Clarity of Decision Making and the OODA Loop
“On an important decision one rarely has 100% of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And, if one waits too long, he has a different problem and has to start all over. This is the terrible dilemma of the hesitant decision maker.” ~ Robert K. Greenleaf, “Servant as Leader”
Leaders make decisions, even if those decisions involve empowering others to make them. Making decisions is what leaders do, and those decisions should manifest themselves in facilitating the speed, quickness, and agility with which the organization or team can transition into action. Last month we discussed the need for clarity of both what the mission is and why it is important. This month we will discuss the process to be used in making those decisions.
In the 1950’s Korean War a U.S. fighter pilot named John Boyd, flying in air combat against Russian-made MiG’s studied the superiority in performance of the F-86. The F-86 was a U.S. made fighter with an extraordinary record against the MiG’s. What Boyd discovered was that performance was not related to the aircraft but rather to the quality of the training of the U.S. pilots versus the North Korean pilots. In fact, in many ways the MiG was a superior aircraft to the F-86.
Boyd later moved from the skies over Korea to the Top Gun school in Nevada where he became an instructor, famous for his ability to never be defeated by any of his students. During his time in Korea and Nevada he developed a process for rapid decision making that was ultimately adopted by the Air Force and land forces like the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The process is used today not only by military forces but also by corporations and other organizations.
The process is quite simple and its success relies on the user’s ability to accelerate, integrate, and repeat the model over and over until it becomes second nature. The process becomes a habit or a new way of thinking that is so ingrained that it’s usage and practice results in increased speed of implementation. Boyd called the process the OODA Loop.
A user of the model may be thought of as engaging in four distinctive although not distinct activities:
She must first, OBSERVE the environment, which includes her own temperament, the temperament of others, and what is said and not said. In addition, the physical, mental, and moral situation she finds herself in must be understood. Observing means understanding what is going on in the circumstances faced. If she does not understand then questions must be posed to probe for clarity. Learn to play back for understanding. This phase can probably best be defined as “go out and gather as much information as you can by whatever means necessary.” My personal preference is to call this phase “situational awareness”.
Second, she must ORIENT herself to decide what it all means. Boyd called this a “many sided, implicit cross-referencing” process involving the information observed and accumulated, prior experiences, and the results of analyses one conducts and synthesis that one forms. This is a bringing together of all the fragmented ideas, information, and impressions generated in phase one. Boyd felt that this was the most important phase because it results in a new orientation.
Third, she must reach some form of DECISION.
ACT Fourth, she must attempt to carry out that decision. That is, she must ACT.
It is the quickness of the entire cycle, and in particular, the time it takes to transition from one orientation state to another that determines agility and competitive speed of your organization or team. Despite the fact that this model is simple when you first look at it, many complexities exist in its application. More to follow on the OODA Loop next month.
This is the first in a two part series discussing the value of the OODA Loop in decision making. Go to www.teamtrek.com/subscribe to receive the next Journal in your inbox.