Do Miracles Really Happen?


On the morning of January 19th, 2009, 150 passengers boarded a routine flight from New York La Guardia airport headed to Charlotte, NC.  As the plane climbed from the runway it collided with a flock of geese near the airport, critically damaging both of the airplane’s engines.  Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger applied over 19,000 hours experience to safely land the A320 aircraft on the surface of the Hudson.  The tenth anniversary of what has now become known as “The Miracle on the Hudson” was just observed a week ago, celebrating the heroism of the crew and the fact that all 155 passengers and crew survived what should have been a catastrophe.  We call it a miracle because we all know that outcomes, like the one above, are rare to say the least.

Typically, when any decision maker is faced with a number of simultaneous system failures, it represents a crisis.  The success of any business rises and falls on the ability of leadership to manage crises.  These situations are rare, unexpected and, often we spend little time preparing or practicing for them in advance.  Crises require human decision makers to think at a faster pace than normal, typically with less feedback than they receive and are able to process in a stable environment.  Let’s just say, crises, like the one above, are high-stress events that require focus and recall at a pace that few human minds are capable of keeping.

While decades of experience, like that of Captain Sully, can be of great benefit when called upon to provide direction at a pivotal moment, we need to realize that people like Sullenberger, with just the right experience to match the circumstances, are few and far between.  In the absence of experience, we need supporting intelligence.  Like a medical doctor uses test results to derive a diagnosis, or an auto mechanic requires computer codes to understand what makes your car literally tick, experience and intuition augmented with business intelligence and data analytics, help business leaders make better, faster, more accurate decisions.

The point is, while we take great pride in our leadership acumen, we are na├»ve if we believe our decision making cannot be enhanced with actionable data.  But, perhaps like any new skill, we are reluctant to take the time and resources to develop a data-driven decision culture.  It requires new technologies, new processes and literacy in a new language set.  This can be difficult in an environment that is already over-run with challenges.  How does one find the time to pause or stop to chase a new, elusive initiative?  This could be a question that’s answer has existential ramifications.

Consider the airline accident above.  It is quite likely that Captain Sully had the skills to manhandle that massive aircraft to a safe landing without the aid of any data.  But, its not likely.  He needed to know his altitude, air speed, position, etc. and use that information to determine the best course of action.  Why didn’t the pilot attempt to fly to Teterboro or return to La Guardia?  These are the questions that investigators asked.  After over a dozen tests and first-hand testimony, it was determined that Sullenberger made the right decision to ditch, although the likelihood of survival would be considered slim.  He was not only supported by real-time intelligence, in the end, he was vindicated by corroborating data generated by the investigation.

When your decisions as a leader are challenged, do you want to depend on reviewer’s or investigator’s trust in only your experience and decision making, or would you also appreciate the benefit of data to support your conclusions? Business intelligence not only informs decisions but gives us confidence that our decisions are based on sound evidence.  Let’s face it, outside of our faith, miracles don’t just happen.  They are the result of sound decision making based on lots of experience augmented by actionable data. 

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