Situational Awareness & OODA Loops

Mon, 27 Jan 2003 18:13:05 -0800

On Monday, January 27, 2003, at 03:51  PM, R. A. Hettinga wrote:

> How to win -- not survive -- a fight.

Erm... Related Bits from this last summer. The story of Boyd as told in 
the article is a fun read.


Fast Company
This is the text-only, printer-friendly version of 'The Strategy of the 
Fighter Pilot'
Its permanent web address is : )

The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot

Business is a dogfight. Your job as a leader: Outmaneuver the 
competition, respond decisively to fast-changing conditions, and defeat 
your rivals. That's why the OODA loop, the brainchild of "40 Second" 
Boyd, an unconventional fighter pilot, is one of today's most important 
ideas in battle or in business.

by Keith H. Hammonds
photographs by Fredrik Broden
from FC issue , page 98
(C) past
The F-16 fighter jet is, as supersonic military aircraft go, a modest 
machine. It measures just 49 feet long and 31 feet wide from wingtip to 
missile-capped wingtip, and it weighs about half as much as its U.S. 
Air Force predecessor, the F-15. With a top speed of 1,350 MPH, it lags 
the F-15 and other big planes. It can't fly as high or as far. But in 
battle, the F-16 defies physics. Its design allows extreme maneuvers, 
even at low speeds. It dumps and regains energy in an instant, and 
despite its light weight, it can withstand nine times the force of 
gravity -- which enables some serious twisting and rolling. Pilots jag 
and flip with subtle nudges to a sensitive electronic flight-control 
system. The plane is unthinkably agile. Picture a young Michael Jordan 
with 29,100 pounds of thrust.

Now think of your company: Is it an F-16 or an Aeroflot turboprop? In 
business, success isn't simply a matter of being quickest to market, of 
spending the most, or of selling the highest-quality products. You can 
win by using any of those methods but only if you do one thing more: 
Outmaneuver the other guy. You have to decode the environment before he 
does, act decisively, and then capitalize on his initial confusion by 
confusing him some more. Agility is the essence of strategy in war and 
in business.

John R. Boyd knew this. He knew it instinctively in the early 1950s 
when, as a young U.S. Air Force fighter pilot -- cocky even by 
fighter-pilot standards -- he issued a standing challenge to all 
comers: Starting from a position of disadvantage, he'd have his jet on 
their tail within 40 seconds, or he'd pay out $40. Legend has it that 
he never lost. His unfailing ability to win any dogfight in 40 seconds 
or less earned him his nickname: "40 Second" Boyd.

Boyd applied his intuitive understanding of energy maneuverability to 
the study of aeronautics. In the 1970s, he helped design and champion 
the F-16, an aluminum manifestation of everything he knew about 
competition. Then he focused his tenacious intellect on something 
grander, an expression of agility that, for him and others, became a 
consuming passion: the OODA loop.

Observation; orientation; decision; action. On the face of it, Boyd's 
loop is a simple reckoning of how human beings make tactical decisions. 
But it's also an elegant framework for creating competitive advantage. 
Operating "inside" an adversary's OODA loop -- that is, acting quickly 
to outthink and outmaneuver rivals -- will, Boyd wrote, "make us appear 
ambiguous, [and] thereby generate confusion and disorder."

The product of a singular, half-century-long journey through the realms 
of science, history, and moral philosophy, Boyd's ideas both augment 
and challenge conventional thinking about organizations and conflict. 
Boyd himself, a cigar-smoking maverick, enjoyed distinctive 
unpopularity in official Pentagon circles. But even among critics, his 
OODA loop was much harder to dismiss.

The concept is just as powerful when applied to business. The 
convergence of rapidly globalizing competition, real-time 
communication, and smarter information technology has led to a 
reinvention of the meaning and practice of strategy. What do you do in 
the semiconductor industry and other sectors where the time advantage 
of proprietary technology is collapsing even as the cost of developing 
it explodes? Companies in manufacturing, telecommunications, retail -- 
in nearly every business -- are discovering that fashion, fad, and 
fickle customers require constant vigilance and adjustment. We operate 
in a video-game world where time is compressing, information goes 
everywhere, and the rules of the game change abruptly and continuously.

All of which makes the OODA loop more powerful than ever. Want to 
outthink and outexecute the competition in the air or on the ground, in 
combat or in business? Want to test out new ideas, get feedback from 
your customers, adjust your product accordingly, and launch a new 
version -- before your competition even senses the opportunity? Then 
learn how to make the OODA loop the centerpiece of your strategy 

What should I do with my life?
          "Agitate. Agitate, Agitate." - Frederick Douglass