In military aviation, a pilot who can boast five or more aerial victories is given the honorable title of “Flying Ace.” History’s top ace of all time was named Erich Hartmann, who won a shocking three hundred and fifty-two in-air battles. He survived more than fourteen hundred missions and was never wounded. Named “The Black Devil” by his enemies, Hartmann attributed his success to his mentor, a fighter pilot named Paule Rossman.
Paule Rossman was also a very successful ace. But unlike most aces, he couldn’t engage in dogfights. A dogfight is an intense aerial battle in which physical strength is a must. Rossman suffered from an arm injury that made dog-fighting impossible for him. So he had to find a way to compensate for his disadvantage.
Rossman started doing his homework. He was studying the battle, while others were gripping their controls, firing bullets, just praying for the first hit. Rossman refused to go into a confrontation unless he knew he was in position to win. When he attacked, he had analyzed the situation every which way. It was his focused studying that gave him his tremendous success.
The great Erich Hartmann learned his strategy from Rossman. They both made sure to go into each battle fully prepared. They didn’t rush into the middle of dogfights with guns blazing, hoping they would outpower, outshoot, and outluck their enemies. Instead they planned ahead. They studied their options, learned their enemies, and planned careful successes.
These two famous flying aces teach us something important. Success doesn’t come from running blindly into the fight. Success comes from preparing. Success comes from observing, studying, planning, strategizing. Success comes from learning.
Acting without learning is like hoping that brute force and blind courage alone will make you a flying ace.
President Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
Just like Hartmann, Lincoln understood one of the key principles of success: Brawn doesn’t win. Preparation does.