How a drone taught me about planning ahead

Those of us in the productivity space try to strive and be prepare for situations and eventualities. We thrive on planning, evaluating possible outcomes, and then ensuring we have taken all the factors into consideration before starting our efforts. Yet, for all that effort, the world still seems to slip us a curve ball and send our plans into oblivion.

A plan without data is a plan to fail

My wife gave me a drone for Christmas this year. Not an expensive, fancy one, but rather what you might call a “beginner’s drone”. Now I’ve flown model airplanes, R/C helicopters, and even model rockets so I was fairly confident I had the mental fortitude and experience to give this a go and be moderately successful. Even so, I took my time and read the manual, performed some tests with the controls indoors (sorry puppy, didn’t mean to terrify you) and even executed some very (and I mean very) low altitude take offs and landings in my driveway. My confidence was ready for a more comprehensive flight.

Again, as a planner I checked the weather (calm, sunny) and found a place with a large open field in which to give it a go. Take off went smoothly, with a minute or two of moderate speed flight around the yard. Then the unthinkable happened. The drone started going up, and up, and up. No response to my control. Nothing I could do caused any reaction from the drone as it climbed and drifted to the far end of the yard coming to rest in the top of a 60′ tree. There it sits.

Aside from anger over losing my new plaything, doubts crept into my mind. Did I miss something? What did I do wrong? Maybe I just wasn’t as smart as I thought when it came to this drone technology. Not only was my drone stuck in the tree, apparently my ego was as well. The rest of the day was spent with the occasional passing by the rear window to glare menacingly at the tree that had captured my drone and my confidence.

A second chance

A couple of days later I received a call from my father who said he was in possession of two drones. He said he was fascinated by watching my original one in it’s maiden voyage and was sorry to see the tragic turn mine had ended in. While an unnecessary purchase, it was very appreciated, and I’ll admit my spirits were raised.

Upon seeing the new drone I couldn’t help but express my surprise. It was almost identical to my previous one. The body design, controller, control systems, even replacement batteries all matched my old one. A complete coincidence of purchase was turning into the universe giving me a chance to figure out what I had done wrong.

We took the drone to a larger open field, checked the weather (slight breeze, overcast) and added one more step. This time, before taking off, I laid out 50′ of thin cotton string, tied it to the runner of the drone, and staked the other end to the ground. Trees were going to be off-limits this time.

Immediately on take-off the drone began to drift away, no matter how much forward throttle I applied. The slight breeze proved too much for it’s small motors, pushing it further and further away from me. Then the contingency plan kicked in. The drone reached the end of the string and pulled itself over and down to the ground with a bump. No damage done and nothing but a short walk for recovery.

A lesson learned in flight and on the ground

After four more flights with similar results two things occurred to me: factors I couldn’t see but needed to take into consideration were affecting the control I had and by planning for those factors not from a stance of overcoming but limiting their impact I could provide myself better ways to evaluate and adjust how I was approaching the issues at hand.

When we plan for projects or actions, the time spent in evaluation of contingencies is as important as researching how others have completed the same tasks as well as identifying possible problems before they occur. We can never be prepared for everything because if we try we’ll never start anything. Preparing for the big things, being aware of the small things, and balancing the two can make all the difference when it comes to being productive or in this case being stuck in a tree.