My Introduction to Col John Boyd

Saturday, December 21, 2002

2 days ago I had never heard of John Boyd – few people have. I post today, having just seen “The Two Towers”. The Lord of the Rings is an epic that deals also with the power of the human spirit and need for courage in the face of the threat of the bureaucratic and industrial age. How apt to see this great film and to discover this great man at the same time. He brings us lessons that apply to all organizations and to all of us who would lead them.

The Colonel’s Universal Teaching

Col. John Boyd, his biographer Robert Coram reports in his well-written book, had a speech he often gave to those who, like the fighter pilot himself, found that doing right did not always mean doing well. Known as the “To Be or To Do” speech, Boyd used it to rally flagging spirits of apprentices who, until they became involved as one of his Acolytes, had appeared fated to climb the highest rungs of conventional success. The tenets of this speech reflected both his spirit and values:

“One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you’re going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go.” [Boyd] raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised the other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight magazine.

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