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

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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

More by this author

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 January 13, 2022

How to Use Travel Time Effectively

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How to Use Travel Time Effectively

Most of us associate travel and time with what we’re going to do one we get to our destination. Planning and mapping out what to do once you arrive can certainly make for a more pleasurable vacation, but there are things you can do while you are on your way that can make it even better.

Sure, you can plan for the things you’re going to do on your vacation while you are travelling en route – but what about making use of that time for other things that you don’t usually do when you’re at home? You don’t need to have your gadgets with you to do it, and you can really connect with yourself if you take the time to manage your life while heading towards your vacation destination.

Here are some great tips to help you with your time management while you travel, some of which are more conventional than others. Nonetheless, you can find out what works best for you and apply them accordingly depending on when and how you are travelling.

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1. Take Your Time Getting There

As I write this, I’m on a flight to San Francisco. Flying is the fastest way to get from place to place, and for many people it’s really the only way to travel.

But I’ve often taken the train or ferry on trips so that I have extra time without distraction to get more done. I’m not worrying about navigation or lack of space to do what I want to do. Instead I’m able to focus on getting stuff done during the time I’ve got without feeling rushed. For example, when I took the train from Vancouver to Portland, it was an eight hour trip and I managed to get a ton of writing done and closed a lot of open loops. It also was less expensive than flying, which was a bonus.

Sometimes taking the long way to get somewhere on vacation can be the best thing for you to get somewhere with your life.

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2. Go Gadget-Free

This is going to be a tough one for a lot of you. But why do you need to bring your gadgets with you when you go on vacation? It isn’t be a bad idea to leave all but one of them behind, and only pull out that one when you absolutely need to do so. In some countries, you’d be wise to be discreet with them anyway since flaunting them in front of those that are less fortunate than you isn’t a good practice. While it may not seem like flaunting to you, in different cultures it can definitely come across that way.

If you can’t go gadget-free, then at least go Internet-free. If you use a task management app that requires syncing across your multiple devices to be effective, remember that if you only have the one device with you then it can be the “master device” for the time being and will store your data locally anyway. Just sync up when you get home.

3. Reflect and Prepare

Finally, going on any sort of excursion gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been. The fact you have removed yourself from where you usually are can give you a perspective that you simply can’t get when you’re at home. You may want to journal your thoughts during this time – and by taking more time to get to your destination you’ll have more time to dig deeper into it.

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After a period of reflection – however long that happens to be – you can then begin to not only prepare for the rest of your travels, you can prepare for the rest of what happens afterward. The reflection period is important, though. You need to really know where you’ve been in order to properly look at where you want to be. Time away from things gives you that chance.

Conclusion

Traveling isn’t always about where you’re going and how quickly you can get there. In fact, it’s rarely about that at all.

More often it’s where you’re at in your head that will dictate how much you benefit from traveling. So don’t just go somewhere fast. Instead, take your time on the way there and take the time to connect with not only where you are but who are while you’re there.

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If you do that, you’ll have a better chance to be who you want to be when you leave.

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

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