• Lessons From A Fighter Pilot

    by  • July 25, 2012 • Social Media Risk

    A primary component to social and digital risk management is how you make decisions. Risk management decisions can’t be made haphazardly or without a context. Instead, risk management decisions need to follow a structured approach to ensure that nothing is missed.

    The OODA Loop

    As a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Col. John Boyd understood that the key to victory in air combat was to create a situation where he could make decisions faster then his opponent – essentially forcing them into a reactive stance against an always changing situation.

    Boyd believed that all organizations including the individual are constantly going through a process of interaction with their environment that includes taking in information, processing that information, deciding on a next action, and then actually acting, thus allowing for environmental and situational adaptation. The result of his experience was that he developed a theory for air combat called the OODA loop that has now been applied in land warfare, government, information security, and other competitive and combative situations.

    The OODA loop breaks down into four interrelated and overlapping aspects:

    • Observation – Data collection phase
    • Orientation – Analysis and synthesis of data
    • Decision – Determination of a course of action
    • Action – Actually completing the action
    The process is also actually a continuous loop that your are constantly going through. And it doesn’t mean you can’t jump stages. For example, if you get to act and the situation has already changed enough that your action is no longer applicable, then you back to the beginning.


    Applying this to digital risk management

    What makes the OODA loop useful in digital risk management is first its simplicity. It is only four steps, and if you are an observer of life, you can see this everyday. For example, isn’t this the process you go through when you drive? Or when you are hitting a softball? Or even deciding where to go for dinner? Col. Boyd simply categorized what it is we already do on a daily basis.

    The problem is that we often don’t recognize when we are in this cycle, what it means, or the importance of being able to accelerate it under different circumstance. For example, when driving and faced with a car in front of you suddenly stopping or trying to hit a baseball, the person who is able to go through the OODA loop the fastest is generally in the best position.

    The Bottom Line: You need a structured approach to social media risk management and Boyd’s OODA loop is a good starting point. What structured decision making approach are you taking to social media risk management?



    For more on Col. Boyd’s OODA loop and theories, see his article about the OODA process here and his massive presentation on the same here.