Human-Centered Design
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November 1st, 2022

The F-16 began development for the USAF by General Dynamics in 1974. Key features included a frameless bubble canopy for good visibility, a side-mounted control stick to ease control while maneuvering, a redesigned ejection seat that reduced g-forces on the pilot, and the first use of relaxed status stability /fly-by-wire flight controls that make it a multirole, lightweight, agile aircraft.

It was built with the user, in this case, the pilot in mind.

Based on his experiences in the Korean War and as a fighter tactics instructor in the early 60’s, Colonel John Boyd along with Thomas Christie developed the energy-maneuverability theory to model a fighter aircraft’s performance in combat. Boyd’s work called for a small, lightweight aircraft that could maneuver with the minimum possible energy loss and which also incorporated an increased thrust-o-weight ratio. This is what the modern pilot needed to be successful.

Boyd proposed, among other theories and concepts, the OODA Loop which played a central role in gaining air superiority. The four basic pillars of the concept are Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. The overly simplified concept is the quicker someone can progress through this thought loop, the quicker one can make decisions and ultimately gain situational control.

Image: Progressive Combat Solutions
Image: Progressive Combat Solutions

Each of the F-16s redesigns was in direct relationship to improve observation, orientation, decision, and action. The larger canopy allowed for better observation with an improved line of sight. The new electronics and upgraded controls allowed for better orientation. Decisioning became quicker because of better conscious and unconscious ‘feel.’ Actions based on training models and immediate feedback loops were achieved at higher velocities. This machine was completely and totally designed around physical ability and human cognition.

Observation - the collection of data by means of the senses.

Orientation - the analysis and synthesis of data to form one’s current mental perspective.

Decision - the determination of a course of action based on one’s current mental perspective.

Action- the physical playing out of decisions.

There were numerous theories and studies that also informed the model. The aircraft was built by means of scientific theory, iteration, refinement, and ultimately put into service.

So what?

At some point, leadership thought requires an element of situational control. Informed models, intuition, experience, logic, and training are the elements that help to achieve it.

The OODA Loop can be used in just about any context of innovation or decision-making, especially if the goal is to speed up feedback and allow for iteration.

If John Boyd were asked to engineer future combat aircraft, it’s hard to imagine he would start with humans and build around them. AI, ML, and Autonomous / Uncrewed Aircraft systems have all but taken over the nation’s airspace, improving overall safety and operations.

The modern workplace is not very different.

Boyd concluded that to maintain an accurate or effective grasp of reality one must undergo a continuous cycle of interaction with the environment geared to assessing its constant changes….basically saying managers have to thoroughly understand the workflow. This is especially evident in times of free market competition or periods of disruption.

Boyd believed the key to survival and autonomy is in the ability to adapt to change, rather than perfecting the existing circumstance. He also believed that new opportunities and ideas spring from some mismatch between reality and ideas about it, as examples from the history of science, engineering, and business illustrate. We are at a dynamic intersection of human knowledge and informed models. Hopefully, Boyd’s concept of the OODA Loop helps to isolate some of the noise from the signal and allows us all to make better decisions.

#TotalTenancy

#OrionGrowth

Photo by Brady Bellini on Unsplash

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