Photo credit: Nisar Keshvani. - Photo: 2020

COVID-19: Switching to Airplane Mode — Life Lessons From the Unchartered

Viewpoint by Nisar Keshvani

SINGAPORE (IDN) — Like many others around the world, life took an unexpected turn around Lunar New Year. With the world health situation suddenly becoming unpredictable, we’ve had to adapt to new scenarios, almost by the hour, based on new information. I feel privileged to be in my communications role — effecting interventions, and more often than not, shaping them.

We’ve had to make tough calls — re-engineer the norm, implement uncomfortable measures, address fixed perceptions and mindsets, adapt to the unknown – together walk into unchartered territory.

Finally after a month of fast-paced action, mentally exhausted, I cherished quality time with the family. I knew I had to switch my phone to airplane mode. Recuperate. An hour would suffice.

It began as an unceremonious walk in the park, shooting the breeze, sliding, swinging. Watching people as kites soared, admiring the dogs, and a group of youngsters frisbee. It was great to be outside the office. Back with nature. We even witnessed the sunset. Pure bliss!

In the midst of all this action, my six-year-old had a simple plan, he wanted to throw his styrofoam plane to me. We tried different locations. It was not working out — either too windy or just too many people. What I hesitated to tell him, was that his plane was slightly damaged. It had war injuries. Both my daughter and he were flying it down a flight of stairs, moments ago.

As we were walking back, a random patch of flowers below a tree caught our attention. So rare. Both of us looked up, and saw a natural opening among the tree branches. We smiled. No words exchanged – instinctively, we knew we had to fly the plane through.

We tried. I tell you, and we tried hard. And for quite a while, too. It just was not happening. After some time, we realized we were flying against the wind. We switched directions. How silly. At least, now it flew.

Next, how to angle it through the gap? We moved positions. We stood, we stooped, we jumped. I carried him on my shoulders. Nothing worked but we persevered. It even got technical. Keep your back straight, steady your arm, take a deep breath, and then glide. Finally, we found the right spot, caught the wind. YES, we made it!

It was exactly at this point, I realized my son just taught me an important lesson. All the sophisticated takeaways (I was fresh from a morning debrief of our first ever virtual Open House in history, you see) with intellectual debate. You know what, learnings of my past month could be drawn simply from flying his plane:

A battered plane can still fly

Sometimes in life, you don’t have the best resources or the most stable plane. But you work with what you are given and make the best of the situation.

Chart, assess, chart

Chart a course. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay. Keep trying different formulations. Take what works, leave behind what doesn’t. Re-engineer, if necessary.

Answers don’t come easy

When facing a difficult flight plan, go at it from all directions. Understand your audience. Understand your stakeholders. More importantly, understand the situation. Steer clear of presumptions — don’t take anything for granted.

Stay the course

We all know where we need to get to. That quick fix may be tempting now but remember that decision you make now has a long-term impact. Stick to your principles, produce your best work and remember quality is key.

Don’t forget your passengers and crew

We need to move fast, but don’t forget your people. Bring them on the journey with you. Formulate. Articulate. Explain. Examine. Keep your stakeholders close, so they understand and keep pace with you.

A safe landing

We are all, always under the gun. Time is ticking, and fast. But if it means investing an extra five or ten minutes to test a scenario, take the time. Anything to ensure a safe landing.

Arriving on time is important – no matter what

You will be challenged. It will get frustrating. People may not agree with you. Tolerate other perspectives but remain patient. We all become tired and that will impact our judgement. But at the end of the day, remember, arriving on time is still important.

Refuel to reflect

Remember this is a long-haul flight. Cherish your meals when served, enjoy that on-board drink and snack, watch a sitcom if it helps. Pause and reflect. Sometimes the best solutions come when you take that walk to stretch.

This post dedicated to my son and daughter, part of the next generation, which continues inspiring me. And to all those around the world working in overdrive to address COVID-19 under tremendous pressures for our health and safety. Respect them, give them the time and space to do what they need to, and support them if you can. After all, they are just like you and me. In this time of global uncertainty, have faith and remember, this too shall pass.

Nisar Keshvani is a global citizen who has lived and worked across five continents before returning home to Singapore. He leads communications for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore and is Vice President of the Institute of Public Relations Singapore (IPRS). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the organizations he works for. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 March 2020]

Photo credit: Nisar Keshvani.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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