UNDERSTANDING THE DECISION CYCLE
Decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless.” – John Boyd
In my last blog, I described the OODA Loop and tried to explain how it can be used in combat. I also mentioned that it is considered a problem-solving process or decision-making model. Have you ever noticed how many military terms have become standard in business-speak?
War and business are often compared and contrasted. As well as “engaging in a price war,” we talk about “gathering intelligence,” “making a preemptive strike,” and even trying to “out-maneuver” the competition.
Reading books like The Art of War, written over 2500 years ago by the Chinese General and Philosopher Sun Tzu, and to think how these ideas can be applied to the business strategy can be fun. So, when former US Air Force Colonel John Boyd developed his model for decision-making in air combat, its potential application in business soon became apparent.
Boyd developed his model after analyzing the success of the American F-86 fighter compared with that of the Soviet MIG-15. Although the MIG was faster and could turn better, the American plane won more battles because, according to Boyd, the pilot’s field of vision was far superior.
This improved field of vision gave the pilot a clear advantage, which meant he could assess the situation better and faster than his opponent. As a result, he could out-maneuver the enemy pilot, who wouldn’t know what to expect, and would start making guesses and inevitably make mistakes.
Business success often comes from being one step ahead of the competition and, at the same time, being prepared to react to what they do. With global, real-time communications, ongoing, rapid improvements in information technology, economic turbulence, and supply chain issues, we need to keep updating and revising strategies to keep pace with an ever-changing environment. Boyd’s observations can hold useful lessons for modern businesses.
UNDERSTANDING THE TOOL
Called the OODA Loop, the model outlines a four-point decision loop that supports quick, effective, and proactive decision-making. The four stages are:
You continue to cycle through the OODA Loop by observing the results of your actions, seeing whether you’re achieving the results you intended, reviewing and revising your initial decision, and moving to your following action.
Observation and orienting correctly are key to a successful decision. If flawed, this leads to flawed decisions and flawed actions. While speed is essential, improving your analytical skills and seeing what is happening is vital. The OODA Loop model has closely related to the Plan Do Check Act model. Both highlight the importance of accurately analyzing a situation, checking that your actions have the intended results, and making changes as needed.
Each OODA Loop stage presents questions and specific things you should be familiar with. Here are what each stage involves:
Observe – This initial point in the loop requires you to look for new information and unfolding circumstances. The more information you can take in here. The more accurate your perception will be. The kinds of questions you need to be asking here are:
Orient – This is the stage that presents the most significant challenge. We all view events in ways filtered through our experiences and perceptions. Boyd identified five main influences:
Orient is essentially how you interpret a situation. This leads directly to your decision. As you become more aware of your perceptions, you move through the loop quickly by speeding up your ability to orient to reality. The quicker you understand what’s going on, the better. Remember, you are constantly re-oriented. As new information comes in at the Observe stage, you must process it quickly and revise your orientation accordingly.
Decide – this is your best guess based on your observations and the orientation you use. They should be considered fluid works in progress. As you move through the decision loop, new suggestions keep arriving; these can trigger changes to your decisions and subsequent actions – essentially learning as you go through the cycle. The results of your learning are incorporated into the orient stage, which then influences the rest of the decision-making process.
Act – This is where you implement your decision. You then cycle back to the Observation stage, as you judge the effects of your action. This is where actions influence the rest of the cycle, and it’s essential to keep learning from what you, and your opponent, are doing.
The critical point here is to use the OODA Loop to help you when you see the big ample opportunity, move before your competitors, or assess the current state of affairs, allowing you to be sharp-sighted and decisive. Operating inside your competitor’s OODA Loop will enable you to make your decisions and make changes to your strategy quickly and decisively.
Decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless.” – John Boyd
If you follow any tactical, survival, military or law enforcement publications or have attended training, you probably heard of the OODA Loop.
This acronym stands for Observe - Orient - Decide - Act and was first introduced to the world by Colonel John Boyd, a fighter pilot who flew several dozen combat missions during the Korean War. While stationed t the Fighter Weapon School, he began to think back to his time in Korea and concluded that two critical features of the F-86 aircraft led to their remarkable air-to-air combat success and a 10-1 kill ratio. The first was the larger canopy which gave pilots a better view of the situation. The other factor was the hydraulic control of flight surfaces, allowing U.S. pilots to make faster transitions. He concluded that there were two ways to beat someone in aerial combat: speed up your decision-making or slow down theirs.
This decision-making model, as it has been described, is routinely presented in very simplistic terms while making it appear that all one has to do is follow the loop, and you’ll win. This could not be further from the truth, as anyone involved in threatening, deadly, or high-risk situations will tell you. There are many variables one must take into account in each of the phases. Boyd understood this in developing this concept.
Without getting too scientific or confusing, I will make this so that someone who has not heard of the O-O-D-A loop can understand how it fits into survival decision-making and its application in a combat situation. (hopefully). First, understand that Observe and Act involve inputs and outputs to the external world of reality. Orient and Decide are internal to the decision maker’s perception of reality. So, in essence, what you have is the idea that perception is the reality whether it is or not.
This is how a pilot might use the OODA Loop:
Observe the adversary with onboard sensors, radar, etc. but especially with their vision.
Orient themselves by predicting the course of maneuvers by the enemy based upon an assessment of the enemy’s energy state, knowledge of enemy tactics, aircraft, and relative advantage of position.
Decide on the maneuver needed for himself to defeat an adversary’s attack or counter an adversary’s defensive move while on the offensive.
Act by accomplishing the maneuver with great speed, designed to be unpredictable and asymmetrical. The outcome from such maneuvers is a disruption from the fight path, so the cycle is repeated in a series of maneuvers that can be accomplished with the speed that the adversary cannot react with appropriate counter-maneuvers, then victory is certain. The key is for the cycle time to be shorter than the opponents.
In a combat context, two tactics are involved: one is to slow down the enemy’s OODA Loop decision processing, and the other is to speed up one’s own OODA processing.
Using a sports analogy to explain this concept might help. Say you are the quarterback of a football team. You call a play and line up. You survey (Observe) the defense looking for cues that might affect your call. You try to anticipate the movements and placement of the opposing players (Orient). Based on your knowledge of the other team’s actions from watching the game film and your observations, you (decide) to go with the play you’ve called, and so you run the play (Act). Once the play starts, the OODA Loop processing of both teams kicks in as players try to outmaneuver each other to score or keep the other from scoring. This OODA Loop processing continues until the play is done or there is success for either team.
In other aspects of life, such as business, the OODA Loop processing can and should be viewed as a business model in that you see what your competitors are doing or offering and figuring how to get the better of them, such as undercutting price, offering sales, making a better product, etc. Organizations that look at business within this model have a culture of continuous improvement.
From a personal defense standpoint, the person who can observe their adversary through any means will usually have the advantage of getting into the Loop first. If you can begin your processing ahead of your opponent, they will be able to analyze, decide, and act before your opponent can react. Remember, the idea is to slow your opponent’s OODA Loop processing or speed up your OODA Loop.