10. Plan for Daylight | Peter Mehit
I was flying from Philadelphia to Dallas. It was an early Thursday morning flight and almost empty. I got a complimentary bump to first class and sat at the front bulkhead, half awake with a pile of papers in the empty seat next to me. The cabin PA crackled to life.
“We got a problem,” the captain said in that droll voice that we all make fun of. Then the plane went into the steepest dive I’ve ever experienced. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he added, I think as an afterthought.
But things were pretty far from okay. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling and then floated in the air, weightless. My papers were floating off the seat cushion and in that moment, I noticed that I was weightless too. It only lasted for about five, maybe ten seconds and it would have been the coolest thing ever, if it weren’t totally terrifying.
As we headed downstairs at incredible speed, I pulled my mask off. There was not a scintilla of air in the cabin. I felt air hunger instantly. I instinctively pressed the mask back on my face and tried like hell not to hyperventilate.
We teach a class on managing conflict constructively and we talk about getting yourself together first when in crisis. The example is the classic oxygen mask situation. Put your mask on first before helping anyone else. If you don’t, you’ll be unconscious and no help to anyone. Now, power diving toward a breathable altitude, I really understood what that meant.
Many times, in the entrepreneurial journey, the air will be sucked out of your cabin. An investor will back out, a partner will quit, you’ll launch to indifference. Things will happen that will throw you off, knock the wind out of you.
Two things happen when we have a setback: a.) We are disappointed, maybe even fearful, and b,) we question the choices that brought us to this moment.
Dealing with the first part, we have to get some oxygen. Unless you are actually on fire, take a walk, have a glass of wine, do whatever makes you relax and feel centered. Do this even if you don’t want to. The urge will be to dive right in to fix the situation, but if you don’t fix you first, you will not achieve the best outcome.
I like to meditate. When times are troubled, thoughts don’t stop. I have to work at it. I imagine myself in a room full of radios all tuned to a different station. One by one, I imagine myself turning each one off until I’m alone with the ambient sounds in the room, focusing on them, not thinking about anything in particular. When we can reach a point of detachment about a situation, we find calm. When we’re calm, we make better decisions.
Then the second part, how did we get here? It helps if you had a plan. If you didn’t, this is where you stop, regroup and make one. If you did, you should be able to see where it didn’t work and you will have clues about what to do. Goal, strategy, tactics, in that order. That is how successful entrepreneurs operate. Having plans and assumptions, making predictions about the outcome of their actions, is how they become stronger in business and as leaders.
Agile methodology, minimum viable products and startup canvases are not enough. If they are tools that support a firm destination, with a clear strategy, then they can be part of the tactics to reach your goal. But if the entire effort is seeing what sticks, it’s like flying in an airliner with no emergency oxygen. When problems come you’ll be panicked and then unconscious, no help to anyone.
Bill Bruford, the drummer of Yes, Genesis and King Crimson once said, “The reason for discipline is the pursuit of accidents.” He means that you study and practice for the times that things don’t work out the way you plan.
In football, for example, sometimes the broken plays are the game changers. NFL teams spend countless hours in practice, drills, reviewing video and studying play books. But when the play breaks down, the running back sees daylight and knows to run for it. The practice allowed him to understand the moment he didn’t plan for. Because he trained to win, he sees opportunity.
Planning your business is your training to win. Like the running back, the more you plan, the more you see. The more you understand your competition, the more you can out maneuver them. The more you understand your customer, the easier they are to reach. The more you understand your costs the easier it is to move your pricing. In short, the more you visualize where you want to be, the goal, the more likely you are to see daylight, whether it’s in your plan or not.
We landed at Dallas, shaken, but without further incident. The maker of the plane had the foresight to include emergency oxygen in the design. The pilot had been trained in how to handle our emergency in advance. Everything we needed for our survival was in the plan for that airplane.
Being successful is about mastering the details. Mastering the details is about rehearsal and practice. In business that is about planning, estimating and forecasting. Nobody truly makes it in business without having that talent themselves or available to them. With it, the oxygen you need will be at hand, if you need it.