People, Ideas, Hardware. Right?

Back in the day, a fighter pilot named John Boyd investigated why American pilots fared so well against Korean pilots during the Korean War. The Korean’s were flying a MiG that had a higher cruising altitude and faster top-speed, but Americans in their F-86 shot them down 10-to-1. The Air Force wanted to know why. 

You might remember Boyd, he is the guy who came up with the OODA loop, and his work largely inspired Jim and I to start a podcast. One of the key differences he found was that the canopy of the F-86 had a more prominent bubble-shape, which gave the pilot better visibility and situational awareness than the Koreans. The second key difference was that the F-86 had hydraulic-powered flight controls, which meant the pilot could maneuver the aircraft more easily—think of it like power steering. 

Later in his career, Boyd developed a revolutionary approach to develop new aircraft, and his formula was largely used in the design of the F-15 and the F-16. One of the bureaucratic struggles he faced was that the Air Force thought technology was the way of the future—we didn’t need fighter jets in the traditional sense, because the next war would be fought and won with missiles and  the push of a button. Boyd insisted that the technology needed to serve the greater purpose, that “Machines don’t fight wars, People do—and they use their minds!” In other words, our decision-making and our doctrine must be considered in light of technology, and while useful, we shouldn’t over-rely on fancy new equipment. 

Consider the paradox we are faced with when we try to quantify the value of technology: In law enforcement, it has been my experience that Google Maps, computer databases, and smartphones have been game-changers. They unquestionably enhance my decision making and job performance. But if we insist that we should favor the human element over technology, how can we so strongly endorse its value? Maybe Hardware is the solution? 

Let’s go back to the F-86. How did those design enhancements help the pilot? They were technology fixes, after all. Hydraulics were new. The canopy-shape was an upgrade. But fundamentally, they affected the human flying that machine—They could see and move better. Their observations led to actions quicker. Hardware enhanced—not replaced—the pilot. Science has shaped our lives: Watches are mini computers. Cars drive themselves. Cameras capture everything. But human factors persist, and Boyd’s paradigm remains clear: “People, Ideas, Hardware—In that order!”  New toys are only as helpful as we are—don’t learn the hard way. 

Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle


Mike is a full-time police officer and tactical medic. He currently works as a K9 handler, SWAT team member, and Police Trainer. Mike started Tactical Tangents as part of his fundamental purpose to save lives. His goal is to enhance the survival of police officers and concerned citizens by helping them become better, smarter, faster, and more efficient. His opinions are for informational purposes only and do not reflect those of his employer or any other government agency.



We put out a recent episode about Leadership and also about how we come up with new tactics–taking it from “bar-napkin idea” to reality. Coming soon we have an interview with the authors of The Final Mission of Extortion 17 and The Guardian of the Golden Gate.

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