Short Cuts

It was going to be a long evening, anyway—the flight check bird was coming in, and both Instrument Landing Systems (ILSs) needed to be tuned up and ready for the test. So we took some downtime, split into two teams, and worked our way through each piece of equipment—Localizer, Glide Slope, each marker in turn, VOR, TACAN—to make certain each was, as far as we could measure, sending the right signals to the right places. If flight check found even the smallest variance off what the ILS systems were supposed to be providing, they could shut the airfield down “until further notice.”

The team I was on was driving across one of the many roads out on the airfield, trying to catch up with the other half of the shop to find out what they had done, and what needed to be done. Off in the distance, we noted someone standing in the middle of a field between the roads, waving vigorously. We changed direction, driving across the bumpy field, through grass as high as the top of the hood (Base Ops was planning a burn, so they’d left the grass to grow a bit higher than normal). As we got a little closer, we could see the tail end of a pickup truck—Air Force blue—sticking up just above the tops of the grass.

Finally, we arrived at the waving person, and got out. Sure enough, they had taken a short cut through the field to hurry between two pieces of equipment, and—because the grass was so high—failed to see the huge ditch running through the field. They had driven the truck straight into the ditch. All that remained above the grass was the tailgate; the rest of the truck was below the grass line, or completely in the ditch. We didn’t want to call a tow truck—never mind how badly the Base Ops folks would have yelled at us—so we drove back to the shop, grabbed some tow straps, and pulled the truck out of the ditch ourselves. There wasn’t any damage, of course, other than (perhaps) the amusement of the guys in the Tower watching the process.

The point?

That single short cut costs us, as a team, several hours. Rather than having time to grab dinner before the flight check bird arrived, we ended up just barely making the rounds and checks necessary to insure we’d pass the inspection.

Short cuts might work—in fact, they might work most of the time. But, in the end, you’re going to end up in a ditch, waving to get someone else to help you get out, and wasting hours in the fixing of the problems you’ve created by not using the path you should have used. Sometimes, of course, short cuts are the “mother of invention,” as they create new usable paths. But maybe it’s not best to try the short cut when the grass is high, and time is short.

The next time you’re tempted to take a shortcut, think not only about how much time you’ll save, but how much time you could waste along the way, as well. You’ll need to value these things about how much you think you’ll learn, and how much time you can really (right this second!) spend learning those things.

Short cuts, in the end, aren’t always shorter.