Captain Patrick Gordon
Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Many of us associate the word failure with “loser”.
Certain people think that making a mistake means that you have somehow failed. You’ve positioned yourself somewhere south of good, maybe even south of adequate. But guess what? If you don’t occasionally make a mistake, and fail at something, you really aren’t trying hard enough. You’re not stretching your abilities to discover your limits, to see how far you can go. History is full of examples of people making mistakes and failing, even multiple times, and then going on to become raging successes.
It’s fairly common for people in a high distance culture to think that mistakes are not only embarrassing but, perhaps even unforgivable. As a result, they hesitate to make a decision in case they might be wrong. Mistakes aren’t that bad because you can nearly always correct them. Not making a decision, out of fear of making a mistake, means that you do nothing. It’s much more difficult to correct an atmosphere of do-nothingness than it is to correct a mistake.
Heresy alert! Business mistakes are acceptable. You quickly learn from them. A decent supervisor accepts and understands the value of subordinate’s mistakes. Then, with guidance, lets them make corrections. There is a somewhat similar situation in flying. A good flight instructor will let the student pilot make mistakes and then explain, or demonstrate how to correct them. If the flight instructor didn’t let the pilot make mistakes, and even get into trouble, they would never have the ability or the confidence to be a good, much less professional, pilot. In a way, that’s rather like training business managers. Push them to their limits and then help them correct and not repeat mistakes.
Mistakes become more interesting when an entire business idea proves to be a mistake. Staff, on occasion, can poorly advise a senior manager, or a business owner. That staff may not be familiar with the basic business under consideration. They may have sought guidance from other advisors, or subject matter experts, who aren’t familiar with the different environmental and cultural differences that will allow a business in one region to be successful, while in another region, result in dismal failure.
Aviation has been a business hazard since the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright. A famous saying encapsulates it. “If you want to make a small fortune in aviation, start with a big one”. Outsiders look at nice, shiny airplanes and think, boy they are really expensive, there must be a huge profit margin in them. Well, there isn’t. The margins are razor thin since nearly all the costs are screamingly high. The regulatory issues are the icing on an expensive cake of costs.
Regulations are a big reason why aviation has become the safest mode of travel in the world but consequently, regulations can be a huge catalyst for swollen costs. One doesn’t mind higher costs for technology that keeps us safe but increased costs because of bureaucracy is indefensible.
Once a business idea has been deemed a mistake the next step is to exit that business as efficiently as possible. That does not mean letting employee salaries go begging for months while management awaits a miracle of fiscal salvation. Closing down operations means setting a cut-off point where a hard decision is made. No profits = no business purpose. A company should be shut down honorably and as graciously as possible. Someone, perhaps even everyone, has done their best but the business is a no-hoper. Stop the financial drain. Get rid of the business. Start by disposing the assets for the best price you can get. Let the employees go as your requirement for each one of them ends. Help them find other, perhaps even better, employment than they have with you now. Who knows? You may need some of them at another time. If you treat them right the good ones are more likely to work with you again.
With proper timing, a degree of luck, along with consideration of employees and vendors, you can achieve the point where, on the final day of the business, you’re the last person standing. Unsettled monies have been collected and all of the bills are paid. Your job is done; you close the door behind you and look for the next challenge.
But, before you go through all that remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the Mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself”.