The Lesson of John Boyd for Decision Makers

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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

The Lesson of John Boyd for Decision Makers

You can use the "OODA Loop" of fighter pilot John Boyd for various kinds of decision-making in different situations and circumstances, including non-military, corporate, departmental, and team environments. And in your personal life too...

❗You must Observe (get information) and Orient (analyze, think) before you Decide and Act. Even when you're under a lot of time pressure. Try to perform this 'loop' faster than your competitors.

On one hand, the time we have to make operational, tactical and even strategic decisions has decreased in the current internet era. On the other hand, this also means that the value of having done some proper research, smart thinking and having a sound strategy before you act has become even bigger than before. A paradox.

Even if you need to act fast, that does not mean you have to act immediately! Moreover, you can have an advantage if your competitors are forced into making non-prepared, hasty, probably wrong decisions. If you are able to find the time to step back and think about 'the big picture', even for a few minutes, you have a big advantage over others who don’t.

Boyd advises you to swiftly (quickly):
  1. OBSERVE (take in information), then
  2. ORIENT (process/analyze the information, find out what are the key issues and options), then
  3. DECIDE (make a clear, conscious, and shared choice while remaining open for any changing circumstances). And only then
  4. ACT (execute in a clear, firm, efficient, straightforward manner) and quickly restart from 1.
Again, the OODA Loop can be applied at both the individual, team and organizational level!

The OODA steps may seem straightforward. But... you need to practice so you’ll be able to cycle the loop fast. Like a fighter pilot.
💡5-10 minute exercise. Think over how you make important decisions. Use OODA to guide you through the process and decide if you should make any change in the way you make decisions.

The entire “information warfare” process described by Boyd is more complex and involves multiple feedback loops. See the OODA knowledge center for more background and a comprehensive scheme.
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