What agents can learn from Top Gun (and Maverick)

Good morning aviators! I simply cannot wait to see Top Gun: Maverick. I know Tom Cruise has had his weird couch-jumping moments, and we’re not that close with him since he broke up with “our Nic”, but still, you have to admit the original is one of the greatest movies of all time.

And there’s a lot we can learn from it in real estate and business.

“I feel the need, the need for speed….”

These days, everything seems to be moving at the pace of Maverick’s happy place; “Mach-2 with your hair on fire”. 

I’ve seen the original movie about 30 times (go on, judge me all you want) and every time I still find it fascinating how fighter pilots can make life or death decisions the way they do.

How do they make decisions so quickly?

While it’s widely said that Maverick was never based on a real person – one of the US miltary’s real-life ‘Mavericks’ was a guy by the name of John Boyd. 

He was an Airforce Colonel and fighter pilot who is considered one of the most influential military strategists of the 20th century.

Boyd’s most famous contribution could be the ‘observe-orient-decide-act’ (OODA) loop for making quick decisions – something he developed to explain how pilots can gain an advantage over their opponents in combat.

The OODA loop has since been adopted by business leaders, military analysts, and even sportspeople to make decisions in fast-paced environments.

OODA in a nutshell

  1. Observe the situation around you and gather as much information as possible.
  2. Orient yourself to the situation and figure out what is happening.
  3. Decide what the best course of action is.
  4. Act on your decision and see how it plays out.

In Top Gun, before the enemy aeroplane is even within visual range, the pilot will consider any available information about the likely identity of the enemy pilot.

This includes their nationality, level of training, and cultural traditions that may come into play, as can be gleaned from an exchange between Maverick and Charlie.

“Lieutenant, I have top secret clearance. The Pentagon sees to it that I know more than you.

“Well, ma’am, it doesn’t seem so in this case now does it…”

As they make radar contact or get a visual, more direct information about the plane becomes available, so a first decision is made on what is currently known, and the pilot may try to go above his opponent.

“We started up on his six, when he pulled through the clouds, and then I moved above him…. 

Then the pilot decides if the enemy is reacting normally – or are they doing something unexpected? Are they performing better than expected?

Well, if you were directly above him, how could you see him?

And the OODA loop continues: Observe, Orient, Act, Decide.

Obviously, there is not too much time for thinking when it comes to air combat – so this is where the pilot relies on their training to make decisions and a smooth cycle.

Similar parallels can be drawn in the sporting world

Things can happen pretty quickly in a game of basketball, so let’s take a look at a possible OODA loop:

  1. In basketball, you’ve got the ball but you need to get past another player who might be taller or faster (observe).
  2. You know that running straight into your larger opponent is probably not going to work (orient).
  3. Instead, you might try a series of fakes to try to confuse the opponent (decide).
  4. As your opponent starts to look a bit confused, you might try accelerating past them once you’ve got them on the hop (act).

In real estate – a listing presentation

OK, so we are not flying billion dollar aircraft but we are dealing in some pretty high value assets, people, and some pretty big emotions. In a listing presentation here’s how OODA might look:

  1. Gather as much data and analysis on your prospective client as possible. Find any past dealings with them, and gather as much information as humanly possible from your CRM system and other people in the business (observe).
  2. When you get to the listing appointment, get yourself into the right frame of mind, put yourself in a position of helping rather than selling, and use every sense in you to read the play in detail – the property, the people, the emotions, the place the person wants to be in a year’s time (orient).
  3. Based on the customer’s needs, determine your approach to meeting those needs (decide).
  4. Present your solution clearly and confidently to the customer (act).

In leadership

Probably the hardest part of running a business is motivating and engaging your team. Let’s say you have someone in the office that’s been struggling with their numbers lately. Here is a possible OODA:

  1. Gather as much data as possible. How are they prospecting, what marketing are they doing, how are they differentiating themselves, what is their conversion rate like? (observe).
  2. Much like the listing appointment, think of your team member as a customer, and make sure you are assessing the situation from the right place. That may mean finding time and space to make that person feel safe enough to have an honest conversation with you about what’s really going on for them, which you can add to the data you already have (orient).
  3. Michael Sheargold once said to me that you couldn’t really hold people accountable to a dream – but you can create a plan of actions that add up to the achievement of some kind of goal (decide).
  4. Find a way to support that person – including the right environment – to execute the plan that you’ve created together (act).

But did you score?

On paper, it all seems so easy, but I think there are three areas where you need to be really careful when it comes to applying the OODA loop to business.

1. Don’t forget the feedback

In basketball, you immediately get feedback on your OODA; it could be in the form of scoring a goal or being intercepted.

If you’re Maverick, it could end up with you being shot at.

Either way, the feedback is pretty instant.

In real estate, the feedback could be more or less instant in the form of a signed agency agreement; hard evidence as to whether you were successful or not.

But sometimes the feedback is not immediate; let’s say you lose a listing presentation.

It’s pretty normal to see a failure to convert as a failure (because we are salespeople). And it’s hard, and it’s depressing (I’ve lost plenty of deals throughout my career too).

And then, after you’ve been delivered the news you lost, the last thing you want is to then go and have yet another conversation about why you lost. 

But I promise you, it galvanises the second O in the OODA and makes you better for the next one.

If you’re a leader, give feedback often. Don’t wait till someone has worked their ass off to provide some positive feedback or tell them they’ve done a great job. 

Similarly, don’t wait until someone has dug a really deep hole hole to provide a hand to help them out.

2. Flip the script on ‘failure’

In the science world there is no such thing as ‘failure’, only disproven theories.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of many things, famously said, “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Listen to Edison – he completely flipped the script to view failure as success

I say that’s true too – “Everything is a test, until it isn’t”.

In simple terms, if you’ve found a way that doesn’t work, you are that much closer to finding a way that does.

In a fast paced world, failure is actually a good thing.

3. Research and analyse, but drop your personal bias(es!)

To me, the Orient part of this can actually be the hardest bit; even harder than the feedback part, and harder than re-skinning the idea of failure.

Neither Iceman, nor Charlie think Maverick’s inverted position is possible.

Iceman, literally, could be any of us with a bit of market share and a few Ks on the clock.

He thinks he’s the best, has the experience, has the ego, and has ‘been there and done that’.

He knows what’s what – or at least he thinks he does.

But how many times in our careers have we been (or known) Iceman, not seeing what might be in front of us – at times because we don’t want to, and other times because we’re just too busy in the day-to-day to consider other possibilities around us.

In closing, pretty much everyone in the movie (except the ever faithful Goose) wrote Maverick off for his ‘Maverick’ moves.

Charlie was the only one who ended up admitting that even though she thought he (Maverick) was dangerous, she saw some “true genius in his flying”.

So maybe we can learn to keep an open mind, try new things, fail regularly, see the genius and ultimately be better for it.

And let’s face it, Maverick must have learned something – after all – we have a sequel.

Want to learn more about motivation design and leadership?

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.