From my NASA experience I know that limits testing is a critical element of flight hardware development. In NASA, we didn’t build many pieces of flight hardware. Ultimately, we needed one on orbit, a simulator on the ground for training and troubleshooting, and one to limit test. In aerospace we tested flight hardware until it broke to confirm whether it actually met the design specifications. As entrepreneurs, limit testing is something we need to do to ourselves to insure we can meet our performance requirements. In 1986, NASA attempted to launch the orbiter Challenger in conditions which the solid rocket motor o-rings had not been designed or tested to withstand. The result was the loss of seven astronauts, a muli-billion dollar vehicle and NASA’s reputation.
We must routinely test our mental toughness, our physical endurance and our ability to perform under pressure. Why . . . because we will be tested to our limits many times in our quest for success. We will have to deal with the stress of running out of money, product issues with a deadline looming, firing people – sometimes even our cofounders, and our loved ones needing our attention when we cannot give it. Will better planning, strong leadership, and hiring the right people help us avoid stress and tough decisions? Yes, but we have no control over many factors that can cause our company to spin wildly out of control and create challenges. It’s all about being prepared to handle whatever comes our way.
We can test our limits in more controlled environments in a number of ways. I test my mental toughness and physical endurance five times per week in the gym. I push myself through workouts even when I could easily stop and rest. I also have quiet time and practice my faith as a form of meditation. I do it because I need to know that I have the mental toughness, physical endurance, and confidence to deal with any challenge. As entrepreneurs we also must be self-aware and assess our own performance in pressure packed, challenging situations. We gather all sorts of data on product performance and need to do the same thing on ourselves. While we may not be able to do it in the heat of the moment, we need to assess what happened after the fact and ask ourselves and others how we performed. We have to be brutally honest in these assessments to identify what we did well and where we need work. Once identified, we can pinpoint strategies for improvement and to make us better prepared. Knowing we are prepared to handle whatever comes will give us the confidence to embrace stress and challenges.
THE TAKE AWAY: The Boy and Girl Scouts got it right with their moto of BE PREPARED. It takes all we have to be successful entrepreneurs. With the odds of success already stacked against us, we must do everything we can, that is moral and legal, to gain an advantage. Most things we can do are pretty basic and just as important in our daily routine as our most important meetings or product deadlines. Even if you don’t like doing it, push yourself to be organized, plan ahead, exercise, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, practice quiet meditation, and be thankful for your many gifts and opportunities every day. A positive attitude and confidence may be our best tools for dealing with adversity.