pomelo schema: a strategy for leadership — observations

Chip and Dan Heath use the pomelo as an example of how analogies enable us to learn, comprehend, and remember. More importantly, they help us navigate situations we have never experienced.  (Keep reading for a definition of pomelo.)

Parenting is a kind of leadership, a very important one, and there is a host of wisdom we can learn from it.

We want our kids to succeed, to soar through life.

But do we know what that really looks like? We probably don’t think of arrows or paper airplanes when we imagine parenting, but both provide an important lesson.

Let’s start by making a paper airplane. (Here is a link to directions.) When we are done building it, we are going to do a “test flight.” After if flies, we ask the following question: “How well did it fly?”

That’s probably the wrong question to ask—it’s drowning in ambiguity, in uncertainty. Did we mean…

How long did it fly?
How far did it fly?
How fast did it fly?
How high did it fly?
How straight did it fly?
Was it wobbly?
Did it do any loops or rolls on its way?
How hard did you have to throw it?
If you throw it harder, does it just fly farther and faster, or does it do something totally unexpected?
Does it do what you want it to do?
Can you make it land where you are aiming?

As you can see, asking the question, “how well did it fly?” was too broad, and we need to be more specific. But even with specifics, we face a challenge.  What if I designed my airplane for aerobatics and you designed your airplane to glide over long distances? Even with the questions we have proposed already, we are going to get different answers.

Can you see the similarities between building paper airplanes and raising kids? Some kids love to read. Others are great at sports. Doing the same thing with each kid isn’t going to get the same results.  The good news is, we can equip our sons and daughters to navigate through the uncertainty.

A pomelo is like a large, sweet grapefruit with a much thicker rind. That mental image is worth a thousand words, and it gives us a framework from which to infer even more information about the pomelo.

Life is a journey. And these are observations from ours.


You’ve just read observations, a column that illustrates in my personal life and leadership the technical concepts found in ATOMs.

Someday you and I will have the chance to see our handiwork take flight. In fact, this analogy is found in the Bible. Psalms 127 tells us this, “As arrows are in the hand of the mighty man, so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”  Someday–and I know this for certain–you and I will stand before Christ and give an account. The Righteous Judge is going to ask us, “how well did they fly?” and He expects a detailed answer. What I do understand–as a husband, father, and experimental test pilot–is how to face uncertainty and navigate it successfully, and that’s what I explain  in the book You Can Be a Test Pilot, which I wrote for my oldest son, Blake.

Ready to help your child, help his or her dreams take flight? Here are three things you can do right now.
1. Check out the introduction to You Can Be A Test Pilot here.
2. Check out the stories of amazing test pilots who became astronauts like Charlie Duke and Rick Husband.
3. Download kneeboard notes free–a checklist for paper airplane awesomeness that introduces the wonders of flight test.

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