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To Do or To Be: THAT is the question

Hamlet got it wrong. John Boyd got it right.

Boyd is the creator of the OODA loop fast decision matrix. I thought
OODA loop was one of Willy Wonka’s midgets, but my son says that’s an OOMPA loompa. What a difference a couple of letters make.

I’ve been researching Boyd for a chapter on intuition and fast decision-making (‘thin slicing’ Malcolm Gladwell calls it) for the leadership book I’m writing, and have just discovered this insight from him:

People become leaders for one of two reasons – either to DO something or to BE somebody. We all know too many bosses who became ‘leaders’ to BE someone. They are usually bad leaders. Boyd defined them as people who give up some of their integrity to achieve advancement in an organization.

Boyd said it’s the fundamental choice facing us all in life: to do or to be.

Cool, as my kids would say. Makes a lot of sense.

OODA loop stands for Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act. You probably knew that. But, did you know that as a trainer of fighter pilots, Boyd accepted challenges from any fellow pilot to go one on one in a dogfight training exercise?

He was never beaten. There were many challengers, but he always defeated them in less than forty seconds using his OODA loop system. All sounds a bit Ninja-ish to me.

The US Airforce rejected the system when he explained it to them. But the Marines and other land forces took it up enthusiastically and it became the core military rationale behind the Desert Storm invasion strategy in the first Iraq War.

All very impressive if you’re into military strategy and leadership. But not as impressive to me as that fundamental question of leadership: Did you become a leader to DO or to BE? Good question. I like it a lot…


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