Getting own Voice – On OODA

Monday, March 10, 2003

I have been thinking about how Boyd must have thought through his idea of OODA. This picture made it all seem so real to me.

Observe – As a fighter pilot, it would have been unlikely that your main threat would have been in the 210 degrees of vision in front of you. Your threat will come from behind. So it is with life in general. In business in particular. The threat will be hard to see. The good fighter pilot spends most of his time looking behind him. He constantly adjusts his focal length so that he is not always looking in the same place. So with life. Not only will the threat come from behind, but even then it will be hard to spot. How would Compaq have seen Dell 7 years ago? How would United have seen Southwest? Barnes and Noble see Amazon?

Orient – Boyd also knew that it was not going to save him, if his only response was to try and fly faster (McDonalds to Subway) or to bob and weave (GM’s response to Toyota). He would “flat plate”. This involved pulling up the nose of his plane so that it in effect stopped in mid air. His pursuer would fly by into his gunsight. There was no defense to this radical shift in orientation.  This is how he always won his bet. No going faster or bobbing and weaving will save the traditional firm.

Decide – In a dogfight, there is no time to “think” you have to “know” what the response is in advance. Pilots practice coping with problems in the simulator. We go to business school and read a book. The German General Staff exam pre 1914 required that the General being tested solve his stated problem in less than 5 minutes. No time for reason only for intuition founded on experience. We are so busy doing things in most places that we don’t have time to reflect enough about what has happened to build up our procedural memory.

Act – An automatic response. Yet we spend so much time wondering what to do. As Boyd acts, he loops back into Observe and the whole process begins again. Each rotation leads to more confusion for the target. What can the traditional airlines do to cope with the Southwest, Easyjet model? How can a traditional bookseller respond to Amazon?

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