The OODA Loop decision making cycle
Colonel John Boyd, a strategist with the USAF, proposed that as a situation evolves we have to observe the changes and orient ourselves to the new information that is coming to light. We can then decide on the best course and take action. In other words, decisions are made in a recurring loop of Observe, Orient, Decide and Act: the OODA loop. Some times this process is relatively slow and objective and we can pause to consider what we do. At other times the information and situation may be changing so fast that things become subjective and we work on instinct.
Because the cycle takes place no matter how fast the situation is unfolding the specifics of how we orientate ourselves is of key importance. As Boyd notes:
“The second O, orientation – as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences – is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.”
It stands to reason that as we try and orientate ourselves it is therefore useful to have others providing input, if time allows, because it broadens the scope of the ‘repository’ of genetics, culture and experience.
Boyd developed his ideas in a military context. His aim was to help speed up the decision cycle of USAF pilots so that they could get inside the enemy’s decision loop. Maintaining the initiative creates opportunities that can be exploited. The same thinking has been applied to business and trying to outsmart competition in the market place.
At first this may not seem to have a direct application to our situation but in our case the enemy is often ourselves or the usual patter of everyday life. We often do not make time to assess a situation, we can fail to orientate ourselves properly, and in turn become reactive rather than proactive in response to our circumstances.
The Right Questions is an example of a tool that helps, especially in the orientation phase, of the decision making cycle. The Right Questions also broadens the process out so that it can be used for strategic planning as well as quicker decision making.