By Stan Craig
January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was on its way to Charlotte, North Carolina, when, two minutes after takeoff, a flock of Canadian geese flew into the aircraft causing both engines to fail. The passengers braced for impact. As the plane fell from the sky, the freezing waters of the Hudson River came into view and Flight 1549 hit the water at 150 mph. Dave Stockton, a businessman on the plane, said later in a television interview, “When you think you’re going to die, you start thinking about your life… your family, little league baseball, things like in a movie.” All 156 passengers survived the crash in the 36° water and their lives were changed forever.
This was a totally unexpected occurrence in everyone’s life that morning. But what was a sure disaster became a much different story than anyone could have imagined.
Captain Sullenberger told Katie Couric in an interview on ABC that, while this emergency was unexpected, he was not unprepared.
“One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”
What was evident to everyone on Flight 1549 was that this captain had spent sufficient time preparing himself for the unexpected. The unexpected occurs every day in our business and personal lives. Those who are wise always expect the unexpected and prepare accordingly. How do you prepare for the unexpected?
Value Experience: Every business has a number of experiences, personal and corporate, positive and negative, in its history. It is impossible to run a business without facing and overcoming difficulty. The collective wisdom learned ought to be shared. Rather than forgetting and burying past mistakes, those who are wise will take the time to review and discuss past solutions and new ways to confront problems should they, or any problems similar, come again. This is not about assigning blame, but about discovering what went wrong and why. The corporate memory of senior employees to review problems in the past can help prevent them in the future. The experience of Capt. Sullenberger made the difference in the lives of everyone on board.
Rethink Training: In the archives of every business, whether it is entrepreneurial or corporation, big or small, events have occurred that need to be discussed and reviewed with an emphasis on discovering answers to past problems.
This is exactly what Capt. Sullenberger’s training was all about. He had investigated accidents in the past and understood the fatal flaws that resulted in tragic consequences. Training is not just a special class or attending a seminar. Training takes place every day in how we view and carry out our tasks and responsibilities. Safety training is not simply where to find the fire extinguisher, but what fires were caused in the past and why.
Educate Everyone: It is important to remember that Capt. Sullenberger was not selected for singular education in flight safety but was included in a number of flight safety training programs held throughout his career. What if his age, his background, his previous educational experiences, had disqualified him from training or what if he had decided it was unnecessary at his level of experience? Safety is everyone’s business and training everyone is in the best interest of every business.
Make regular deposits: Every day your business has an opportunity to train, motivate and recognize your employees. Helping everyone do the best in whatever job he or she is doing ought to be the function of every manager.
Unexpected events do not always occur when leaders are around to make decisions. They can occur on the line, on the shipping dock, when the raw material is delivered, when a tiny flaw in the manufacturing process becomes apparent and that’s often the place and time to act. It is those every-day occurrences where confident and prepared have the opportunity to make a difference in the outcomes that affect our employees, our shareholders, our management team, our clients, products and the well-being of our business.
The unexpected can come from anywhere, at any time. Who could have expected and prepared for a flock of Canadian geese to bring down a modern aircraft? Captain Sullenberger responded by trusting his experience, education and training to guide him in wise and thoughtful action.
Taking care of the little details, learning to be observant, openly discussing problems and issues without any fear is a trait of being successful. Training and experience helps everyone prepare for the unexpected so that when a major crisis comes a safe landing can be made.
Stan Craig, the founder of the ForeTalk Seminar, is an accomplished financial planner, executive coach and keynote speaker. He is also author of “ForeTalk: The 7 Critical Conversations for Living in the Season of Now.” As a finance professional, Stan enjoyed a 27-year career at Merrill Lynch, which included positions as National Sales Manager, Director of Global Sales for Defined Asset Funds and the First Vice President and Senior Director of the Office of Investment Performance.