Here is a great business guest post by Mark Jones, Jr. After 12 years in the Air Force and five years of Baby Steps, Mark is a debt-free entrepreneur and experimental test pilot. Mark has just published You Can Be a Test Pilot, a book that shows you how to chart a course to your dreams. Find out more at MultiplyLeadership.com.
There is a distinct difference between running a business and doing things the EntreLeadership way. It takes a special kind of person to do the latter—a maverick of sorts, someone with “the right stuff.” There are several similarities, it turns out, between running a business and being an experimental test pilot.
Entrepreneurs take risks. That’s a given. But how risky are they really? Test pilots also take risks, pushing their airplanes to the edge of the envelope and beyond. The secret to success in both cases is knowing when and how to take big risks. If you want to take your business to new heights, take note of these three strategies that test pilots use when facing risk.
You probably don’t know this, but a test pilot starts by playing it relatively safe. There are months of ground tests before an experimental airplane ever flies for the first time. Once it takes off, the pilot proceeds with small steps, carefully using a very scientific build-up approach to get closer to the edge of the envelope.
The same should be true for your business. Starting small also means that you are measuring your progress. You must establish metrics to evaluate your success. You cannot ignore the numbers, and you must have a goal.
Expect the Unexpected
Engineers and test pilots make very calculated risks with detailed procedures, and they script out contingency plans for countless scenarios. They play through these “unexpected” outcomes in their minds, on paper and in flight simulators. Not only do they know what to do if things go wrong, but they also establish criteria to evaluate these contingencies. They know precisely what the warning signs will look like.
You know what success looks like for your business, but what about the first signs of failure? If things don’t go exactly as planned, how will you notice the red flags? What precisely will you measure to get the first hint of danger? Additionally, you need to consider the most likely outcome if you miss your target. What will you do if your idea is a flop? What will happen if the market doesn’t respond the way you planned?
Prioritize and Allocate Resources
Airspeed is a pilot’s best friend. Airplanes can’t stand still like helicopters. Altitude is also very important on flight test missions. If something goes wrong, it might take several thousand feet—diving straight towards the ground—to get it fixed and pull out of the dive. These are both very valuable resources that the pilot must manage intentionally.
But fuel is the one resource that is truly limited. During takeoff, a large airplane or fighter jet can burn over 50,000 lbs of fuel per hour. That’s almost 150 gallons per minute. You cannot borrow your way out of fuel starvation. No fuel means that you’ve just become a glider pilot.
Business needs to operate on the same principles. Borrowing or even just operating without a budget is dangerous.
Adopt these three strategies and develop a plan to take risks the right way, and soon you’ll be flying high.
Question: What “safe” risks have you taken with your business?