These are the 3 Steps to Follow When Failure is Not an Option

This is a guest article from Joel “Thor” Neeb of Afterburner.
We were taught in school that 99% was an A+ and that you could be accused of “blowing off the curve” for others. In today’s business world, 99% business execution does not suffice. It’s actually an “F”.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is one example. AWS experienced an outage once that lasted for four hours and affected thousands.
Should we be worried? Is this a recurring problem at Amazon? Hardly. The length of time between outages and “uptime” is measured in years. AWS servers have been up and running for well over 99% of the time.
Joel “Thor” NeebBut 99% is clearly still not enough. The outage was front page news around the world and even caused Amazon stock prices to drop.
Amazon is not the only company that has to meet such high standards. Many airlines have faced similar problems and their passengers vented out on social media.
It was common in the past to have a “zero tolerance of error” mentality toward products and services in limited areas. We held the automotive safety industry, banking, and other industries that operate in high-stakes environments to a high standard.
It seems like every company has to be perfect these days.
Today, convenience has become an entitlement. It is a right. It’s a world where you can order anything over an iPhone and have it delivered to your home within 24 hours.
We expect consistent, prompt and high-quality services at a level that has never been seen in human history. But can we ever live up to these high standards? Can we ever achieve “100%”?
I know a lot about leading a team to achieve high standards. I flew fighter and trainer planes for 16 years, and completed more than 2,500 missions. Flying safely 99 percent of the time is a definitive F in that world. My flying teams and myself were 100% safe and efficient on all of our Missions. We were not perfect, and that’s a crucial distinction.
Impeccable, Not Perfect
Let me explain what this distinction means to us. I was asked to fly “checkrides”, which I did with students who had failed in our training program towards the end of my flying career. My job was to determine if the student was capable of continuing their training or if they would be placed in a non-flying position for the rest of my career.
As I sat next to the nervous student pilot, I began the checkride briefing by giving the following speech.
“You won’t fly a perfect mission today. I won’t fly a perfect mission right now. In fact, I have never flown a flawless mission in more than 2,500 sorties. I’m not judging you on your ability or inability to be perfect. I am evaluating you on your ability and willingness to adjust to the inevitable mistakes. I don’t expect perfection from you, but I do expect you be flawless.”
Impeccable is when you operate within clearly defined constraints that lead to mission success. Impeccable is that even though we make many mistakes while flying, our flights will be safe and efficient above all else. “99% safe” is not enough.
Have you ever seen the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds fly? They make mistakes in every Mission. Chris Stricklin (an Afterburner team member) put it this way:
Thunderbird pilots trust that the Thunderbird way will allow them to execute their maneuver with extreme precision.