How do you know someone is a pilot?

…they’ll tell you. (insert laughter here) 😀

As I mentioned in my intro, aviation is a passion of mine. I’ve been a pilot for 24 years and have learned many lessons about life, myself and business through flying.

One of these business concepts that I’ve shared with entrepreneurs came from fighter pilot strategist, Colonel John Boyd. It is a four-step decision making process called the OODA loop.

You see, John Boyd was the best there ever was… ever. Never beaten in training or in combat. In fact no one ever really came close. His nickname was “5-second Boyd” because that is about how long his opponents would last.

What made John better than every single other pilot in the military? It’s a level playing field, same conditions, same weapons, heck even the same AIRCRAFT!! The best equipped in the world aircraft… yet he was UNBEATABLE??

When John Boyd was finally ready to share his secret, he described it as the OODA loop. Today it has become a model for not only fighter pilots, but trial attorneys, business executives and strategists everywhere.

The OODA loop is one of my favorite models (one we relied on very heavily in the early days of COVID)… so how does it work?

When engaging in a dog fight, John Boyd would go through these stages:

Observe: take in any and all information around you – using your senses to determine facts (eg. position of the sun, position of your enemy, weather) – even data that may not have seemed relevant was part of the process. In the new and changing world of AI this ability to OBSERVE is ever more critical… because you never know what data is relevant and what isn’t. The key is to OBSERVE WITHOUT BIAS!! Don’t form any opinions in the observation mode, simply take in the relevant data…Which brings us to the next, and I think most fun part, of the loop.

 Orient: John would orient himself inside the data set. He would start to bring his experiences to the equation. What did it mean that the sun was at 10 o’clock high and his opponent was low on the horizon? How did the wind affect his aim? Every relevant piece of data started to inform him of what to do, and only then did he allow his opinions and experience to enter his mindset.

 Decide: After orientation and using relative experience and bias, make a quick and confident choice based on facts and your position of what action is the NEXT BEST ACTION to take… not moves ahead like chess but what is the best next step to take and then…

 Act:  Take action to execute that choice and IMMEDIATELY go back into Observe stage. Don’t stand on the court admiring your beautiful, arcing, three pointer towards the basket, or celebrate in the glow of your amazing proposal… get immediately back to UNBIASED OBSERVATION. Boyd obsessed on how to iterate his loop faster and faster. “Get inside your opponent’s loop… they are still trying to decide what to do and you are already taking action and are now moves ahead and they cannot catch up”. It is that visual of “inside your opponent’s loop” that resonates and most for me.

So what does this mean in a business application? 

Often times you will be faced with challenges to your industry or business. When applying this decision-making process, it will allow you to assess and take action quickly, often times ahead of your competition.  

In the entrepreneurial community, as I mentioned this was especially important during the pandemic which presented many enemies on the horizon. Those leaders who were able to apply these steps in order to make decisions quickly and confidently often “survived the attack” with less damage to their business.

We taught our Scaling Up Coaches this methodology to use with their clients, and in the fog of chaos that the early days of 2020 brought, this model gave many the clarity and confidence to stop and think, then decide, then act and go back to stopping to think. It was paramount!!

I hope that when faced with your next challenge, you’ll implement the OODA loop model and score a win!


Founder of the align5 Companies,  CEO of Scaling Up Coaches, and Serial Entrepreneur

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