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A fighter pilot lesson from a toddler

Today, I watched a toddler watch the world with wide eyes, observing all the strange people in the public transport.

The toddler didn’t make a noise. His gaze examined everything and everyone around. He observed. And also ignored the piece of an apple his mum handed to him.


There’s a process in fighter pilot combat training called the OODA loop.

Observe Orient Decide Act

This is literally a battle-tested process for making fast and precise decisions. Each step builds on top of the one that came before it. If executed well, it leads to victory, if not, death.

Most of our lives aren’t that dramatic, but the can still apply.

The toddler doesn’t have a problem with the first step. But we might — a distortion of reality caused by the influence of desires, biases and goals. Unlike us adults, he sees reality as it is, without bias, without preconceptions. There are no goals, no high level thinking coloring the world. He observes well.

But if we don’t observe just as well and let our wishing alter our perception of reality, we will orient poorly, decide poorly, and then act poorly. The result is poor performance. Poor quality product — be it an app, a song, or a video.

We’d be wise to follow the example of the toddler, stop more often and take a closer look at how things really are. Set aside the effort we’ve put in, set aside our goals and assumptions and see the truth as best as we can.

We can ask: how do people really do things? What trends are being adopted? Is what I’m doing really resonating? Is it working?

And then we can observe, orient, decide, and act properly.