When the enemy is in close pursuit, there’s not a lot of time to decide what’s next. Fighter pilots are trained to make decisions fast. It’s a decision that could mean life or death. And fast is not enough. Fighter pilots must make fast and accurate decisions. Decision-making is critical in innovation too. Freezing, making the wrong move, or having a slow process for decision-making can mean endgame. A competitor will swoop in and take over, leaving you in the dust. What works for fighter pilots may work for you. It’s called the OODA Loop.
Speed up the Pace
Continuing the series on innovation leadership skill sets, this show addresses a question from a number of listeners. The question centers on decision-making. You’ve been trying to stand up an innovation effort in your organization. But, the decision process through the organization is slow. How can you speed up decision-making?
What has worked for me over the years is the OODA Loop. It’s a military framework for decision-making. A military leader developed the OODA Loop to train pilots to make swift, critical decisions. The OODA Loop helps pilots in crisis situations. It trains them to avoid rote thinking and solve immediate problems creatively. This decision-making framework translates well beyond the military. It has had wide use across business, industry, and organizations.
What it Means
OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. These are the steps to take to making fast and accurate decisions. The Loop is the repeat of the steps until you arrive at the solution. The OODA loop guides you to look and evaluate a variety of things, test them, and act on them. Based on the result, you go back through the OODA loop again until you can get to a solution. Each time you go through the loop, you add what you learned from the last loop. If your first run through the OODA Loop doesn’t resolve the issue, on the next Loop, you know what to change.
- Collect data – this could be hard data, customer surveys and feedback, sales numbers, competitor’s sales info
- Gather information from observing – customers, competitors
- Rapidly gather as much information as possible accurately.
- This will never be complete, but don’t let that delay you.
- Identify the barriers to decision-making
- Recognize biases – “we’ve always done it this way”
- Traditions — competitors will predict your move based on them
- Beware of confirmation bias – leaning on what’s worked in the past
- Sift through the overflow of information to pull out essential elements
- Synthesize information gathered in unique and different ways
- Use the information observed and orientated to make informed decision
- Choose the most relevant option
- Avoid first conclusion bias – don’t make the same decision over and over again if the outcome was negative
- Act quickly on the rational decision
- Test it, experiment
- If it doesn’t work, go back through the OODA Loop
- Use the results to feed into the OODA Loop
Keep in mind that you need to cycle through the OODA Loop very fast. Don’t stay in any one step of the Loop for any length of time. The quick- paced, continuous loop improves decision-making. With each cycle, it’s a feedback mechanism.
OODA Loop Advantages
I’ve used the OODA Loop with many teams and projects. For a number of reasons, I like using the OODA Loop.
- It unfreezes teams
- In nearly every innovation project, there’s a point where things freeze.
- The OODA Loop helps teams break free of that state.
- It forces teams to do something continuously.
- It is a fast and accurate way to decision-making.
- Good teams will cycle through the OODA Loop to action in minutes.
- Gets teams comfortable with uncertainty
- You will never have perfect data.
- Teams learn to accept that and move on with the data at hand.
- Helps teams to create the unpredictable
- The fast pace and unique synthesis of data creates an unpredictable output.
- This will baffle the competition.
- Based on testing
- As you cycle through the OODA Loop, you can test the action
- The testing result can be fed back into the Loop
Using a framework such as the OODA Loop, you can reach fast and accurate decisions. What’s worked for fighter pilots in intense dogfights can help you to keep ahead of your competitors and win in the innovation game.
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