Aviation and Business: what can we learn?

In 1993, I decided to start taking flying lessons. Flying had always piqued my curiosity. On one hand, it was an activity I felt compelled to do; on the other, like any exciting pursuit, it required both adventure and risk. It scared me. That mix of emotions is why, when I finally decided to burn some fuel and enter the wild blue yonder in a tiny but nimble Piper Warrior airplane, flying became one of the most incredible and empowering experiences of my life.

In the aviation safety is given a lot of attention — and rightfully so. Redundancy and checklists are everywhere and there is very strict regulation where everything is codified. As importantly,there are aviation-related organizations whose main focus is on learning from past mistakes. The business world could certainly learn a thing or two from the aviation industry. I’ve realized that there isn’t much of a difference between piloting an aircraft and running a business. Each opportunity has taught me a valuable lesson about the other, especially those moments when I feared I was losing control.

Check it off

Pilots also avoid mistakes through the exhaustive use of written checklists or, better still, to-do lists. In a multi-crew environment, this also includes cross-checking everything aloud to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks. For the checklists that need to be memorized, mnemonics are a good tool to ensure you don’t forget anything. For example, pilots often use“GUMPS” to remind them to ensure the gas is on the proper tank and the pump is on, the undercarriage is in down position, the mixture on the engine is set,the propeller is configured for landing / the primer is locked, and the switches are all set correctly. Project managers often deal with long, interrelated steps, with key dependencies and critical paths. But putting the correct checks in place goes beyond the project manager chasing down everyone to ensure it’s all done. Every core team in an organization must make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Preperation is everyting

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Before each flight, a pilot must complete a “Before-Take off Checklist.” Whether it’s plotting the course for the future, thinking strategically before making a move, or keeping checklists of goals and tasks,preparation is as necessary to running a business as it is to fly a plane. Even pilots of Airbus A380s (a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet airliner) conduct what is called a “walk around” before the flight, an extra layer of defense that allows pilots to see if anything looks out of the ordinary. This makes sense business as well. If you focus on the details and preparation early in the development cycle for example, things will get a lot easier down the line. As just one example if your fundamental documents such as the messaging statement are not strong enough in the beginning, everything derived from it, such as marketing collateral, will not be as powerful as it could have been.

Turbulence won’t bring you down, but fear will

Turbulence is a misunderstood phenomenon. Many people think they are in imminent danger when encountering turbulence. However, turbulence alone has never brought down a plane. Turbulence can slow you down or temporarily shift your course, but it is hardly a threat.In business ownership, there will be days that shake your core and make you feel off balance. But if you learn to just go along with it, adjusting slightly as you go, you will understand that you ultimately have control over your direction and how high or low your business can go.

Challenges help you prepare for difficult or dangerous circumstances

When going through flight school, your instructor will introduce you to a variety of challenges. Some of these challenges, like the stall, may scare the living daylights out of you at first because you think you are going to lose control. But challenges like this teach you how to control your aircraft when difficult, problematic or even dangerous conditions arise. Experiencing a business challenge for the first time is difficult and often scary but can be a learning lesson as well.If you accept challenges and learn from them, you’ll get better at handling similar problems the next time.


It is known by many names. In aviation it is called the after-action review. In business, it often goes by the unfortunate name of “post-mortem.” In psychology and aviation, however, it is known as a debrief meeting. A debrief meeting is a soft technology that began to develop out of necessity following World War II. It’s not just an military practice, it is practiced in organizations all over the world. It is a principal contributing factor to the incredible safety record of modern aviation. Unlike in aviation, in businesses,there are rarely dedicated teams focused on post-mortems. Even worse, because of the sheer speed of business, many companies do not even take the time to briefly look back and see what can be learned from the latest product launch,marketing campaign or employee resignation. Post-mortems need to focus on lessons learned to improve future outcomes