The Preflight Checklist

 Airplane Cockpit

By Andrew DiMeo | 5 minute read

I have the distinct pleasure of being married to a member of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol family which includes attending about three trooper graduations per year. The last graduation was particularly emotional, as it took place the day after the patrol buried a 24-year-old trooper that lost his life in the line of duty a month after proposing to his fiancé.

At each graduation, we hear from the entire leadership of the Patrol, but also get to hear from a judge. I must say, that in half a dozen graduations attended, it is the words of these judges that really stand out. On May 26th at the 144th Basic Patrol School Graduation Ceremony, it was Supreme Court Justice Paul M. Newby who gave an address to the cadets prior to reading the oath of office. His message: Treat putting on the badge every day like a preflight checklist.

Calibration

For those familiar with flying, you know the preflight checklist. This is something that is done by every pilot, before every flight, on every plane, from a Cessna 150 to a Boeing 747. Particularly critical is the calibration of the instruments. The altimeter, for example, is the instrument for determining the aircraft's altitude. These instruments are often dependent on (calibrated by) barometric pressure. When standing on the ground walking around the plane (which is itself part of the checklist), you are at a known height above sea level. In the cockpit, you'll notice that the altimeter is not reading this height, because the pressure has changed since the last flight. So you calibrate it.

The honorable Judge Newby suggested that as the troopers put on their badge, every day, they calibrate to the oath, which includes that they, "...support, maintain, and defend the Constitution (and) not be influenced in any manner on account of personal bias or prejudice..." He made a particular point of noting that we the people are entrusting the troopers to, when necessary, exercise lethal force. We have not given this to the dignitaries in attendance, nor to the judge himself... but to the Troopers. 

Before every flight, calibrate the instruments.

Before every shift, when putting on the badge, calibrate to the oath of office.

I couldn't help but be reminded, at that moment during the ceremony, of a quote by Reed Hastings: "I believe that a healthy culture emerges only when every employee, from the CEO to the receptionist, opts into the culture every day."
- Masters of Scale, Episode 8, Culture Shock

Every Day.

 Flight Into Red Sky

Looking Inward

I thought about my own personal mission of Health & Happiness for All and the vows of marriage taken with my wife. Am I calibrating to those every day?

I thought about the Values of Trig. Am I calibrating to them every day?

It was the Honorable's analogy to flight itself that really hit home for me. I've always thought of the innovation process as a mission comparable to a flight, and the dashboard as instruments to evaluate diligence. As an example, here at Trig, we've developed the Medical Device Diligence Dashboard. This can be used as a preflight checklist. Before we lift off, let's ensure that there's no unforeseen crash risks in regulatory, reimbursement, IP, market, and technology. Then, we can use this dashboard to check in with the project daily, to ensure we are on course, and make any adjustments, pivots, or even abort the mission if necessary.

 Female Pilot

What Does This Look Like For Trig?

At Trig, our core values are the following:

- We hold the line
- We are pragmatic
- We are hungry
- We are curious tinkerers

In my experience, the best grants are written when the mission of the agency or foundation is considered up front (for example, 'improving the health and economy of our nation' for the NIH).  The best sports teams state their goals before every game. The best leaders state their vision before every meeting. While it's mission critical for state troopers and pilots to calibrate before every shift or flight, so should it be for the relationships and projects that matter most to us.

We ask ourselves a ton of calibration questions throughout conversations with business partners. "Do they understand their customers?" is a good place to start. "What kind of experience is needed to delight the customer?" is a very important big-picture question. "Does everyone understand costs and revenues?" is not the fun part of the creation process, but you have to be sure not to skip this very important calibration step. "What is the end goal? License the idea or start a business? Grow the business or sustain it?" are all crucial points to touch on that can alter the ultimate course a project takes. These are only a handful of the questions we ask when starting a new venture. We begin our journeys with a clear map so we don't wind up lost later.

I truly believe that if you are more diligent in calibrating to values and missions on a regular basis, performance outcomes both personally and professionally will improve.

There is so much power in reminding ourselves what we stand for in every project and every pursuit. Adopting a habit of regularly reflecting on values together will create resulting output with a consistent level of quality, no matter how big or small an assignment may be. Most importantly, though, regularly restating values puts everyone on your team in the mindset to reach goals together under a unified vision for success. With shared vision comes shared challenges and ultimately shared joy. Succeed together, on your own terms.