Practicing failure

Over the weekend I had a great opportunity to go flying with Seth Sternberg, CEO of Meebo. Seth is an accomplished pilot who has been flying ever since high school. He’s now the proud owner of a great 4-seater plane that he flies almost every weekend (and often does practice flights at 6a before work.

To get a pilot’s license, Seth and every other pilot need to practice failure. They practice the engine blowing out by cutting out the engine and landing the plane. They practice all sorts of potential mishaps including intentionally diving the plane, spinning, toward the ground and then seeing how they recover (all of these with a trained instructor). Essentially, they try to simulate anything that can go wrong so that they are practiced on how to deal with it when it does.

Practicing for failure saves lives when you are a pilot.

But outside of a few vocations, people rarely practice for failure. That type of thing is rarely practiced in the business world. Occasionally big businesses will have a disaster recovery plan, but it is rarely drilled. And start-ups rarely have time to practice anything … we’re so busy doing. Something like crisis management or planning what will happen if a key member of the team leaves is rare in the world of entrepreneurs.

Or imagine planning for failure in your personal life … like role playing what you would do if your spouse cheated on you. Of course, that’s absolutely absurd, but most people are too busy to even do a fire drill.

In flying, planning for failure is essential for success. Flying with Seth – who is meticulous, calm, collected, studious, and very practiced – is reassuring. And I have no doubt that being a licensed pilot makes Seth a better CEO and allows him to react better in a crisis.

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