In my first job as a designer, I had the dubious pleasure of hosting the chief designer as he scrambled up on my drafting table to make the announcement that the company had gone bankrupt (Thursday 10.30 am, February 4th, 1971). The cause of the problem was the RB211 engine was not giving the reliability and performance required to safely power the Lockheed Tristar! So we ran out of money to fix the technologies we were introducing. We were nationalised in all but name (HM Government took all the shares in a new company, Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd) and our salaries were released from the Treasury every month provided we had achieved certain performance targets in a 45-hr type test. The targets were set 4 weekly and we could run 2 official tests per month so we got two goes to achieve goals and salary.
Normally the paperwork for a new design scheme would take at least two weeks to clear so we introduced a system called Design Fast Action; a component drawing would be done by the design draughtsman and checked by his boss, A clerk would issue a DFA number from a book, or if he wasn't there someone else in the design office would issue it, e.g. the person who drew it! Then two blueprints were run off and a runner would take it over the road to the experimental machine shop who would make the piece, by whatever means at their disposal... onto the engine build it would go with one blueprint going into a boxfile to record what DFA's were on that build; when the build was complete, i.e. time to go onto test bed; the next build started with information from the previous test to drive the incorporation of DFA's and so on. If a build worked on type test and 75% worked first test, then these DFA's were reworked as flight standard designs and every month or so incorporated into the build for a 150hr type test which covered performance and reliability unlike a 45 hr one which did the former only.
So what has this to do with dogfights?
Well Col John Boyd, a US-fighter pilot in the Korean war had the highest success rate in aerial dogfights and when asked how he did it replied that he had a faster OODA loop than his adversary. OODA stands for Observe-Orient-decide-act. There is a full diagram here.
The short version of OODA theory is that it allows you to get inside the heads of adversaries, unsettle their worldview (by disrupting their schemes for observation, orientation, decision making, and action), and come out on top. Boyd developed his ideas in part by dogfighting: he had a standing bet that he could start with any other fighter pilot on his tail and, within forty seconds, be on that pilot’s tail. He never lost the bet. (This earned him the nickname “Forty Second” Boyd.)
Applied to innovation Boyd's loop is a really good conceptual model for Design Fast Action:
The full OODA shows there is feedback going on all the time so this DFA diagram implies that the creation of a scheme- a sketch, model or plan of action will mean that the creator is implicitly networked to give and receive feedback from her/his own affective thoughts.
The Beauty of having a DFA tool in our toolbox is it gives us the ability to act explicitly and implicitly exploring and probing at both what we are thinking and doing and how we are thinking and doing, which is key to recognising the possibility of change- innovation- and actually doing something.
So scheming, prototyping, interacting and reflecting can also be thought of as :
scheming/modelling/combining/recombining, making tangible/prototyping, playing (seriously)/interacting, analysing/reflecting/making meaning.
In innovation one of Boyd's disciples, Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, presents a really good thought experiment:
Imagine four scenarios: someone skiing, someone power-boating, someone bicycling, and a boy playing with a toy tank. Break down each domain into its component parts: For skiing, there would be snow, chairlifts, skis, hot chocolate, and so on. Within their domain, the parts have directly identifiable relationships with one another. But scramble together the parts from the four domains, and suddenly it's hard to determine any relationships at all. We are thrown into chaos.
Now, Spinney instructs, take one part from each scene: From skiing, select the skis; from power boating, the motor; from bicycling, the handlebars; and from the boy with his toy tank, the treads. What do these elements have to do with one another? At first, seemingly nothing -- because we still think of them in terms of their original domains. But bring the parts together, and you've used your creative pattern-recognition skills to build ... a snowmobile!
"A winner," Boyd concluded, "is someone who can build snowmobiles ... when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change."
Picture originally uploaded by andrewfjohnson. Used with thanks under CC.