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Plane Crashes-Wrong Runway-What do the rest of us have to learn?

Comair Flight 5191 attempted to take off from Lexington Kentuckyís Blue Grass Airport over the weekend. The main runway is 7,000 feet. The runway the plane attempted to use was 3500 feet. This is a twin engine plane. It requires at least 5000 feet getting off the ground. The crew and the passengers had no shot at making it. Somehow the pilot got onto the wrong runway. Should he have sensed there was something wrong? You could argue the decision to crash was made the moment the plane made it to the wrong runway. The pilot could have picked up on a couple of clues which included:

1) There were signs that told you the correct runway
2) There was less lighting on the shorter runway
3) The concrete on the incorrect runway was severely cracked

There were 50 people on the plane including the crew. One crewmember made it out alive. This was the first air disaster in this country in five years. The last crash was out of JFK when a plane crashed in nearby Queens, NY killing 265 people on board. What do we learn from this latest air disaster that can help us in our daily lives to think better, and make better decisions?

The first learning-Denial
I think we are all in denial. We deceive and lie to ourselves hoping, just hoping that problems will get better. You know problems never get better. A problem left alone gets worse, never better. At least thatís true 99% of the time. You have to tackle problems head on, and the worse problems are the ones we do not believe to be true. We DENY the problem. If you deny it, you donít have to work on it.

The most successful people I know and I know scores of fabulously successful people, are people who tackle problems tenaciously. They donít let the problem fester. They literally jump on their problems. Nothing interferes with getting things done. You see thereís always stuff you can stick in the way of pursuing your problems. Thereís always more interesting, satisfying things to do than solve problems.

If you want to deny that something is a problem, itís going to come back to haunt you. In my business which is picking stocks, when I make a mistake, I know it. The market forces me to know it, and it forces me to face up to it. I canít hide from it, just like a pilot canít hide from his mistakes either. I canít deny my problems, and neither should you. Whether itís picking stocks, or flying airplanes, you have to deal with PROBLEMS, only the dead do not have to deal with problems. Life really comes down to solving problems.

The second learning-Automatic Pilot doesnít always work
There are times in life when you have to be ďjuicedĒ as they say, and there are times when itís okay to be less than perfect. We know that most accidents involving planes take place taking off, and landing. This is when you have to be in your optimum thinking mode. Was the pilot in Kentucky performing in an optimum manner, or was he going through the motions.

We have all heard the expression, just showing up is 90% of the battle. Itís probably a true statement. Itís just not true of airline pilots while they are in the air. Did the pilot in Lexington see the busted up concrete? Did he choose to ignore it? We know there were signs pointing to the correct runway. He either didnít look, or saw it, and edited it out of his thought process.

The third learning-Question yourself
Itís all right to be opinionated, but not to the point where you sit back on your opinions, and refuse to entertain new opinion changing information. The first thing you have to do is have good training. Nobody has better training than the Marines. There is no force in combat like a Marine recon unit. They function as one, are fearless, are dead on accurate with their fire power, and have proven they can get the job done. Their training is so superb that they do not need to question themselves, the captains, and the lieutenants may have to. but not the unit participants.

Most of us donít have such precise training. Even pilots who have fabulous training must learn to question themselves constantly. The rules and instructions involving pilots at professional airlines are very clear. There is no ambiguity about them. Pilots are taught what to do, how to do it, and how to react in every situation. It is only when a pilot falls back on a ďgoing with the flowĒ type of thinking that he runs into trouble.

For a pilot, there are what we call ďdecision windowsĒ. This means you have a certain amount of time (maybe seconds) to make a decision, or else the decision is made for you. Once the pilot hit the wrong runway and picked up thrust, the game was over, the decision had been made to crash. Take advantage of all decision windows in your life.

The fourth learning-Itís always easier to go with the flow
Yes, itís always easier to go with the flow. Itís true for pilots, itís true for us. No one questions that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of his generation. Can you imagine what it took for this man a couple of years ago when he was already at the top of the golf world to change his swing? Woods made a decision that his swing was less than optimal. He was already the number player in the world for years.

He actually took several months off from the tour, and worked with a swing master ďButch HarmonĒ. Tiger ripped apart his swing and, recreated it into something far better. No other golfer in the world would have had the guts to do that. If Tiger Woods can do it, so can you. Donít just go with the flow. Make your own decisions. You are the scriptwriter of your own life. No one else is authoring it.

The ancient Greeks had an interesting thing to say about living life. When a man died, they didnít ask about his accomplishments. They asked if he lived his life with energy. Too many people are just going through the motions. If youíre a pilot it could get you killed.

We should all feel saddened by the death of the passengers of Comair flight 5191. Our prayers should go to the families of those who died. For ourselves, we must learn the lessons that such flights tell us, and heed the warnings, or else our own problems will only get worse as we choose to ignore them.

About the Author: Richard Stoyeckís background includes being a limited partner at Bear Stearns, Senior VP at Lehman Brothers, Kuhn Loeb, Arthur Andersen, and KPMG. Educated at Pace University, NYU, and Harvard University, today he runs Rockefeller Capital Partners and
Value Investing

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