How Complacency Can Kill You

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This is a license to learn. It doesn't mean you know everything Click To Tweet

Last week I wrote about something my FAA flight examiner said as he signed me off for my pilot’s license: “This is a license to learn. It doesn’t mean you know everything.”

This week I want to tell you what he said immediately after that.

First of all, a little background. I got my pilot’s license after about 50 hours of flight time. (You must have a minimum of 40 hours before you’re eligible for a license.) Okay, so here’s what the FAA examiner said:

“You’re going to do something stupid at around 100 hours, and then something else stupid at around 300 hours.”

Motivational Speaker Bill StaintonAnd you know what? He was right on both counts. (For the record, I’ve done stupid things since then as well—just not while flying an airplane.)

Now, the point here is not to belabor the specific stupid things I did. Let’s just say that, if you’re piloting a single engine Cessna, it’s probably best not to fly directly into the path of a Boeing 737 on final approach.

No, the point here is a question: how did the FAA examiner know, with such precision, when I (and most other newly-licensed pilots) would make our stupid mistakes? Well, here was his explanation (which I firmly believed wouldn’t apply to me, until it did).

“At 100 hours, you’re going to start feeling a little cocky. You’re going to start to think you know it all. And you’ll get complacent, and that’s when you’ll do something stupid. And the same thing will happen at 300 hours.”

Boy, was he right! And boy, doesn’t that apply to the rest of us as well!

No matter what it is that you do, there’s a point at which you can get fooled into thinking that you pretty much know it all. You’ve been around the block, you’ve seen everything, this isn’t your first rodeo—you know what I mean.

And you start to get complacent.

And when you start to get complacent, that’s when you find yourself in the path of a 737. Maybe for you the 737 is the competitor’s game-changing innovation that you didn’t see coming. Maybe it’s the key player on your team who announces that she’s leaving, and you didn’t even know she was looking. Maybe it’s the major vendor who goes out of business while you didn’t even see the warning signs.

An airplane pilot can’t afford to become complacent. Neither can a leader. Situations can change all too quickly, and you, as a leader, have to be aware of what’s happening. How? Read industry news, attend industry events, talk with your team and others in your organization, check in with colleagues, check up on the competition. Be proactively curious about your world.

The more information you have, the more easily you’ll be able to discern the trends that are shaping your industry and your business. And that’s your crystal ball.

Stay alert, stay informed, and spot the trends. Don’t get complacent. Because if you’re a complacent Cessna in the path of a 737, the 737 is going to win.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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