How Do You Know You're a Competent Pilot?

06/09/2014 05:33 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:07 EDT

In just over 100 years, the airplane has progressed from a wood frame covered in cloth that could barely cover 200 feet, to long-range, supersonic fighters and bombers that are completely invisible to radar. How do they do it?

They do it by building on the innovations of the creators who go before them. They 'stack' the innovations that they find hiding in plain sight, all around them.

The first airplane, the Wright Flyer, lasted a mere day. Despite naysayers insisting that Charles and Wilbur were crazy, the Wright's persisted, and flew a piece of wood through the air. The first flight was only 120 feet, but eleven years later, planes were doing robust aerobatics and shooting each other out of the sky. How? Stronger engines had an improved ability to push stuff through the air. What innovations are you ignoring because you're not giving a 'crazy,' audacious idea enough thrust or momentum?

Then engineers twisted their thinking -- they made better planes by going in a different direction. They discovered that a metal body is heavier... but it allows a stronger wing. A stronger wing means you only need one wing instead of two or three. Having one wing means the plane can fly longer, higher and faster. That's being innovative. What innovations are you ignoring because you can't see past the immediate detriments?

Planes grew in size, range and scope, to the point where long-range bombing missions could be launched from England into Germany. But a limiting factor was weight. Wheels were digging in, making takeoffs and landings dangerous and impractical. How did they fix it? With the simplest of ideas -- instead of one big wheel under each wing, they tried multiple, smaller wheels. Not only did multiple wheels help disperse weight evenly, it was dramatically safer -- if a tire blew out, it wasn't a catastrophic conclusion to your flight. What changes to your business are you ignoring because you haven't thought up with a brutally simple solution?

Changes within the history of aviation are endless. Innovations were stacked on top of innovation.

Jet engines made longer range possible. Then mid-air refueling changed the way flight planners thought of range.

Radar changed the way we defend our borders. Then stealth technology changed the way we fight our wars.

Improved materials, improved avionics and improved communication have dramatically changed the world of aviation. But only because those innovations have been able to 'stack' on top of each other.

At the end of the day, the principals of flight are constant. An airplane needs to generate more lift than weight, and needs to generate more thrust than drag. That will never go away. But to sit back and assume that you're a competent pilot because you understand the principals would be laughable. We don't see biplane barnstormers getting ready to strap on an F-22 Raptor... they'd kill themselves.

So why is it any different for business innovation? In the words of former US Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki:

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."

Don't sit back and a assume you've mastered your airfield... you're one innovation away from being completely irrelevant.

And just to bring this back to my forte of crisis communications, let me leave you with one haunting thought -- if you thought you were prepared for a crisis in 2011, why on earth do you think you're equally prepared today?

Are you REALLY prepared, or are you just putting your leather helmet and goggles on and getting ready to start up your biplane?