John Boyd: To Be vs. To Do


In late May, a friend texted me a picture of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War and wrote below, “Best coaching book I’ve read in years!!” The book is a biography of John Boyd, a United States Air Force fighter pilot, Pentagon consultant of the late 20th century, and one of the most important military strategists of all-time. Dozens of Boyd’s theories are still used in the military today while others (OODA Loop namely) are used throughout the business and sports world. The theory I wanted to highlight today, however, was Boyd’s “To Be vs. To Do” that he would greet many young colonels with. I thought it was a great message for coaches to hear and to ask themselves as they go through their careers. Additionally, I think it would be a thought-provoking exercise for any of your teams.

“Tiger [Burton], one day you will come to a fork in the road,” Boyd said. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hands and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared into Leopold’s eyes and heart. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

For more on Boyd:
-John Boyd’s Roll Call: Do You Want to Be Someone or Do Something? (LINK)
-Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (LINK)
-Boyd’s OODA Loop (LINK)
-How Chip Kelly Revolutionized the NFL with the OODA Loop (LINK)

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