You have less than 3 seconds to make a decision. The situation is changing faster than you can think. In the moment you take action, you must immediately reassess and make the next decision. The wrong choice could cost you your life. This is air to air combat, where fighter pilots make the right decisions fast using a highly effective system called the “OODA Loop.”
What a fighter pilot can teach you about making decisions quickly?
You can leverage the OODA Loop model to improve the speed and quality of your own decision making.
The OODA Loop is a repeatable process for making better decisions. It uses a 4 point decision making loop to support quick, effective and proactive decision making. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is referred to as a “loop” because it’s designed to be repeated immediately upon completion. The more rapidly you can move through the loop, the more effective the process becomes. Simplicity is the critical element that allows the model to be applied universally.
The term “OODA Loop” was coined by Col. John Boyd of the US Air Force, who earned the nickname “40 second Boyd” because he could defeat any opponent in less than 40 seconds. Boyd’s tactical brilliance revolutionized air combat. Today, there are many different models that articulate the same concept. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin have “Relax, look around, make a call” in their book Extreme Ownership. In A Spy’s Guide to Thinking, John Braddock describes the decision making process with the acronym DADA (Data, Analysis, Decision, Action).
Pilot, entrepreneur, and SWAT operator Andrew Cull makes a strong case for using the OODA Loop. He has personally used the model to land planes in zero visibility, negotiate business deals, and physically take down criminals. According to Cull,
“The OODA Loop allows you to coordinate and organize your thought process. More complicated models are inaccessible the moment your brain goes into stress response.”
But even if you are not in these high stakes situations, you can still benefit from using this model. This post lays out a few key applications of the OODA Loop: A learning system, a method for dealing with uncertainty, and a strategy for winning head-to-head contests and competitions.
However, the OODA Loop is incompatible with certain mindsets.
When used correctly, there are no downsides to the model itself. But with certain mindsets, the OODA loop is incompatible. For example, if you are inflexible in your thinking or unwilling to take decisive action, this is probably not the best decision making framework.
Mr. Cull shared a perfect case study to explore a the OODA Loop step by step. Shortly after takeoff, he hit unexpectedly low cloud cover at 100 feet. The dark of night combined with the thick cloud cover left him with 0 visibility. Enter the OODA Loop:
- Observe: According to Cull, the first thing he observed was that he was “surprised and freaked out.” Acceptance and awareness of those feelings allowed him to adjust his focus accordingly. He also immediately began observing data from the relevant instruments.
- Orient: Cull assembled all of the available information to establish a full understanding of his position. Some of the information he used to orient himself included visual data, instrument data, previous flying experience, and physical sensations in that moment.
- Decide: After quickly and accurately orienting himself, he realized there was no way to determine how thick the cloud cover might be. He made the decision to land the plane immediately.
- Act: He began a slow descent in the proper direction to get below the cloud cover and regain partial visibility.
- Repeat: An extremely rapid, non-stop OODA Loop resulted in a quick and safe landing.
As you implement the OODA Loop personally, keep these strategic ideas in mind.
- Mobilize your will. This means a mindset of humility and objectivity, and a readiness to take decisive action. Consciously bringing these qualities to the process are the grease that keeps the OODA engine running smoothly.
- Start with a familiar environment. Environmental stress can interfere with learning. Once you have it down, you will be able to use the model as a tool to mitigate stress.
- “Tactics come easy when principles are in the blood.” Highly relevant wisdom from Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning. Practice until you have fully internalized the OODA Loop as your natural default process for decision making.
- Troubleshoot as you go. If the process does not appear to be working, check for interference from ego and over-thinking. Look for ways to take more ownership.