Saturday, May 11, 2019

Off the Shelf: Will it Fly?

Don't worry: I'm not suffering anxiety over any upcoming transcontinental flights. Nor will I have the luxury of catching up on my reading while on such a trip. Though I've lots of books amassed regarding my recent excursion into the history of post-Civil War era South Carolina Upcountry, my reading feature for this month won't even touch on that pile of most excellent selections. You see, I've yet to catch up on a book sitting on my nightstand for, oh, maybe a year or so. I truly serve as devoted follower of the concept of the antilibrary: my eyes are bigger than my reading capacity. (Perhaps I do need more upcoming transcontinental flights!)

Pat Flynn's slim volume Will it Fly? offers readers a promise of a technique to test our brainy new ideas in the harsh theater of reality—without losing our shirts. Flynn patterns his concept after the simplicity of teaching his young son how to make and fly paper airplanes: hypothesize, but test results, and check out why the successes could fly, and why the failures flopped.

I could see that when I first learned of the author's unfortunate experience during the economic downturn of 2008—when he, as a recent college graduate who had just obtained his dream job at a leading architectural firm, was laid off. Times like that, anyone who can learns to tap dance as fast as they can. Before that point hit, Flynn had been toying with an online business idea, and he put it to the test. Fortunately, the idea worked enough to more than meet his financial needs—but some of his subsequent ideas either needed revision, or plain old didn't work. That's where the paper airplane analogy takes flight. This book is his explanation of enduring that School of Hard Knocks, offering the tried and true about his test flight escapades to spare others the cost of business failures.

Granted, our family runs a business, and we can always use inspiration as we examine how to better offer our services. But as I read through the book, I started envisioning applications which aren't strictly in the business domain. Anyone who comes up with a new project idea for a nonprofit organization—think Genealogical Society, for instance—could use a primer in testing it out in the real world. "Will it fly?" should be a question we ask as we grapple with everything from boosting membership to meeting community research needs to addressing the imperative to reach out to a younger generation of family history enthusiasts with vastly different research—and associating—requirements than their parents or grandparents who currently fill the membership rolls.

I particularly like his concept of letting those fresh ideas flow from who we are—not forcing an unnatural match between the do-er and the doing of the business. We, as organizations such as our genealogical societies, need to recognize "who we are" just as much as do the individuals for whom that sage advice was originally penned. As our local organization seeks to institute new approaches to serve our community—and potential new constituencies—we can certainly take these observations to heart as well as our contemporaries in the business world.


  1. There is always food for thought over here at Family Tapestry. I had to look that one up - "antilibrary." I definitely fall into this group. But it hovers on the verge of a problem for me: "compulsive book buyer." Now I have a nice-sounding term for my condition :-)

    Are you pondering a new idea and how to test its glide ratio?

    1. Yes, that is a much more palatable word, Lisa. And I, too, share your "compulsive book buyer" dilemma. I've learned to corral my book-buying impulses over the years, but those purchases still far outstrip that reading speed--though not that need-to-know, just in case ;)


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