Monday, September 26, 2011

What Fighter Pilots Can Teach Us About College Success

I just started reading this fascinating book called That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum and in it they cite a concept from the U.S. Air Force that they use as a framework for what America needs to do in order to rise above its challenges.

And the framework they cite struck me immediately as exactly what college students must do in order to succeed. A huge light bulb went off in my head and I thought - whoa - this is big. 

U.S. Air Force officer John Boyd designed a framework called the “OODA loop.” OODA stands for “observe, orient, decide, and act” and Boyd said that whichever pilot had a faster OODA loop would be the one with the competitive advantage – the one that would win…or rather…survive.

The essential concept is that in a fast-paced environment you must observe your environment, orient yourself around what you observe, decide on a plan of action, and then follow through.

And both college and the world we live in today are fast-paced and high stakes environments in which you must make strategic moves in order to be successful. 

The OODA loop provides a perfect framework to help you successfully navigate your college flight. The key is to follow the stages in order, not to dwell on one too long, and to remember it is a loop, you must always reevaluate because both you and your environment will change often.  

Isa's College Flight Strategy

OBSERVE: Observe your life experiences and what you want to make better or different. Read a wide variety of books and news and note the trends going on in the world. Note the problems in the world that you could help solve. Now observe what you are good at. What talents do you have?  What tasks do you enjoy the most? What do people compliment you on? What are you most proud of so far in your life? What skills do you enjoy using?

ORIENT: Once you mesh your best talents and skills with a passion or a problem you see in the world it’s time to position yourself to best achieve your goals. You must notice what is going on in the world and how you are a part of it. You must position yourself in clubs, organizations, and activities that give you more exposure and more experience in what it is that you want to contribute to the world.  You must do well in your classes and have the best possible credentials to position yourself to be ready for the best opportunities when they come your way. Because you never know when something will come fast. You must be ready or you will miss out. 

DECIDE: Choose a major. Choose a direction. Choose a passion and a focus. Write down your goals and make a plan to achieve them. And remember that this is a loop. You can always re-orient after you’ve observed more about yourself and your environment. But you must decide something in order to move forward.

ACT: Look at your goals and your plan and start acting on them today. Find mentors who have done what it is you aspire to do. Ask them for advice. ACT on their advice. Learn everything you can about what you want to do. Get inspired. Do things no one has done before. Be a leader.

Are you flying in the right direction? Are you even up in the air yet or are you still observing the skies, afraid to rise above? 

Or are you stuck? Are you too afraid to decide? Too afraid to act? Or have you acted and are you too afraid to start over again in a way that might lead you to a new, seemingly scarier action?

Now more than ever it is time to get on the right course. If you don't - your dreams and your future could pass you by, leaving you lost and alone and wondering why your life feels so devoid of any passion, joy, or fulfillment. The good news is - you are the pilot of your own life. 

We live in an incredibly fast-paced society, and as Thomas L. Friedman says, “the Age of Average is over.”

Do not get comfortable with average. You are more than average. FLY above average.

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