Expecting the unexpected in your business

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Jan. 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 everyday 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: Taking Care of Tomorrow Today.” For more information, visit www.ForeTalkSeminar.com.

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Dave Brough    
Las Vegas, NV  |  August, 27, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Author: “What was evident to everyone on Flight 1549 was that this captain had spent sufficient time preparing himself for the unexpected.” Au contraire. This 'accident' occurred, why? Because its captain spent no time preparing himself for the unexpected. For starters, instead of watching where he was going, he was gawking the “beautiful view of the river” (transcript, seconds before impact). Moreover, instead of keeping his thoughts to himself, by vocalizing them – and getting a response (First Officer “Yah...”), he removed both gatekeepers from their job: Watching where they were going. I would point out that this was a serious violation of the law: below 10,000-feet, pilots are not permitted to engage in non-essential tasks or chitchat. Had Sully been expecting the unexpected, he would have kept up his watch. And, I point out, this was not only one of the most heavily-trafficed airways on planet Earth, being on the Atlantic Flyway, a major aviary corridor, he had double reasons to maintain that lookout. Author: “The unexpected occurs every day in our business and personal lives. Those who are wise always expect the unexpected and prepare accordingly.” “How, then would have Sully “prepared for the unexpected”? He splashed in the Hudson. Did he have even one minute of seaplane training? No. Did he even have one minute of “all engines gone”-training. Nope. What Sully forgot, was that every pilot needs to have not just a constantly unfolding Plan B, but a Plan C and sometimes even, a Plan D. Here's a few other things sully 'forgot'. He forgot trying to re-start an already running engine (his first reaction) is a waste of time. He forgot that flying the airplane – which the FO was already doing - is the easy part:

Dave Brough    
Las Vegas, NV  |  August, 27, 2013 at 11:18 AM

(continued)... He forgot trying to re-start an already running engine (his first reaction) is a waste of time. He forgot that flying the airplane – which the FO was already doing - is the easy part: troubleshooting the problem is the hard part and why it is always left to the more-experienced pilot. He forgot to declare a “MayDay”. He forgot his call sign (1549, not 1539 – so that ATC didn't even know where he was in the first ciritical seconds). He advised that he was going to do one thing (“return to la Guardia”), but kept heading AWAY from the airport. He tasked the FO with a procedure that was mandated to 20,000-feet and above (he was at 2,000-feet). He not only forgot to turn into the wind (which also took him over the 600-foot high Geo Washington Bridge), he wouldn't lower full flaps – he said 'more' wasn't necessary, thus increasing his ground speed to the point where he exceeded by some margin the safe margin set by the manufacture.r He forgot to advise the cabin that it was a WATER landing, hence why not one person existed that plane with a life vest. He even forgot to hit the ditch switch that closed off the outside ports to prevent (or limit) flooding. If you want, I can name ten other Sully “What I forgot to tell you's” Sully didn't even have the presence of mind to get on his cell and call 911 to explain what was going down. But he did use it to call his wife. This was a man who makes for a good model – not on what TO DO, but what NOT TO DO.

August, 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Yes, worry and paranoia is probably the best way to run a business. I mean, it has worked out so well for so many handwringing old women over the years, why not farm the same way? A lot less work that way 'cause it could storm or maybe a drought could come or locusts might descend or...or...or...so best to stay in the kitchen with your apron pulled up over your head and not bother working any ground if things might go less than perfect out there.

Stan Craig    
Kentucky  |  August, 28, 2013 at 08:37 PM

Documents released by the National Safety Board 'validated' Sullenberger 's decision to make an emergency landing, saying the move 'provided the highest probability that the accident would be survivable.” The National Safety Board concluded a 15-month study of the landing. The findings note, among other things, that because the plane was equipped with 'forward slide/rafts' the 64 people who took to the rafts did not die of 'cold shock' from the frigid water. All 150 passengers survived. 'Good visibility, calm waters, and proximity of passenger ferries,' the findings note, also played a major role. Being prepared meant making the best decision of all alternatives. No one died or was seriously injured. Perfect decisions are impossible but measuring past decisions by results is one way to value being prepared. I appreciate the comments.


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