Monday, October 22, 2012

Baumgartner’s Amazing Feat

Is there anyone who hasn’t yet read or heard about the remarkable feat Felix Baumgartner accomplished last weekend?

On Sunday, he rode a capsule, attached to a hot air balloon, 128,100 feet (about 24 miles) up above Earth, then jumped from the capsule falling all the way back down to a desert in New Mexico. On his way down, he broke the speed of sound, travelling an estimated 833.9 miles per hour. His fall to Earth lasted a little over nine minutes, with half of that spent in free fall. He broke the records for highest free fall and highest manned balloon flight. He did not, however, break the record for longest free fall, which amazingly was set in 1960 by Colonel Joe Kittinger.

When I heard about this, my first thought was, why in the world would anyone do that? As someone who gets pretty uncomfortable riding chair lifts, I would find it almost paralyzing to travel that far up in the sky in a small enclosed capsule, let alone open the hatch and jump back toward Earth. I am awed, and a little perplexed, by people as fearless as Mr. Baumgartner. And while his feat struck me as cool, it seemed to be another one of those stunts like this that is interesting but has no other real redeeming value (other than getting your name in the Guinness Book of Records).

However, as I read more about Mr. Baumgartner’s feat, and what it took to accomplish it, I’ve gained more admiration for him. It wasn’t just one guy going up really high into space, and defying death by falling safely back to Earth. He had a large team, including Col. Kittinger, helping him prepare for this. If you look at the footage of the jump, his team on the ground appears to be in a NASA command center (although NASA was not involved). The planning for this feat took over five years, with countless hours preparing and studying for the ultimate event, including two significant test jumps in the past year.

Apart from being a cool daredevil stunt, this could also have lasting and important impacts on future space travel. Researchers believe that they gained valuable data about the effects of high speed travel on the human body, which will help in creating emergency escape plans for astronauts and other space travelers (companies like Virgin Galactic are developing plans and vehicles for space tourism). They also expect that this will help in developing new and better spacesuits.

There are lots of lessons to be learned from this. A couple though, stood out to me as particularly applicable to an entrepreneurial audience. The traits and characteristics that allowed Mr. Baumgartner to make this remarkable journey are similar to those that it takes to succeed in a number of other settings, including starting and running a business. He had the vision and foresight to set an almost impossible goal, and the courage to try to accomplish it, despite all the inherent risks. He surrounded himself with a skilled team, including a mentor (Mr. Kittinger) who had achieved a similar goal many years earlier, and who remained vested in Mr. Baumgartner’s success. He took the time necessary to prepare and plan for his adventure. He also was able to get the right partners to help sponsor and underwrite the cost for this undoubtedly expensive endeavor.

Mr. Baumgartner had vision, courage, preparation, planning, and funding, plus the support of a mentor and a strong team. Do you know any successful entrepreneur who hasn’t?

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