There are many frameworks to organize a complex action. They help us organize complexity into something we can understand and act upon. They are invaluable because they enable us to move quickly, and moving quickly is usually vital in all aspects of leadership – particularly in battle.
I’m in the middle of reading James Mattis’s new book Call Sign Chaos, and as I was reading it was reminded of OODA, a term I first heard during my military service. In the book, Mattis explains that OODA…
“…is an acronym by the legendary maverick Air Force Colonel John Boyd. To win a dogfight, Boyd wrote, you have to observe what is going on, orient yourself, decide what to do, and act before your opponent has completed his version of that same process, repeating and repeating this loop faster than your foe.”
Actually, OODA isn’t a framework for decision making (e.g. making the right decision) as it is a framework for acting.
I’ve made thousands of decisions in both my work career and in my short military career, and can unequivocally say that the toughest part of the OODA loop is that last letter: Act.
If we’re alert to our environment and good at pattern recognition, “observing” isn’t that tough.
Of the four OODA words, “orient” might be the least intuitive. Recognizing the map metaphor it is meant to convey, I think of this as gathering my energies and resources toward a direction. If that means “we need to grow our way out of this financial problem” then – while I don’t have the specifics yet – I know I need to invest time energizing the go-to-market component of the business. Orienting, to me, is pivoting the team toward a general direction. If you’ve already been observant, and have a good team around you to cleanse and perfect your observations with valuable input, then “orienting” your response will be natural.
“Decide” is also straightforward. There are many heuristics/rules of thumb/framworks to aid decision making such as one I frequently use, Occam’s Razor. Deciding is harder than it seems because you will have conflicting voices – external and internal – appealing to your reason and coaxing you into the belief you need more information. If you believe William of Occam’s aforementioned razor, then this need for more information is usually unnecessary. But no matter how you get there, “deciding” is an understandable concept.
It is that last one – Act – that gives us the most trouble I believe. Getting resources – or ourselves – to commit and execute is the toughest job of all. There are so many barriers to action; people get busy with other tasks, the fire you had in your belly concerning your decision cools down a bit, people outside your orbit – customers, vendors, contractors – have priorities different than yours.
These things sap momentum. They cause us to either stall in the starting gate or stop grinding when we experience the inevitable dip.
Changing things is never easy, but the OODA loop is a helpful way for you to confront whatever challenge is in front of you and get moving.
He or She who hesitates is lost. Seize the initiative. Accelerate your OODA loop.