Winning Aerial Dogfights and Exploiting New Product Opportunities

What do winning aerial dogfights and exploiting new product opportunities have in common?

Uncertainty and Agility

In the Korean War, the Russian MIG-15 was roughly equal to the American F-86. However, Americans won ten dogfights for every one they lost.

Analysis of the dogfights by fighter pilot John Boyd unearthed two reasons.

  1. Uncertainty decreased through broader observation: The bubble canopy of the F-86 gave an American pilot a 360 degree observation of flight maneuvers compared to the forward-view-only canopy of the MIG.
  2.  Agility increased through full power hydraulics: All the controls on the F-86 are full power hydraulics allowing quicker change in maneuvers compared to the MIG with its exhausting manual controls.1


Boyd analyzed other types of military battles where initial uncertainty is high. He found the winners had superior observation of the situation and greater agility to exploit unexpected opportunities. He synthesized his analysis of winning strategies in his OODA loop.

Observation –a winning pilot in a dogfight must have a good stream of reliable information about the environment.

Orient – pilots orient themselves to decide what this information means.

Decide – a pilot must reach some type of decision, either to continue on the usual course, or to exploit an opportunity spotted by orientation

Act – a pilot must respond with agility to carry out the decision

Front end of new product development and the OODA loop

In the graphic below, green arrows represent a typical autopilot development pathway for new product ideas when a business unit feels it knows the marketplace well. The orange arrows represent the development pathway for new product ideas when marketplace information is uncertain and an agile response is imperative

Outside-In enquiry helps spot exploitable opportunities in unfamiliar marketplaces. Like the full view F-86 canopy, it helps developers spot unforeseen marketplace changes that will either enhance or sabotage development. It provides reliable information for the developers to decide and act with agility to exploit these changes.

1. Richards, Chet (2004) Certain To Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied To Business pages 60-65 Xlibris Corporation

One thought on “Winning Aerial Dogfights and Exploiting New Product Opportunities

Comments are closed.