How Do Fighter Pilots Make Decisions?
In the final hours leading to Go-Live this week, my client and I had the rare opportunity to observe our team perform and make decisions against a very tight deadline with quickly-changing circumstances…which brought to mind Gary Klein’s Recognition-Primed Decision Making model.
“Most studies of decision-making treat humans like rats in a laboratory. But Dr. Klein, a cognitive psychologist, spent a decade watching fire commanders, fighter pilots, paramedics, and others making split-second decisions on the job.” - Wall Street Journal
The RPDM, first described in 1999 in Gary Klein’s Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, might be the first scientific look at the role of intuition in decision making, which seems to be so popular today. One of the ironies of the RPDM is that most practitioners aren’t even aware they are using it.
[We asked the fire commander to tell about some difficult decisions he had made.] “I don’t make decisions. I don’t remember when I’ve ever made a decision.”
For what it’s worth, this decision-making model was the first to resonate with me when I stumbled upon it ten years ago. It was and still is the only model into which my experiences flying fighters off aircraft carriers and teaching young flight students how to run aerial intercepts fit snugly.
I still rely on the RPDM in my consulting work, although I use it in reverse. Instead of using it to meet tight deadlines (which don’t happen all that often regardless of what the business warriors might say), it allows me to work very quickly and with incomplete information, resulting in tangible impacts much sooner than most clients expect.
And in case you were wondering…Go-Live came and went with hardly a hiccup.