Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Checklists are a hallmark of organized and successful people. Checklists characterized by mnemonic reminders often are ones that people remember and actually use daily. In aviation, the PAVE checklist serves as one of the fundamental tools that pilots use to analyze and reduce risk.
“P” stands for the pilot. “A” stands for the aircraft. “V” stands for the “enVironment.” “E” stands for external pressures. Before each take-off, pilots must run down the PAVE checklist and honestly assess: Am I fit to fly? Is my aircraft fit to fly? The PAVE checklist literally keeps millions of passengers safe every day in the air. By using this same checklist, successful entrepreneurs can also manage and overcome approaching hazards for their own businesses.
Although entrepreneurs captain vehicles of different kinds, they share many of the same responsibilities as pilots. Companies are constantly changing, the entrepreneurial landscape is vast, and markets are fickle. An entrepreneur’s top priority is to spot potential hazards before they snowball out of control.
Entrepreneurs can use the PAVE checklist to identify early on any startup abnormalities. Using PAVE, entrepreneurs can identify: (1) whether they are mentally and physically fit to run their company; (2) whether their enterprise is itself fit to run; (3) approaching hazards and changes in the entrepreneurial environment; (4) whether external pressures can change the ground rules.
P — Person in charge/pilot in command
The “P” on this checklist is dedicated to the pilot or person in charge and the many factors that can affect their mental and physical health. When a pilot is unfit to fly, no one is going anywhere. So, too, an unfit entrepreneur.
Now more than ever, we emphasize the significance of the individual’s well-being and health. Even though the concept of “wellness” took off in the 2000s, and “self-care” has now become a byword, fitness is often the first thing to go out of the window.
What constitutes fitness for an entrepreneur? For pilots, the FAA uses a second checklist called “IMSAFE” with its own applications to business as well. “IMSAFE” stands for Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue and Eating.
Illness: Are you feeling under the weather? Do you have symptoms of an illness or disability? For pilots, something as simple as a sore throat or clogged sinuses could seem manageable on the ground, but add 14,000 feet, and blockage of Eustachian tubes or pressure changes inside the ear can lead to vertigo, pain and hearing loss.
Medication: In aviation, the FAA lists OTC medications that degrade pilot performance and others that don’t. For a GO/NO GO decision, a medicine’s active ingredient is the decisive factor. For example, antihistamines such as Claritin: GO. Sedative medications such as Benadryl: NO GO. Entrepreneurs also should consider the medications they take and the implications of those medications on performance and key decision-making.
Stress: Neither a pilot nor an entrepreneur can escape stress. Sometimes, stress can be a good thing; it can motivate and bring about a higher level of work and focus. But too much stress can debilitate and cloud judgment. As an entrepreneur, ensure you’re able to analyze the types and degrees of stress you’re experiencing and how you deal with higher-than-average stress levels.
Alcohol and drugs: Drinking and flying? Not a good idea. Flying high? Definitely not. “Eight hours, bottle to throttle” is the rule of thumb for alcohol and pilots, and drugs are an absolute no-go. As an entrepreneur, it’s wise to review your drug and alcohol intake periodically and through a critical lens. How does alcohol influence your decision-making and performance? How does a hangover affect your business decisions? For example, micro-dosing psilocybin mushrooms is the current fad among Silicon Valley startups. Should one follow the crowd or objectively look at one’s own enterprise — do you genuinely need external substances to perform better?
Fatigue: Medical science tells us that good sleep is one of life’s fundamental benefits and a recipe for success. Indeed, the glorification of the sleepless founder seems past its prime. As successful pilots or entrepreneurs, we need to check ourselves: are we getting enough sleep? A recent study in the Harvard Business Review shows that well-rested entrepreneurs analyze business opportunities differently and more successfully than those who rely on little sleep.
Eating: It seems trite, but eating is fundamental — garbage in, garbage out. Ask yourself, “what have I eaten today?” Understanding your metabolic rhythm will help you stay ahead of the curve. Plan snacks throughout the day to avoid crashes, and hydrate.
A — Aircraft
We also need to assess our aircraft, or in the case of an entrepreneur, our company. Aircraft need FAA-regulated documents, currency and proficiency requirements and operative instruments to be fit to fly. If these are absent or inoperative, the aircraft is not airworthy.
Even though we’re generally not dealing with life or death when companies crash, the financial and emotional repercussions of a startup failure can be severe. During this check, we shift our focus from the pilot to the nuts and bolts of a business. Part of running down this daily checklist is implementing a quick daily scan of your company’s health: Is your company legal and fit to fly?
V — EnVironment
When piloting a plane, failing to notice an approaching thunderstorm might cost you your life; failing to compensate for a strong cross-wind could cause your airplane to flip over. In aviation, a crucial element of risk management is a solid grasp of one’s environment. Weather, airports and runways all qualify.
The entrepreneurial environment is turbulent in different ways. Markets, competition and changing consumer tastes all require consideration. Having a singular focus on your company includes the entrepreneur firmly maintaining one foot in the outside world.
E — External pressures
Managing external pressures is one of the greatest challenges in aviation. Many pilots who succumb to external pressures and take off regardless of their doubts end up in fatal accidents. That’s why the best way to deal with external pressures is to prepare for delays and problems. For example, you could incorporate extra time for a delay, have alternate airports on your flight plan and ensure you don’t make another person’s schedule dependent on the flight’s departure.
For entrepreneurs, external pressures manifest themselves differently. This past year, we’ve experienced pressure to go remote or stay in the office; in 2021, we experienced the pandemic-related Great Resignation, resulting in 4.3 million people quitting their jobs in search of more meaningful work. Entrepreneurs must plan for the unexpected and resist associated pressure from investors, employees, friends and family.
But how do you harness yourself against such pressures? As in aviation, the best thing an entrepreneur can do often is to expect such things to happen and prepare as if they would.
The PAVE checklist can help entrepreneurs navigate their companies through turbulent times. It helps detect seemingly minor things (things that are more prone to slip through the cracks) and prevents them from spiraling out of control.
In The Prince, Machiavelli writes, “…what physicians say about consumptive illness is applicable here: that at the beginning, such an illness is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; but as time passes, not having been recognized or treated at the outset, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure.”
The same goes for both aviation and business. Most airplane crashes could have been prevented if the culprit had been detected early and on the ground. Most startup failures similarly could be prevented if the problem is detected from the outset. As both a pilot and an entrepreneur, I’m printing out my checklist as we speak.