John Boyd’s Strategy in the 21st Century
Or, any position other than first is a tie for last.
J. Addams & Partners, Inc.
prepared by Prof. Sornette, ETH Zurich
Wars don’t always turn out as expected
Business doesn’t either
But it’s not inevitable
Time is special
• Time is the only physical parameter with a direction (the “arrow of time.”)
• You don’t have an unlimited supply.
• Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
• Sure sign you’re not using Boyd’s strategies: you try to solve problems by throwing more time at them.
I may lose a battle; I will never lose a minute.
A time-compressed company does the same thing as a pilot in an OODA Loop … It’s the competitor who acts on
information faster who is in the best position to win.
Using time as a weapon:
The “H-Y War”
1981 - 1983
• Honda Motorcycles introduced or replaced 113 models, effectively turning over its entire product line twice.
• Yamaha, which also started with about 60 models, was only able to manage 37 changes in product line over the same 18 months.
• Observation: As a result, Honda was able to incorporate (and test in the marketplace) a much wider variety of styling & technology. But that alone would not have been decisive.
H-Y War: The Results
• Key point: Honda succeeded in making motorcycle design a matter of fashion, where newness and freshness are important attributes to customers.
• Next to a Honda, Yamaha’s bikes looked old, unimaginative, unattractive.
• Yamaha was left with 12 months of unsold (and unsellable) inventory.
Stalk & Hout, Competing Against Time, 59
Comment: a classic example of
“shaping the marketplace.”
Business is a dogfight.
Your job as a leader:
Outmaneuver the competition, respond decisively to fast-changing conditions, and defeat your rivals. That's why the OODA loop, the brainchild of "40 Second" Boyd, an unconventional fighter pilot, is one of today's most important ideas in battle or in business.
Keith Hammonds, “The Strategy of the Fighter
Pilot,” Fast Company, June 2002.
"Forty-Second Boyd": he had a standing offer to all pilots that if they could defeat them in simulated air-to-air combat in under 40 seconds, he would pay them $40.
As an instructor at the Fighter Weapons School (FWS) at Nellis AFB, he fought students, cadre pilots, Marine and Navy pilots, and pilots from a dozen countries, who were attending the FWS as part of the Mutual Defense Assistance Pact.
He never lost.
Developed the Aerial Attack Study: After the study was declassified, foreign pilots passing through
Nellis took it home where it changed the way every air force in the world flies and fights. Even today, more than 40 years later, nothing substantial has been added to the Aerial Attack Study.
After a six-year assignment at Nellis, Boyd returned to college for another undergraduate degree. He went to the Georgia Institute of Technology where, one night while studying for an exam in thermodynamics, he had the epiphany that became his famous Energy-Maneuverability Theory, or
E-M Theory, as it came to be known.
The E-M Theory changed everything that everyone thought they knew about fighter combat. It enabled fighter pilots to evaluate their energy potential at any altitude and at any maneuver. And, perhaps more importantly, the energy potential of their adversary. It changed forever the way aircraft are fought in combat.
Boyd then used E-M as a design tool. Until E-M came along, fighter aircraft had been designed to fly fast in a straight line or fly high to reach enemy bombers. The F-X, which became the F-15, was the first Air Force fighter ever designed with maneuvering specifications. Boyd was the father of the
F-15, the F-16, and the F-18.
America has dominated the skies for the past 30 years because of John Boyd.
After he retired, he developed a