Looking beyond the pandemic

This image describes the pneumonic A-N-C – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. This is used by pilots during an emergency.

A few years ago, I was at a family and friends party and got speaking to a British Airways (BA) pilot. We began discussing pilot training during an emergency. With their adrenalin pumping and numerous calls on their attention, what is the pilot’s immediate priority to ensure the safety of passengers? It turns out that pilots follow the mnemonic A-N-C – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.  First, they ‘Aviate’ which means keeping the plane and all passengers safe by checking airspeed and altitude because communication does not matter if you are about to fly into the side of a mountain. Only when the plane is safe, do they ‘Navigate’ their position and set a course. It’s at this point they ‘Communicate.’

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate (A-N-C) — Eastern Air Lines Flight 401


A famous example of a failure to follow A-N-C happened in 1972 with the crash of Flight 401 en-route from New York to Miami. The experienced four-person crew was single-mindedly focused on the malfunction of a $5 landing gear position indicator light bulb while the plane descended and crashed into the Florida Everglades killing 101 people. There is an important lesson here from the aviation industry for fitness industry business leaders. The majority of businesses have successfully ‘aviated’ through the pandemic — they have avoided ‘flying into the mountain’, but now the focus moves to ‘navigating’ their business to a future position where customers can be profitably served and supported.

Navigating the fitness and exercise industry ecosystem

We should all be very aware that how people can access and ‘consume’ exercise has dramatically changed over the past decade which is shifting power and influence from providers to customers. For example. 71,000 new health and fitness apps were launched in 2020 according to a report from App Annie. Yes, competition between clubs still exists, but increasingly consumers are looking beyond a single place or solution and so the question that should now be asked is: “how can my business continue playing a valued role in this person’s life?”

Some of the world’s largest technology companies are also, directly and indirectly, involved from Apple with their new Fitness+ instructor-led platform for €93 per year (for up to five family members) and Netflix whose mission is to win an ever-greater share of a person’s disposable time – more time spent watching Netflix normally means less time spent exercising. So, the message here is that consumers have an abundant choice and you and your business must be razor-sharp in understanding what your members are looking to accomplish at your club.

One foot in the future

This pandemic has disrupted life on a global scale and we should not assume that things will return to how they were. Following the financial crisis of 2008, I noticed how consumers were flocking to low-cost gyms which were beginning to open across Europe. Many consumers were now seeking more affordable exercise experiences which surprised many existing club operators with prices two to three times higher. So do not be surprised as we emerge from this pandemic.

I believe a great business has one foot in the present and one foot in the future. This enables a business to identify new opportunities before others and to prevent it from being surprised by a sudden change in consumer behaviour. We can use foresight and futures frameworks to scan the world for signals of change which can provoke new ideas, products and services. I will be sharing some of these frameworks at the forthcoming Portugal Active National Congress in October. Until the Congress, I would recommend you all to reflect deeply on the core purpose of your business — the reason it exists and why it is needed more than ever as we emerge from this extraordinary pandemic.

About Ray Algar

Ray Algar is the CEO of Oxygen Consulting, a UK-based company that provides strategic insight for organisations connected to the global health and fitness industry. He is a long-term strategic adviser to organisations whose everyday mission is to help people to experience the benefits of a healthier and more physically active life.