Sharpen Yourself: “40 Second Boyd”
“In the mid to late fifties, a fighter pilot could earn himself a quick forty bucks and perhaps a nice steak dinner in Vegas – not to mention everlasting renown, which is to fighter pilots what oxygen is to us lesser beings – by meeting over the Green Spot at thirty thousand feet and taking position just 500 feet behind an arrogant and unpleasant man with precisely zero air-to-air victories to his credit. From that perfect kill position, you would yell “Fight’s on!” and if that sitting duck in front of you was not on your tail with you in his gunsight in forty seconds flat then you would win the money, the dinner and best of all, the fame… To be challenged in such a manner is an irresistible red flag to men like this, and certainly no less of one because the challenger was a rude, loud, irreverent braggart who had never been victorious in actual air-to-air combat. And yet that forty dollars went uncollected, uncollected for many years against scores of the best fighter pilots in the world.
That is more than luck. That is more than skill. That is more than tactics.”
The most important American military figure of the 20th century will not be named Eisenhower, or Patton, or even Marshall. Instead, that title is likely to belong to a man who never made it past Colonel. Yet John Boyd is justly credited with inspiring America’s victory over Iraq in Desert Storm, 5 years after his death. He continues to inspire a number of prominent figures in America’s military reform community, and in April 2008 US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cited Boyd as an exemplar to officers in all services – someone who wanted to “accomplish something” more than he wanted to “be somebody” [Pentagon DefenseLINK | see video]. Who is this guy?
Worthwhile books have been written on that subject, but for a quicker set of takes, Bill Whittle (yes, Frank Whittle’s grandson) offers a compelling snapshot in “Pope John and the Supersonic Monastery.” Fast Company magazine’s “The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot” offers an accessible introduction from a business strategy standpoint. Readers can also get a flavor of the man himself by watching a short video excerpt of Boyd discussing doctrine, listening to audio of his “conceptual spiral” presentation [Quicktime], and reading transcripts. A copy of his “Patterns of Conflict” slides is also reproduced in Power Point, though people who know Boyd would be the first to tell you that his presentations went far beyond what was written on his slides – as good presentations ought.