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The OODA Loop

The Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (“OODA”) Loop was developed by Colonel John Boyd, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist, as a decision-making tool for use in complex and high-stress situations.

Colonel Boyd knew that fighter pilots were constantly encountering high-stakes situations with life or death consequences. They needed a system for decision-making that would withstand the pressure and allow for continuous, context-driven improvements.

The OODA loop is an iterative process of four key steps:

  1. Observe: Observe the environment and gather information about the situation. Actively seek out information from various sources, such as data, reports, and feedback from stakeholders. It is essential to collect as much information as possible to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
  2. Orient: Orient oneself to the situation. Analyze the information gathered in the observation phase and assess how it relates to the current situation. Consider previous experiences, biases, and mental models to help understand the context of the situation. The orient phase allows for a deeper understanding of the situation and helps to identify patterns or trends.
  3. Decide: Decide on a course of action based on the information gathered and the analysis conducted in the previous two steps. This decision-making process should take into account the potential risks, consequences, and outcomes of each option. It is important to consider different scenarios and their potential outcomes to select the most appropriate course of action.
  4. Act: Act on the decision made in the previous step. This involves executing the chosen course of action and monitoring its progress. It’s crucial to remain flexible and adaptable during this phase, as unforeseen challenges often arise, requiring a reassessment of the situation and a potential adjustment of the course of action.

The OODA loop is intended to be iterative, meaning that the results of each step feed back into the beginning of the loop, informing subsequent iterations. For example, new information gathered during the ACT phase may require a return to the OBSERVE phase to gather additional data.

The iterative approach enables continuous improvement and refinement of the decision-making process.

While initially created for military use, the OODA Loop has become a popular business decision-making tool, with companies such as Amazon, Toyota, and Apple known to incorporate the OODA Loop into the decision-making toolkits of their senior employees.

The formal process laid out above can feel slow and intimidating, but once internalized, the OODA Loop is a tool for speed

  • Observe the situation and mentally note any key data points.
  • Place data in the context of existing knowledge and mental maps to create a picture of the current situation.
  • Make a decision on how to act in light of that situation.
  • Act and assess for any necessary adjustments.

As a rule of thumb, if you walk through it methodically 3-5 times, you’ll add it to your toolkit and be able to do it naturally in the future.

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