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.
This is the text-only, printer-friendly version of 'The Strategy of the
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
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
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