I decided to write this post after having to make a very tough decision quickly. I made this decision as I observed and experienced a number of situations in quick succession. It was very obvious what needed to be done, but that didn’t make the decision and the execution of that decision any easier! Steve Cabrera (co-author of this post) an Associate (not a fighter pilot!) was there with me in this very real situation. And, as I braved the decision and started to act upon it, he said to me, “you have just done what a fighter pilot would do”. It was then that the significance of OODA (decision making, Top Gun style) became very real to me.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA)

One of the most complex theories to emerge from 20th century military thinking was developed by former US Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Since then its potential applications in business are becoming more and more apparent. This four-step cycle is Boyd’s way of simplifying what he considered to be the backbone of an air-to-air engagement. When two pilots faced off in a dogfight, the pilot who was able to observe the variables would give himself a clear competitive advantage, by enabling him to assess the situation better and faster than his opponent. As a result, he could orient his aircraft to the best possible position relative to his opponent, out-maneuver the enemy pilot, who would be put off-balance, wouldn’t know what to expect, and would start making mistakes. This would allow the pilot to decide on the best course of action to engage his opponent and act rapidly on that decision to ultimately win the fight.

We live and work in a time of great disruption. We face difficulty and even danger. And, like training to become a fighter pilot, thriving in business, in a world that is changing more and more frequently can be arduous. We don’t have the luxury of yesterday’s approach to decision making. We just don’t have the time for it.

Take this as an example. Who could forget the 2012 earthquake and tsunami in Japan? Googlers launched the company’s Person Finder tool within 90 minutes of this atrocity! Immediately I think of how they applied their OODA loop of decision making (and probably without realising!).

Building a faster OODA loop in business

OODA applied to business is about consciously deciding and acting faster when new circumstances arise. It’s not about acting purely impulsively – making snap decisions without proper observation and orientation. It’s a faster ‘ready-aim-fire’ approach. You can build the competence of ‘Act’ to quicken your personal OODA loop as well as your organisation’s, by eliminating sources of hesitation. You can increase your competence in Observation and Orientation by regularly stepping back and reviewing the environment in which you work and the dynamics that are at play in it, becoming ongoingly and keenly aware of both these elements. This way when a significant change happens, you will sense it quickly and move to decision mode.

It’s not about acting purely impulsively – making snap decisions without proper observation and orientation.

When the moment is right, that moment when your gut and your head are aligned, you will act! Most often the right action is to engage other people and ensure that their gut and head are aligned with yours. Recently we’ve seen this applied to the postponement of a large scale business change when the risks reached a tipping point. We’ve seen businesses nimbly step away from what seemed like good opportunities on paper, but weren’t right in practice. I’m sure most of us can recall that when things have gone wrong in projects in the past, there was a point early on when it didn’t seem right and we wished we’d had a faster OODA loop!

What now?

Is there something going on in your business that doesn’t seem right, even though you can’t yet put your finger on why? If so – it’s time to engage your OODA loop now! Spend a little time defining elements of your concern – it doesn’t have to be fully defined to start getting it out of your head and written down. Next, it is important to get another perspective on it from someone else. Once your gut and your head align – act! Make a decision – communicate your concern to someone. Talk about what your concern is, and talk about the idea of practicing OODA on it. Before you know it, you will be deciding and acting faster than before!