Do you know how many people died last year in car accidents? Worldwide, 1.3 million people.
How safe are airplanes, compared to cars? For the same time period, 324 people died in plane crashes. Again, 1,300,000 people died in cars (these are 2016 stats, and yes, I know its 2018).
Now, airplanes are interesting because some planes are designed to shoot down other planes and you would think this would drive up the airplane death stats significantly. This is what makes being a fighter pilot such a tough business. We all know the stress involved because, after all, who can forget Tom Cruise losing his best friend “Goose” in Top Gun? That was based on a true story, wasn’t it? If not, at least Fargo was a true story, I believe.
There are lots of theories on how to win a fighter jet confrontation like those found in Top Gun. The most famous book on the subject, Aerial Attack Study, was written by the guru John Boyd. Boyd’s book said lots of things the military didn’t want to hear: the best pilot doesn’t win the fight. The best fighter jet doesn’t win the fight. Contrary to popular military opinion, “perfection” in a dog fight is not the goal.
When Boyd wrote Aerial Attack Study, there were only two fighter jets worth a damn: the Russian Mig and the American F-16. Have you ever checked the stats of, say, a Porsche 911 versus a Dodge Dart? The Porsche has more horsepower. It has a higher top speed. It is faster 0-60 mph. Same deal with the Russian Mig fighters: the Mig won in every category. It had a higher top speed. It had more firepower. Better range.
So, why is it that our F-16’s have won every fight with a Mig, ever?
Because our F-16’s change direction faster than a Mig. That’s all. Just that one thing. Agility. Sure, the Mig was a more “perfect” plane statistically–stronger, faster, blah blah blah. But, the ability of an F-16 to change direction faster than a Mig made it so that our pilots could outmaneuver the Mig every time. And that was the crux of Boyd’s advice–build a plane with more agility, and you win.
The lesson here? You don’t have to be perfect. But you must be agile. If you’re not moving in the right direction at first, change directions before your opponent knows what hit them.
Agility wins in business too. Was YouTube a perfect company when it started in 2005? Hardly. YouTube started as a dating site, with the slogan “Tune In, Hook Up.” And, you know the rest of that story. Continue Reading