Home » Blog » ‘On Time On Target’ Book of the month review September 2019

‘On Time On Target – How teams and companies can cut through complexity and get things done…the fighter pilot way’. By James Murphy (Murf) & Christian Boucousis (Boo)

Wow! I love this book, it’s so refreshing compared to your typical ‘How to do business leadership better books’. 

Whilst categorizing this book as a must-read for thought leaders in business I would also point out that (in alignment with its underlying philosophy) this book is written with an ‘all or nothing attitude’. The authors implying that you must implement the whole system and approach they are presenting!  However, whilst total adoption of their system could well be the right approach for your business, I can testify from the actual results of some of my entrepreneurial clients that you can enable more effective leadership & teamwork and increase the growth of your business by selecting and implementing just some of the key elements presented. Either way it’s a wonderfully insightful read.

When I first heard about this book, I was a little cautious ‘What can a couple of former crack fighter pilots teach me about business leadership? Well, the short answer is they have consistently successfully grown multiple businesses by applying a similar system, philosophy and approach to that developed by Air Forces around the world.  This system and approach has reduced the rates of accidental deaths by over 99% since 1952! 

In the In 1952 in the US Airforce alone a shockingly high number of air crew in excess of 1200 were killed in one year of peace time! That number is now less than 10.

When ‘reducing the probability of death’is the primary the driving force people are highly inspired and focused to develop a highly effective leadership and team engagement system. Arguably, the greatest ever strategic approach to ‘planning (preparation) and execution’! 

These fighter pilot principles had no universally accepted name but they worked, the 2 authors developed their own approach in their various business enterprises this methodology is now known as FLEX. The high-level simplicity of FLEX is shown in the following 2 illustrations.

Flex is short for ‘flawless execution!

Besides balancing process and awareness, the authors promote Flex as a way of thinking ensures that the team gets the right things done and improves the way it does them.

I first heard one of the authors Christian ‘Boo’ Boucousis speaking on the Kerwin Ray’s podcast.  ‘Boo’ as he likes to be called started his first commercial enterprise shortly after an unusual health condition forced him to leave the Australian Airforce after 11 years aged 29 years old. He said after reading ‘Starting a business for dummies’ he only remembered one key premise which was to ‘do something where there was more demand than supply’. He left to Afghanistan to start a supply company with his friend and business partner who himself was previously in the British Royal Air Force. With very little business experience by default, they applied much of what they had learned in the Airforce with amazing results, in a few years they had created a highly profitable business with a team of over 1600 people.

The fundamental elements that determine the success of your business include the quality of your planning, preparation and execution! At the heart of their constantly improving effectiveness to plan, prepare and execute was what Boo describes as the single most significant activity … ‘DE-BRIEFING!’

Christina Boucousis says that the best Air Force squadrons were the ones that practiced the most effective de-briefing and the best pilots were not the pilots with the best hand-eye coordination or the most flying hours, but the pilots who were consistently the best at de-briefing!

De-briefing is the single most important activity in the FLEX approach, it involves learning from cause and effect, and learning that two people can perceive the very same event quite differently, and how to reconcile those perceptions.

The four stages of the Flex engine make sure this happens by ensuring team members: think collaboratively (Plan), are personally charged to act (Brief), enjoy mutual support (Execute), and experience deliberate review (Debrief).

• Plan. The team deciding who does what by when, and why and what-if. 

• Brief. A direct, personal, and concise communication of the plan by the leader, that calls the team and each individual from thought to action. 

• Execute. The team working through its planned course of action, adjusting it as needed, with collective responsibility and individual accountability. 

• Debrief. A blameless review of what happened, win or lose, and what can be learned to pivot to a new plan and action.

For many years the most consistently successful entrepreneurs that I work with understand the importance of not planning too far ahead but instead focusing on having effective strategies and habits! In this book the authors share a similar refreshingly well-worded perspective.  Whilst they refer to ‘missions’ where I might say ‘short term outcomes’ and they speak about ‘execution rhythm’ where I might have said ‘consistent actions, habits and behaviours’ I could not have articulated the following beautiful piece of entrepreneurial wisdom better ….

“A plan should not try to lay out its course too far into the future. There are too many unknowns. A strategy can look into the distance, knowing that a host of mission plans are needed for the strategy to be fulfilled. But each mission plan must keep its execution rhythm tight.”

Halleluiah! The number of business books I encounter that fail to make this fundamental point about planning that in my experience is one of the greatest causes of business leaders and business teams being overwhelmed and often failing to focus their energy where it will be most effective because they are too attached to a particular plan.

Three are so many nuggets in this book, it will provide you with many different perspectives, insights and principles that will provoke you to think differently in your approach to leading teams and developing businesses.

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