Dangerous Inflection Points, the Turn to Final

Big Red Car here.  Bit cloudy and cool here this morning in the ATX, still Spring is in the air.  It is currently 72F and it will be 87F before the day is through.

So The Boss gets talking with a couple of venture capitalists and the conversation drifts toward “inflection points” or pivots and how to deal with them.

The venture capitalists opine that almost all of their startups encounter a major inflection point somewhere along the way.  Some make it through just fine and some crash and burn.

This brings to mind an aviation analogy.

The turn to final

When coming in to land an airplane, the pilot is often directed to “join the pattern” as a means of lining up to land.

The pattern is a series of prescribed routes and turns directing the plane to its “final approach” or just final.  The routes are called legs.  The elevation is usually 1,000 feet above ground elevation.  This is called 1,000′ AGL or the ground elevation (e.g. 800′) plus the same 1,000′.  This would be called 1,800 MSL (above mean sea level) and is the altitude used when flying.  Hope that didn’t confuse ya’ll.

The pattern is made of four legs:  crosswind, downwind, base and final.

We will concern ourselves only with downwind (the leg an airplane is typically directed to join as it approaches the airport and the traffic pattern), the base leg (perpendicular to the alignment of the runway) and final (direct alignment with the direction of the runway).  Final deposits you at the “numbers” and the landing end of the runway.

The turn from base to final is a very important inflection point.  Make an error here flying low and slow and you may not be able to recover.  Not to fret, it is easy to deal with this.

Turning to final

Now you know the turn to final from base can be dangerous just like an inflection point for a startup.

You arrive at the turn with one notch of flaps lowered.  As soon as you complete the turn you will lower your landing gear.  Landing gear are fairly important when approaching to land.

Once you are aligned with gear down (and have three green lights), you will lower the flaps fully.  The flaps allow you to descend at a steeper descent angle.

The important thing about the turn to final is to never be too slow or misaligned.  Too slow will kill you.  Misalignment will require you to take another lap in the traffic pattern.

Many times a pilot will allow a dash of misalignment to develop into a speed problem as they try to turn back onto the runway heading.  This is a dangerous practice for an inexperienced pilot.

Just a small aeronautical note — when you turn you lose lift on your wings because they are no longer aligned perfectly with the path of flight, they are angled.  This angle destroys lift.  Lift is what keeps you flying.  This loss of lift coupled with a slow speed is deadly.  Lift is a function of speed.  Low speed equals low lift.  In this configuration, you are losing lift because of your wings and the turn.  The wing configuration is a product of the turn.  You are doubling down on a loss of lift — speed and turning.  You are screwed if you are slow.

So what do we do, Big Red Car?

The first thing is to recognize the dangers inherent at the turn or inflection point.  Be aware of what is happening.

1.  Do not slow down unnecessarily.  You really don’t even are about being a bit fast.  You can bleed off any unnecessary speed on short final.

2.  Make the most gradual turn — inflection point — possible.  Nurse the airplane into the turn.  Nurse the company into the inflection point.

3.  Know that if you have a crosswind, the turn will either be accelerated or dampened by the crosswind.  The magnitude of the impact will be quickly apparent.

4.  Do not turn to the runway heading directly.  Get close and let things settle a bit then finish the turn and hopefully you are looking right down the runway.  If you are off just a bit, you will correct it.  If you are off a lot, you will “go around” and take another crack.

If substantially misaligned, you will not turn back to the runway heading unless you are a very experienced pilot in which case you will also jam the throttle forward while simultaneously increasing the angle of descent to increase flying speed.

It sounds complicated but in real life it is easy.  It is a matter of touch enhanced by doing things incrementally.  A dividend is when you turn smoothly, you do not increase the angle of the turn (the wings) thereby shedding less lift in the turn.   A shallow turn will not cannibalize lift.

How does this apply to business?

When you are operating a startup and encounter the necessity to pivot, you will do it in a likewise manner.

1.  You will do it gradually while being careful not to cannibalize progress or destroy the team.

2.  You will plan your inflection point carefully with the same amount of care as your original Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Culture.  By now you will likely have some real culture developing.  Do not allow the pivot to destroy the culture.

3.  You will communicate it fully and you will brief everyone completely.  You will keep the Board informed.

4.  You will start very gradually and you will at all times ensure you continue to operate.  You will move incrementally and not try to turn to the final heading in one day.

5.  You will feel the wind (market) for that pesky little crosswind and then you will accommodate its impact on the inflection point.

6.  You will keep your hands on the steering wheel or the yoke and you will guide the startup to a smooth landing.

And, then, Old Sport, you will win.  Know that almost every startup encounters an inflection point.  When you do, you know what to do.

If The Boss can assist you:  512-656-1383 or jminch2011@gmail.com.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.  Be good to yourself.  You deserve it.




  • http://about.me/fleckman Peter Fleckenstein

    Such an outstanding post BRC!

    • http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com/ JLM