Feel the fear, do it anyways.
That was one of the main takeaways from Carey Lohrenz's inspiring talk at the Inc. 5000 Conference in Orlando on Friday. Lohrenz, one of the first women assigned to fly the F-14 Tomcat fighter plane, related her piloting background to the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, stressing the importance of teamwork, focus, and discipline. Here's how her military experience--flying a $45 million aircraft that goes from 0 to 200 mph in two seconds, and then landing it on the bobbing deck of an aircraft carrier--translates to the world of business.
1. Eighty percent is good enough
Lohrenz said that the rule for decision making in the military is surprisingly simple: Eighty percent is good enough. If you have 80 percent of the information you think you need, that's good enough to take action. You shouldn't wait to have the perfect strategic plan. But she pointed out that 80 percent only works if you follow up and follow through. Even when you make a decision with only 80 percent of the information you want, you've got to be committed to it 100 percent.
As a pilot, Lohrenz often would have to listen to three different radio frequencies at once, with the operators giving her conflicting information. The cockpits had hundreds of knobs and buttons and dozens of different aural signals that she had to interpret. NASA research, she said, showed that the very best astronauts and pilots can handle five things at once. For everyone else, Lohrenz said, three priorities is plenty. Get those three done, and you'll be way ahead of the game.
3. Deal with fear
Lohrenz said pilots deal with fear every day. But the question is not whether you will fail. It's how you will respond to it. That, she said, is what will define you. "Fear of failure is one of the most universally paralyzing things we suffer from," she said. "When we fail, the overwhelming majority of us underestimate our ability to recover."
What that leads to, of course, is an unwillingness to take risks. It might not sound too bad to play things safe, but the fact is that your competition won't be. "What's actually happening when you're playing it safe is you're putting yourself more at risk," she said. "Other people are having faith in taking action."
Lohrenz and her colleagues would fly 500 miles per hour with the wings of their aircraft only about four feet apart. "Once you're flying closely together, you have to have trust and believe that the other person is going to do what they say they are going to do," she said. "This may sound like table stakes. But from my work in corporations, I can tell you that if you do it, it will become a mark of distinction."
Lohrenz pointed out that one person does not land a fighter plane on an aircraft carrier: "It takes an entire high-performance team to get the job done." Sound familiar? But, she added, the average age of someone serving on an aircraft carrier is 19 to 19 1/2. Plus, every nine months, half of that population turns over.
How can anyone possibly build a high-performance team in those conditions? Simple, said Lohrenz: focus. On an aircraft carrier, everyone has one focus: The safe launching and recovering of airplanes. In business, employees and leaders need to have a simple statement of purpose that is just as powerful. "When you work in an environment where there is a lot of change, you need to be able to adapt very quickly," she said. "The only way you can do that is if everything is oriented toward that one singular purpose."
Lohrenz also said she did not get to pick who was in the back seat of her plane. Still, "When we got in that airplane we were completely aligned," she said. "We were focused on one thing and one thing alone: winning."