Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, the pilot who managed to calmly and safely land US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, is one cool character. By anyone’s measure, the guy is a hero. A former Air Force fighter pilot with thirty years of flying experience, Sullenberger trained pilots to deal with mid-air emergencies like the one he found himself in.
Clearly, those of us building startups are dealing with issues and outcomes on an entirely different scale… success or failure is very far from life or death. But as I caught clips of interviews with Sullenberger, I couldn’t help but draw a few parallels to our world.
In a recent interview with Katie Couric, Sullenberger was asked what was required to make a successful water landing. He responded:
“I needed to touch down with the wings exactly level. I needed to touch down with the nose slightly up. I needed to touch down at a descent rate that was survivable. And I needed to touch down just above our minimum flying speed but not below it. And I needed to make all these things happen simultaneously.”
The reason that most new ventures fail is that so many things need to simultaneously go right in order to succeed. You’re juggling ten balls, each of which needs to be accounted for, and all of which could derail your momentum if dropped to the floor. There is distraction and noise and yet somehow you need to lock in on those ten balls.
Sullenberger goes on to say…
“I had to solve this problem. I knew I had to find a way out of this box I found myself in… My focus at that point was so intensely on the landing…I thought of nothing else.”
Couric asks if this was difficult, to which Sullenberger coolly responds…
“No. It just took some concentration.”
Most of us will never have half the steely nerves of Sullenberger, but we can certainly learn more intense concentration. Startups rarely seem to fail for lack of good ideas, but often seem to fail for lack of focus. With so many variables in motion, it can be difficult to develop the proper tunnel vision required for perfect execution. By nature, most entrepreneurs that I know are relatively frenetic thinkers and are habitual multi-taskers. That said, the best of them have an ability to take a deep breath and silence the clutter (for minutes, hours, or days) in order to execute against a series of mission critical tasks. Hopefully, we will never need to land a plane on the water, but the more we appreciate Sullenberger, the more we may pilot businesses to success.