Becoming a helicopter pilot in the Army
Every Veteran’s Day, I am reminded of the decade I spent in the military and the immeasurable impact it has had on me as an entrepreneur. Beyond the genuine camaraderie, black & white mission success criteria and a certain tempo that exists among military members, there were many lessons I learned that find their way into my daily life as a technology focused entrepreneur, co-founder of a startup accelerator and innovation partner to large companies. Here are a few of the most important lessons learned:
- Don’t confuse effort for execution. Plain and simple, it’s all about results. No military objective was ever won by just trying hard and having good intentions. Mission success depends on “good enough” execution to achieve its objectives. Notice I did not say perfect execution. While perfection is a great benchmark to strive for, the reality is that a win is a win, and a mission accomplished is just that. A good effort isn’t enough and if that is your ultimate measuring stick, then be prepared for failure because you came up short. As Viper said in Top Gun, “there are no points for second place.”
- A good plan seldom survives first contact. In the world of an entrepreneur, this means that a well-developed business plan doesn’t usually hold completely firm when it’s implemented. Product – market fit, customer feedback, employee related issues and even funding challenges can wreak havoc on the best laid plans. The reality is that you have to be prepared to adapt, improvise and overcome adversity if you are going to be a successful startup. As an entrepreneur, your job isn’t to follow your well written plan without deviation; it is about finding a way to make your startup profitable, sustainable and ultimately worth more than the total dollars invested. It’s more about the planning process than following the exact written plan. Be prepared for the plan to change while the goal stays the same. Plan your work but be prepared to work your plan.
- Always fly the aircraft. As a helicopter pilot, you learn funny helicopter related jokes, sayings and insights that make you realize that many things can go wrong quickly. You learn what a Jesus nut is (the nut that holds your rotor blade to your mast, and if it comes off you will be meeting your maker). You learn what the “golden BB” is, which is the one random, one in a million lucky shot that kills you that you simply can’t avoid. You embrace that a helicopter turns “jet fuel into noise” and you don’t really fly a helicopter, but you beat the air into submission. All of these sayings make you realize, however, that no matter what the circumstance or how dicey a mission can become, you always have to continue to fly the aircraft. If a segment light comes on indicating an engine fire and you end up becoming fixated on this problem, you can take a bad situation and make it much worse. No matter how stressful things can become in the life cycle of a startup, you must continue to manage effectively to have time to resolve your issues. Don’t ever stop flying the aircraft.
- Don’t confuse age, rank, expertise and authority. As a young pilot I was gung-ho, ready for action and well aware of my rank, especially when flying senior officers...