If you travel a lot, you’ve seen dozens of flight attendants give their speech about ETAs, safety protocols and getting your seat backs and tray tables in the upright position for takeoff and landing. I’m guessing that the first time you were on a plane, you paid close attention to the speech, but as the number of trips mounted your attention moved to screaming babies, in-flight magazines or — like me — sleep.
A lot of the flight attendant’s speech makes perfect sense. My tray table really should be up during takeoff and landing since being impaled on it would be a particularly uncomfortable way to die. Likewise, it’s good to know that if we lose cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down in front of me.
But the thing about bringing my seat to an upright position is perplexing. For one, I honestly can’t tell the difference between upright and what passes for “reclined” at 30,000 feet, but I assure you it can’t be more than an inch or two.
And anyone who can’t figure out how to use the buckle on the seat belt needs to be taken out of the gene pool immediately. A little unrestrained turbulence could be just the ticket.
I’m still not sure what to make of the rules about “small electronic devices.” Not long ago, I had to turn off my iPod before takeoff. Now I think I need only refrain from certain New Wave hits of the early ‘80s. The rules keep changing.
I’d ask a flight attendant about this stuff, but they might consider me a threat of some kind and throw me off the plane — likely by force. Sense of humor does not seem to be a prerequisite in the air travel industry.
Bottom line, a lot of the information in the flight attendant speech is useful and important. It’s good to know where the exits are, good to know about the oxygen masks and good to know that my seat can double as a flotation device if we crash in water. And whether a person is on his or her first flight or 1,000th, that stuff bears repeating. Eventually, it sinks in and it just might save lives if all else goes wrong.
For the record, I do not tire of hearing the basics. I do not roll my eyes when someone tells me something I’ve known for a long time and have heard many times before.
The basics are important. The basics are essential, and most of the time if we can just get the basics right, we succeed.
Advanced stuff is nice. It can be flashy, and once in a while the advanced stuff is what separates one person or business from the crowd. But far more often the thing that impresses and makes us successful is a dogged devotion to the basics. When you get the basics right, you stand out because so few others seem to be able to master them.
Let me give you a few examples. Keep in mind, these are just some businesses that happen to be top of mind as I write. You can almost certainly find more and better examples that resonate for you.
Think of Walmart and their slogan of 19 years, “Always Low Prices.” That’s a basic that Walmart made its religion. (Until they changed it in 2008. Why?)
Think of McDonalds. Say what you will of their burgers and fries, but when you stop at McDonalds you know what you’re getting whether you’re in California or Maine, Florida or Washington. That consistency of quality and service is their coda.
Think of Amazon. Not only do their prices compete with any other outlet, but their selection of most goods is unmatched and perhaps unmatchable — hence their logo, in which an arrow goes from the first “a” in Amazon to the “z” — they cover everything from A to Z.
Walmart, McDonalds and Amazon are three extraordinary businesses. Like them or not, you have to admit they’ve been wildly successful. And they’ve done it with a slavish devotion to some basics regarding products and services.
You may be able to pick out a company that has succeeded because they did something great that was truly out of the ordinary — like a dry cleaner with soft serve ice cream or a laundromat with free chair massages — but even those companies probably got the basics right first.
It’s why I’m not bothered by reminders about the basics — including the flight attendant speech we hear every time we fly. When we’re talking about the basics, there are lessons to be learned even if it’s not the first time through.
And remember, the nearest exit may be behind you.