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Decision Making With the OODA Loop

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Have you ever found yourself in a stressful situation and had no idea how to act?

Recently, I was going through a frustrating situation at work and the OODA loop theory really helped me out.

The OODA loop is a decision-making strategy developed by John Boyd, a fighter pilot and military strategist.

OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

I first heard about the strategy from writer and speaker Robert Greene. In his article "OODA and You," Greene summarized Boyd's theory as such:

"A pilot is constantly going through these loops or cycles in a dogfight: he tries to observe the enemy as best he can. ...With a lightening-quick observation, he then must orient this movement of the enemy, what it means, what are his intentions, how does it fit into the overall battle. ...Based on this orientation, he makes a decision as to how to respond, and then takes the appropriate action." Ultimately, "if one pilot can make faster decisions and actions, based on the proper observations and orientations, he slowly gains a distinct advantage."

Over the years, the this idea has been applied to more than just military decision-making. Business people, law enforcement, and other competitive fields have turned to it as well to decide their best course of action.

What first struck me when I heard about the strategy was the simple elegance of “observe."

Observe – Gather all the information you can on a situation.

Think about it. You can’t make an educated decision if you don’t have all the details, so take in as much data as you can first.

To become a better observer, I ask myself things like, Who and what all is affected here? What are all the possible options?

Next comes Orient.

I've observed. I've got all this info. Now, I pause and consider where I fit in and what the other person's intentions could be.

I think about where I'm at, and where I'd like to be. I consider what could go wrong.

After Orient comes Decide.

Based on my orientation, I decide how I'm going to respond. I create a strategy to act on.

Here I realized how closely Boyd's loop aligns with conscious communication and mindfulness. People who are conscious communicators think about how every action they take, every choice they make in the thinnest sliced moments of life is either creating a connection to their overall goal or it’s driving a disconnection.

The fourth stage of Boyd's OODA loop is Act.

Now it's time to follow through on my strategy.

How I act sets me up in a way to observe again, hence the OODA loop.

Final thoughts

I think a lot of times when we're thrown into stressful situations or something hits us out of the blue, we have a tendency to observe and act or observe and respond, and we forget about the middle steps — orient and decide. Boyd developed this decision cycle to be performed in succession.

For instance, have you ever gotten a text message or email and immediately reacted negatively only to regret it later? Maybe you found out that you misinterpreted the person's message or you saw how your reaction didn't solve anything and actually drove you and the other person further apart.

Perhaps orienting — pausing and thinking about the different ways the person's message and your reaction could be interpreted — would have helped you avoid this error.

Now, I want to hear from you. How have you put the OODA loop theory to work in your professional or personal life? Or is there another strategy you rely on to making decisions? Tell me about it!

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