What do Galaxy Quest and the Hudson River have in common?

Capt. Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles
Capt. Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles

When US Airways 1549 was forced to ditch in the Hudson River, there were quite a few people who were very happy that the Captain had some grey on the sidewalls and that he’d also been a glider pilot. There’s something to be said for experience. According to author Brian Tracy, in his book Flight Plan: How to Achieve More, Faster than You Ever Dreamed Possible, there is no other way to develop the knowledge, skills and character you need to succeed except by making mistakes and learning from experience (Tracy 66).

Who do you think knows more – a 2-year-old or a 8-year-old? How about an 8-year-old versus a 18-year-old? What about an 18-year-old versus a 50-year-0ld? Get the point yet? Granted, different people will have different skill sets, but we’re talking about in the aggregate here. It’s not about intelligence, it’s about experience but the two are interrelated. Intelligence determines whether you’ll learn from your experience.

Experienced pilots become experienced by flying and by learning. Additional certificates, like multi-engine, glider, rotary-wing, seaplane, etc., and additional hours of being behind the controls and experiencing different situations build experience, so when the bad day comes, the experienced pilot will have many more frames of reference from which to determine the best course of action.

Through experience, pilots learn to:

  • When there’s a problem, they focus on the solution and take immediate actions to deal with it (Tracy 69). Bad news and bad situations don’t get better with age). When you focus on the problem it just gets bigger.
  • Take responsibility; rather than trying to figure out who to blame (that’s what attorney’s are for); pilots (and leaders) deal with the situation at hand
  • They remain cool and calm when faced with a setback or even an emergency (Tracy 82). I’ve told freshman coming into our aviation program that if they are flying and I’m in the back, and the engines quit, the wings fall off, the fuselage is on fire and the controls have broken off in their hands, I don’t want them in the cockpit to be screaming that we’re all doomed – I want them up there working the controls, saying: “I’ve got this, I’ll figure this out.” Work the problem, don’t be worked by the problem.

Galaxy Quest is a great cheesy movie (another eye-roller from the missus when it comes on). It stars Tim Allen as the leader of a group of washed up actors who once starred in a TV science-fiction sitcom that established cult status and now their only gigs are showing up at endless conventions. But, there’s a great line in the movie: Never give up, never surrender. It’s been coped numerous times in shows since, but it’s also great advice. History is filled with those who never gave up, from Thomas Edison to Abraham Lincoln to Steve Jobs. Persistence, your ability to stay at a task longer than anyone else, can be your greatest asset (Tracy 140) and you don’t have to go to an ivy league college to get it – its free of charge. Too many people quit before the finish line. All the time, parents ask me if their kid will get a job in aviation. “Yes,” I say. “As long as they never give up.”

All of this leads us back to experience. Captain Sullenberger never quit flying and never quit learning more about flying. He’s made mistakes in the past, which is how we learn. He’s learned from others, their failures and successes as well – he’d never ditched an Airbus before, but he knew from past experience that he had to keep the aircraft at a certain angle of attack in order to keep the plane from breaking up or sinking – lives were saved and now we have all experienced another American success story.

Tracy, Brian. Flight Plan: How to Achieve More, Faster than You Ever Dreamed Possible. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2009.

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