spare jet. The minute I had a problem, she starts the right engine, she gets everything ready to go. I had the easy part. It's kind of fun when you actually apply this.
So I actually want to leave you with a challenge: I know we are just kicking off this week, and this is an amazing organization. It's amazing what you all do. And I like that I'm a mechanical engineer, ASME, I love this; right? So you are going to have a great time to work with everybody here. Seize the day. It's the old "seize the day" challenge; right? Because you never know when these things are going to be done; right? So take advantage of it.
I think about one of my last flights as a Blue Angel. I was in on my day off working on some paperwork, the boss comes in and says, Gucci, we need a test hop. Now, test hops are kind of cool. You don't always get to do them. Something significantly has to go wrong. The best part about a test hop was actually not flying the airplane. The best part was going down to maintenance control and spending time with the troops. Because we all know in our world you can get stuck in our own little tower. We all know this; right?
And I remember the best part was going down to maintenance control and I see Sue, my jet engine mechanic, she's waiting for me, and we get in conversation, we talk. Then I got my QA chief there, and he's waiting for me. He says, Sir, I checked it, no tools left in the jet. Signs his name on a piece of paper. My maintenance master chief is there, she goes, Sir, I checked compliance, we are within code. Signs her name on a piece of paper. Then you as the pilot, you sign your name.
Just like you, you take accountability, and you trust people. So I take the airplane airborne, I land the jet, I come back, and I go to the boss. I say, Boss, the airplane is ready to go. It's met specs, the highest specs the Navy had. Now, he looked at me -- and this only happened once in my entire career. He goes, Gucci, I need you to take this airplane airborne one more time. See, I don't have confidence in this airplane, so this time when you take it airborne, wring it out.
Now, "wring it out" in pilot speak means take it to the limit. So you don't always get these orders; right? So I'm walking out to the jet and I'm going, Well, how cool is this? I have got a 40 million dollar airplane, I have got ten thousand pounds of fuel, I have orders to take it to the limit. What limit do I choose to push today? And I remember thinking back in my head, I had done fun stuff up to then. I've flown through buildings and bridges and one day I did twenty loops in a row just to see if I can get myself sick; right? But I thought, what haven't I done?
And then a thought hits my head: How high? How high can this jet really go? Because in the test pilot's school, in the performance manual for the F-18, for altitude there is a graph. You know what it said? Fifty thousand plus. I'm walking out to the jet going I wonder what the plus sign means? Let's find out. So here is what you actually have got to do. You have to get supersonic, and you do what they call a Rutowski climb.
The Rutowski climb is a parabola. So I'm supersonic, I'm going through 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 55, 56, 57. All of the sudden, I start to see the curvature of the earth. I go, My God, Columbus was right. We take it for granted. I know it's only been in the '60s since we've had these pictures, but honestly, between you and I, it would not have been that long ago where everyone in this room, including myself, would have sworn the earth was flat. Perspectives change; industry and knowledge changes. And I remember, when I got up there, I was blown away by that thin veil and seeing how precious life is.
All of the sudden, though, I have got to get out of there. There is not enough oxygen for the engines; they are going to snuff out. So now I get the bright idea how fast, how fast can this jet really go? If I'm ever going to know, now is the time to find out. So I bull's-eye it. Bull's-eye is when you grab the stick with both hands and you point the noise straight down. I come out of the atmosphere at full afterburn, by the way, Mach 1.5, 1.56, 1.57, over a thousand miles per hour closure.
All of the sudden the airplane starts to slow down. Now, this is blowing my mind. Anybody know what's happening? Yeah, the density air, water molecules. I've got engineers in this crowd. You know, as I'm coming down in the atmosphere, it's strong enough to slow an airplane down. I went, oh, my God, engineering technology, you guys are right. You know, physics; right? The guy was right.
All of the sudden I get this master caution, fuel low. In ten minutes I had burned eight thousand pounds of fuel. You guys can drive your car for a year on that, by the way. Luckily I'm near my base, I land the jet, and I climb out of the cockpit. And there is Joe, my crew chief. He looks at me. He goes, Sir, what did you do? And then I realized, he's actually not looking at me, he's looking through me. I turn around and look at the jet. The paint is gone. I actually melted the paint off the jet. I mean, look at it, the leading edges are burned off and there are hunks of paint gone.
I looked at Joe and said, Joe, I just went up to 57,000 feet, I went over Mach 1.57 at a thousand miles per hour. He looks at me and he says, Cool. But then he said, “Don't worry, sir. I will fix it for you.” And then he said, “Glad to be here.”
And that's what I want to leave you with. Something special transferred in our eyes. See, what he really said is, I got your back and I got you covered, and then he said, Thank you, thank you for the opportunity.
I want to thank you. I know you have people's backs. I know you have got them covered. And most importantly, thank you for what you do as the National Board. Thank you for what you do as individuals. And if you ever get a chance, let's go burn the paint off a boiler or something, okay?
Thank you very much. Glad to be here. Thank you. (Standing ovation.)
MR. FOLEY: I've got a couple things for John Burpee. First off, I have got a book called Glad to be Here Debrief, and it has all that information I told you about. But here, more important, is the gold helmet. I know John is your outgoing Chairman, but I want to present you with this. And my hope is you put it somewhere that reminds you of not only this year, but the power that your organization has, the culture you have. Thank you very much.