How likely is it that the lights will go out at one of the biggest sporting events of the year? Not that likely, but last night, it happened. The Super Bowl blackout reminded me of one of the lessons for business I took from veteran fighter pilot Patrick Houlahan, who spoke recently at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors’ Executive Summit in Washington D.C.: Always plan for contingencies.
As we saw last night, an unplanned interruption can always occur. If they had planned for the “just in case” at the Super Bowl, sportscasters (including the secondary reporters) may have had more programming and footage ready to run than they did; the coaches may have had better plans to keep their teams warmed up and motivated (the 49ers came back much stronger than the Ravens did); and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome managers may have provided more information, more quickly than they did.
Pilots plan for everything, said Houlahan, who is now with Afterburner Inc., a corporate team building and training organization. “What if 16 enemy aircraft show up instead of the four you thought they had?” He encouraged businesses to think about all possibilities and how they might impact your business, including trucking strikes, weather events, raw material shortages and more. “So when those conditions occur, we can respond instead of react,” he said.
Adam Fein once addressed contingency planning – or as it’s also known, scenario planning – for an MDM article. He asks: "Suppose you had a few years’ advance notice about each of these developments. Would you have done things differently? … Of course. All of us would plan better if we knew what the future would be like." Read about his take on scenario planning in this article from the MDM Archives.
Here are three other lessons presented by Houlahan at NAW this year:
1. If you lose sight, you’ll lose the fight. While keeping an eye on the competition is part of this, it’s equally important to keep sight of internal threats to your success, Houlahan said. Determine what you can control and what you can’t, and focus on those you can.
2. Make sure your intent is known throughout the organization. Let everyone on your team know how they fit in your plans.
3. If you’re too focused on execution, you may miss the single best opportunity to improve your team: debriefing. Using the example of the Blue Angels, Houlahan showed how even the best pilots in the world debrief what went right and wrong after each flight. They keep titles out of the debrief room, allowing everyone to provide input without fear on what could be improved the next time out. Learn what not to do again, and what to incorporate. And then share that knowledge across departments and branches so that others can learn from it. Document it. He recommends doing this as well with customers. What better chance to find out how to serve them better than to ask them how you did?