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A Fighter Pilot’s Secret to Surviving Wars: Making Right Decisions Fast

A Fighter Pilot’s Secret to Surviving Wars: Making Right Decisions Fast

You have less than 3 seconds to make a decision. The situation is changing faster than you can think. In the moment you take action, you must immediately reassess and make the next decision. The wrong choice could cost you your life. This is air to air combat, where fighter pilots make the right decisions fast using a highly effective system called the “OODA Loop.”

What a fighter pilot can teach you about making decisions quickly?

You can leverage the OODA Loop model to improve the speed and quality of your own decision making.

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The OODA Loop is a repeatable process for making better decisions. It uses a 4 point decision making loop to support quick, effective and proactive decision making.[1] OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is referred to as a “loop” because it’s designed to be repeated immediately upon completion. The more rapidly you can move through the loop, the more effective the process becomes. Simplicity is the critical element that allows the model to be applied universally.

The term “OODA Loop” was coined by Col. John Boyd of the US Air Force,[2] who earned the nickname “40 second Boyd” because he could defeat any opponent in less than 40 seconds. Boyd’s tactical brilliance revolutionized air combat. Today, there are many different models that articulate the same concept. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin have “Relax, look around, make a call” in their book Extreme Ownership. In A Spy’s Guide to Thinking, John Braddock describes the decision making process with the acronym DADA (Data, Analysis, Decision, Action).

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Pilot, entrepreneur, and SWAT operator Andrew Cull makes a strong case for using the OODA Loop.[3] He has personally used the model to land planes in zero visibility, negotiate business deals, and physically take down criminals. According to Cull,

“The OODA Loop allows you to coordinate and organize your thought process. More complicated models are inaccessible the moment your brain goes into stress response.”

But even if you are not in these high stakes situations, you can still benefit from using this model. This post lays out a few key applications of the OODA Loop: A learning system, a method for dealing with uncertainty, and a strategy for winning head-to-head contests and competitions.

However, the OODA Loop is incompatible with certain mindsets.

When used correctly, there are no downsides to the model itself. But with certain mindsets, the OODA loop is incompatible. For example, if you are inflexible in your thinking or unwilling to take decisive action, this is probably not the best decision making framework.

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Mr. Cull shared a perfect case study to explore a the OODA Loop step by step. Shortly after takeoff, he hit unexpectedly low cloud cover at 100 feet. The dark of night combined with the thick cloud cover left him with 0 visibility. Enter the OODA Loop:

  1. Observe: According to Cull, the first thing he observed was that he was “surprised and freaked out.” Acceptance and awareness of those feelings allowed him to adjust his focus accordingly. He also immediately began observing data from the relevant instruments.
  2. Orient: Cull assembled all of the available information to establish a full understanding of his position. Some of the information he used to orient himself included visual data, instrument data, previous flying experience, and physical sensations in that moment.
  3. Decide: After quickly and accurately orienting himself, he realized there was no way to determine how thick the cloud cover might be. He made the decision to land the plane immediately.
  4. Act: He began a slow descent in the proper direction to get below the cloud cover and regain partial visibility.
  5. Repeat: An extremely rapid, non-stop OODA Loop resulted in a quick and safe landing.

As you implement the OODA Loop personally, keep these strategic ideas in mind.

  • Mobilize your will. This means a mindset of humility and objectivity, and a readiness to take decisive action. Consciously bringing these qualities to the process are the grease that keeps the OODA engine running smoothly.
  • Start with a familiar environment. Environmental stress can interfere with learning. Once you have it down, you will be able to use the model as a tool to mitigate stress.
  • “Tactics come easy when principles are in the blood.” Highly relevant wisdom from Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning. Practice until you have fully internalized the OODA Loop as your natural default process for decision making.
  • Troubleshoot as you go. If the process does not appear to be working, check for interference from ego and over-thinking. Look for ways to take more ownership.

Reference

[1] Mind Tools: OODA Loops
[2] Avion History: Col. John Boyd
[3] Andrew Cull

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Austin Collins

Financial Advisor | Vice President

A Fighter Pilot’s Secret to Surviving Wars: Making Right Decisions Fast

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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