What’s in Your OODA Loop?

What’s in Your OODA Loop?The OODA Loop:  Observe, Orient, Decide and Act

“…you have to make a decision: to be or to do.”
Colonel John Richard Boyd (1927-1997)

“40-seconds and your mine,” snarled a confident Captain John Boyd to his challengers in the Fighter Weapon School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “Meet me at 30,000 feet on my tail. I’ll reverse and get you in my guns in 40-seconds…or I’ll give you 40 dollars!

Quite a wager for a Captain in the 1950’s by any standards—even more so when the challenge is laid at the feet of pilots at the premier fighter training facility in the country.  Invariably, students found themselves in front of him wishing they’d never taken the bet.  “40-Second Boyd” had once again taught his pupil a valuable lesson in the art of employing his weapon system and the value of predictive behavior—a lesson he would later employ on a much grander scale.

Fast forward 20-years later to Colonel John Boyd working in the Pentagon. His bravado and attitude as a young fighter-jock followed him into the executive halls of military leadership where it rubbed against the grain like a pebble in a General’s shoe.  Despite this course outer layer and direct demeanor, an active and analytic mind prevailed in refining the simple lesson he taught back at the Fighter Weapons School.  The model he developed, dubbed the OODA Loop for “Observe, Orient, Decide and Act” became the foundation for agile strategy used for success in environments from legal, to business, to war.

Many of us are familiar with the Deming cycle taught in business-school, where the application of “Plan, Do, Check and Act” is excellent in contending with a static system (think: Playing catch and receiving a ball that is thrown to you).  Relationships—especially business relationships with a competitor—can be a dogfight where each player strives to outmaneuver the other for market dominance.

This is where the OODA-Loop comes into play (think: a Baseball Game and being where the ball will land when it is batted). How you understand your own OODA-loop and, more importantly, get inside your opponent’s, spells the difference between success and anything short of victory.

First seek to understand – Observe

You have the responsibility to collect as much data as you can – about your opponent, the environment, the motivations…and yourself. The clock is ticking, however. Remember, your opponents are studying you, too! Firefighters and police officers seek to become jedi-masters of this component…shouldn’t you? As well, any good lawyer would be quick to share that keeping you focused on face-punches is awesome, while they work the edges to dismantle your case where you aren’t looking.

Update your current reality – Orient

You’ve got the data, now you have to understand it. Keep in mind, however, that how you understand data is based upon the factors that define who you are. Your culture and experiences shape your ability to synthesize information. Consider the very different lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, then apply those views to the types of products they created and the marketplace(s) they attempted to dominate. The ability to see something different and disrupt the environment is dependent upon how you interpret what you see, smell, hear, feel and taste in your world.

Determine a course of action – Decide

Sounds easy, eh? Not so fast—as this is where many organizations get stuck. The more cooks you have in your kitchen, the more you may be tempted to dwell in the Orientation phase. Having a great idea is … great. Deciding on a course of action and acting on it, however, is greatness; Speed, as any fighter pilot will tell you, is life!

Do it – Act

Considering that an opponent is not just standing there and watching you nug out an answer to beating them at their own game, the faster you are able to complete this cycle and then re-engage to do it again—over and over—is what puts you on the Wheaties box. Complete the cycle poorly, and you can expect a poor outcome. Cycle continuously and rapidly—better than your opponent—and you will find yourself crowned king of the mountain.

Operating inside your opponents OODA loop—outmaneuvering, reacting quickly to their attempts to outmaneuver you, and confusing their attempts to adjust to your OODA loop—can be your key to success in many venues.

As for Col Boyd, his legacy was disputed, more due to his personality than his contribution. His strategy was credited for the ingenious “left-hook” campaign that decisively won the Iraq Invasion in the 1991 Gulf War where two divisions of Marines raided behind Iraqi lines and prevailed while Saddam’s army searched forward for a massive Army invasion they had been programmed to expect.

The Air Force and Army gave him little credit due to his brash demeanor and challenge of authority – the Marines, however, erected a statue of him at the Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, VA. I can promise you no statues, but guarantee that refining your OODA Loop and working on your cycling-speed will direct your energy towards the success-side of the equation.

So ask yourself, What’s in Your OODA-Loop?

image credit: theridion.com

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Matthew T. Fritz is a leader and mentor in the field of complex organizational change, emotional intelligence, and organization strategy. A DoD senior-acquisition program manager and test leader, he is a 20-year active duty Field-Grade Officer, and pilot with command-experience in the United States Air Force. Matt is also a certified acquisition professional and a certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. Learn more about Matthew Fritz at GeneralLeadership.com or on his personal blog, AdvancedVectors.com

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6 Responses to What’s in Your OODA Loop?

  1. Matthew,

    Outstanding information and way to re-purpose Boyd’s OODA Loop. I’ve been teaching this information in my leadership courses since 2005 and you’ve provided me a new perspective to use (I hope you don’t mind my putting you in the spot light). Thanks for sharing this incredibly valuable information that I believe everyone in the business sector must know.

    Ductus Exemplo!
    Skipper

  2. Thanks, Skipper–I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s not often I get the opportunity to provide a new perspective to an older concept, so I’m honored by your comment. Hopefully it’s valuable to you in future teaching opportunities…glad to be of value to your OODA-loop with your students!

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