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Volume 11, Issue 14;   April 6, 2011: OODA at Work

OODA at Work

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OODA is a model of decision-making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.
Col. John Boyd, U.S. Air Force, in a photo taken during his time as a fighter pilot

Col. John Boyd, U.S. Air Force, in a photo taken during his time as a fighter pilot. When he was an instructor at the US Air Force's Weapons School (then called the Fighter Weapons School), he had a standing offer of forty dollars to any pilot who could prevent his reversing a position of extreme disadvantage within forty seconds in an air duel. He never lost. This earned him the nickname "Forty-Second Boyd." Photo courtesy Hill Air Force Base.

In the past decade or two, a model of decision-making originally developed for aerial combat has found application in the business world. It's called OODA, which is an acronym for its four main elements: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. In the model, when people make decisions, they move around a loop. They first observe the situation. Then they orient themselves to it, analyzing its essential features. Next, they decide what to do. Finally, they act, and the cycle repeats.

The model was developed by Colonel John Boyd, who served in the US Army Air Corps and later in the US Air Force as a fighter pilot and military strategist. He flew a short tour as a wingman in the Korean War, though he never fired his guns or claimed a kill. After the war, as an instructor at the US Air Force Weapons School, he headed the Academic Section and wrote the school's tactics manual. He subsequently developed the OODA model. In the first Gulf War, he was very influential in the design of the attack on Iraq and the invasion of Kuwait.

Here is Boyd's OODA model in brief:

Observe: Collect data by means of the senses
We sense the environment using whatever means and sensors are available. Speed, accuracy and focus are essential. Example: A corporation's senior management team learns of a hostile takeover attempt by a private equity firm.
Orient: Analyze and synthesize the data to form your current mental perspective
Orientation is the synthesis of images, views, and impressions of the world as we understand it, influenced by experience, tradition, and the evolving situation. Example: Senior management learns whatever it can about the private equity firm, the structure of the offer, and the defenses available.
Decide: Determine a course of action based on your current perspective
Given our understanding of the environment, we create a set of possible responses and select one. Example: Senior management decides to approach a competitor about a merger or acquisition.
Act: Implement your decisions
The final step of the loop is carrying out the decision. Execution might fail, but whether it succeeds or fails, we return to the beginning of the loop for the next cycle. Example: The corporation and its competitor agree to merge, and make a public announcement to that effect.

Beyond itsBeyond its application to combat,
OODA is invaluable in decision-making
for all rapidly changing situations
application to combat, OODA is invaluable in decision-making for all rapidly changing situations, such as marketing, sports, emergency management, finance, public relations, national politics, and workplace politics.

In rapidly changing situations, success depends on cycling through your OODA Loop rapidly enough. In situations that involve one or more opponents, success depends on cycling through your own OODA Loop more rapidly than your opponents cycle through theirs.

When your opponent — or the situation — changes too fast for you to cycle through your OODA Loop, you can't keep up, and failure almost certainly follows. When you can cycle through your OODA Loop more rapidly than your opponents can cycle through theirs, you can seize and hold the initiative, and we say that you're "inside your opponent's OODA Loop."

In coming issues, we'll examine applications of this powerful concept. Go to top Top  Next issue: How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

For more Order from Amazonabout Col. John Boyd, read the biography, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, by Robert Coram. Order from Amazon.com. Col. Boyd's contributions to planning the first Gulf War are especially fascinating.

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Managing in Fluid EnvironmentsAlthough the OODA Model model was originally developed by Col. John Boyd for applications in aerial combat, it has proved powerful and general enough to have other military applications. Indeed, it is truly useful in any contention-driven situation, including marketing, organizational politics, and natural disasters. My program, "Managing in Fluid Environments," explores how to apply this model in situations where changes come along at such a rapid rate that the next change comes along before we reach the "New Status Quo" of the changes we're already dealing with. More about this program.

Changing How We Change: The Essence of AgilityMy program, "Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility," focuses more intently on applications of the OODA model in a wide variety of situations at work, from the perspective of organizational agility. This point of view is especially valuable to people in organizations that use agile product development processes. By applying the OODA Model, the Satir Change Model, and more recent developments from group psychology, we can substantially enhance an organization's ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and to transform itself to more competitive stances. More about this program.

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