2020 Pondering: Finding Motivation in Hardship

Normally around this time of the year, I catch myself thinking: can it really be December already? Where has the year gone? Not this year. I’m much more inclined to have a few drinks and blow a loud horn to make sure 2020 knows that it should move right on out of here and melt into a distant past.

Let’s be clear: 2020 has been the most painful year that Acubed and the aviation industry has experienced since the beginning of our existence, and it has certainly been the most difficult year in my life. While that might sound dramatic, it’s honest. Yet throughout the multiple hardships we’ve faced this year, one central theme has quietly surfaced, if you’ve tuned into the right frequency: you can make the impossible possible when you have enough smart, driven people focused on it.

Finding worthwhile challenges in hardship

The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as the worst crisis the aviation history has ever experienced. Overnight, the unthinkable occurred—airline activity came to a standstill as governments imposed travel bans and protocols to help protect the public. And yet, while it may have appeared that the virus was bringing the entire world to a grinding halt, in reality it simply changed, in many cases, where energy and effort were being directed.

For Airbus, instead of zeroing in on how to meet the growing forecasted demand for new aircraft, the focus suddenly shifted to introducing protocol to ensure workers’ safety, providing PPE, adjusting production rates and doing what was necessary to protect the core business and its customers. Priorities had to be reconsidered.

And then something extraordinary happened. Airbus’ leadership chose not only to safeguard the business, which it continues to do, but also to view the pandemic as an opportunity to build a more sustainable future by making zero-emission flight a priority and a reality, sooner rather than later. It has mobilized a large chunk of its technology brains to solve one of the biggest challenges of our times, while encouraging others around the world to join in. And this, during the worst aviation crisis we’ve ever experienced. That takes courage.

At Acubed, we went through the same prioritization exercise, making the painful choice to home in on some of our core initiatives, which meant letting go of other promising opportunities we had just begun to explore. The exercise was brutal, especially because it involved saying goodbye to extremely talented colleagues who were part of the family. The reality is that making aircraft safer, transforming the way they are manufactured and the airspace in which they operate for the better—what we have our sights set on today—is no small dream and requires all the resources we can possibly muster. Focus, believe, achieve. So we’ve gotten clearer in our focus to do just this, and are collaborating with the best and the brightest inside Airbus to make it happen; no great feat is ever accomplished alone.

On more difficult days, I like to think back to what motivated me to come out to Silicon Valley to lead Acubed two years ago: to experience a culture that embraces diversity and the free exchange of ideas, and to work with talented optimists who are passionate about cracking some of the hardest technological nuts. I feel privileged to be in a place and among bright people that operate on the premise that you can make the impossible possible.

Taking inspiration from the vaccine pioneers

I know how easy it is to feel down and a bit lost, given everything 2020 has thrown our way. Even some of the cheeriest amongst us seem to be running on empty. So if you’re having one of those days, I invite you to take a minute to marvel at the gifted people behind the COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough, who have—despite all the naysayers, and everything we know (or have recently learned) about the lengthy process whereby vaccines get developed and approved—managed to get a highly effective vaccine approved and into the neediests’ arms at breakneck speed, even before the calendar year changes. They focused their minds on the goal, garnered the resources required, collaborated with the best and made it happen. It’s no small miracle we may finally start being able to gather again and see loved ones in the near-term.

It’s positive stories like these that refocus our mind on all of the things we can accomplish together in 2021 if we collaborate and put our minds to it. And since there is plenty of research indicating that the wandering mind is more creative (especially outdoors, which jives well with social distancing), why not let your imagination run free over this holiday break, relax and breathe?

Here’s to starting next year with a renewed sense of wonder for all that humankind has discovered and created, and for all that we will continue to discover and create. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

- Mark Cousin