Are We on Autopilot?

Autopilot as a method of traveling is not new.  Aircraft have employed autopilot for many years on longer haul aircraft.  The first autopilot was created in 1912 when the Sperry Corporation linked a gyroscopic heading indicator to an attitude indicator to hydraulically operate an aircraft’s elevator and rudder when moving in the same direction.   Autopilot by design saves effort, reduces monotony, and limits fatigue.  Although it is not perfect, modern advancements in technology have made it close to human precision with normal operations.

How many times have you wished the car could drive itself? Sometimes I find myself in a situation where I would really like to talk on the phone, text, eat, and drive.  Clearly, that is four things more than what someone should do while driving safely.  This week I saw an article about Google’s successful efforts to create a self-driving car.  (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2012/01/ff_autonomouscars/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wired%2Findex+%28Wired%3A+Index+3+%28Top+Stories+2%29%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher).  Through a combination of laser based sight and a computer brain cars can now drive up to 75 miles per hour on the highway as well as navigate a busy city street unassisted by a human.  Although robotic cars would diminish some of the excitement of driving, it could potentially reduce the number of accidents as well as resulting fatalities.  When the computer takes over the female voice of the Prius announces “engaging autopilot.”

In business, it can be tempting to “put things on autopilot.”  On a regular basis, I hear leaders talk about how some facet of their operation is “on autopilot” until they are free or have a chance to address the issue.  Some common issues that seem to regularly garner the “autopilot setting” are personnel issues, complex relationship decisions, process changes, and conflict situations.  Although it is critical to prioritize our time and effort, if we place too many things on autopilot, we are headed for disaster.  What are some important things to keep in mind when on autopilot?

Use it Sparingly

Although it is a great tool to prevent overload, the more that is put off, the more you risk missing something later.  We live in an age when we have to multitask to a certain extent to remain relevant.   A customer relationship, problem employee, misfiring process, or up to date skill must be maintained to ensure success.  Although one area can be put on “autopilot” to free up time for another pressing issue, it is better to adopt a method of time and issue management that allows you to allocate time on a regular basis to each major area of responsibility.

Don’t Use It Only on Hard Stuff

Aversion can lead us to deciding to put off anything that is hard to deal with and does not have an easy answer.  This is exacerbated by personalities that are drawn to avoiding conflict since autopilot can become the standard option when things seem tough.  Although it is tempting, it is unwise to avoid tough issues by putting them on hold hoping they will resolve themselves.

Avoid the Temptation to Justify Permanent Autopilot

The modern workplace is full of opportunities to become fire fighters.  Another common temptation is to chase the biggest threat until it is resolved before moving to the next crisis.  Any other duty or responsibility operates on autopilot until it becomes a crisis.  A long range and balanced perspective is important to success.  If an emergency occurs, it is important to deal with it.  However, managing by crisis is not an overly productive management strategy.

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