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If you have never heard of the OODA Loop before, don’t worry. I spent 12 years in the military on active and reserves and I never heard of the OODA Loop. However it has been in military strategy since it was first coined in the 1950’s by Colonel John Boyd a United States Air Force pilot – He said he could win any fight in under 40 seconds. “So, what is the OODA Loop, how does it apply to me… and wait just one moment Thom, I thought this was a blog about being congenial, not about war strategy?” Well, good question, the OODA Loop can be used in everyday life, it can help create, it can be a tool when making a major purchase and it can be your friend when looking for a parking spot at your local megamart.

I was first introduced to the OODA Loop a couple of years ago, when I received a death threat in my email. As it turns out, I didn’t see the total credibility of my – would be – assassin, because he used a picture that was readily available on the internet. The assassin was nothing more than a scam artist trying to get money from me. However, I became more situationally aware, started noticing different things that were going on and that is where I found the OODA Loop.

So what is the OODA Loop?

OODA stands for Observe – Orient – Decide – Act; it is a decision making process, and it’s original design was for combat operations. However, major fortune 500 companies use the OODA Loop, Police use the OODA Loop, business strategists use it, people that create products can use the OODA Loop,  it can be used in fulfillment of products, and in staffing concerns. Infact, OODA can be implemented in any part of life that requires a major decision and action.

Let me break it down part by part.

Observe – This sounds straightforward – if you have the gift of sight, you observe things all the time. But observing is not just looking and seeing, but it is about conscious looking – about collecting all the data around you. It is also about being situationally aware of your surroundings, but more than that, it is also being aware of yourself in your surroundings. 

Situational awareness leaves the assumption that everything is as it should be and opens your mind to everything as it is. When you are situationally aware, you need to rid your mind of preconceived ideas and prejudices – you need to look at everything with a fresh perspective.  Being situationally aware takes practice and vigilance.

The other day, my wife and I were finishing up as Costco, and we were leaving. Unfortunately I was not situationally aware, but my wife was. She brought my attention to a couple giving us the staredown. I don’t know what we did, but they watched us walk all the way to the door and to leave. My wife’s situational awareness is always on, however, I was walking through Costco not aware of my surroundings as I should have been.

Orient – This is where you make your decision on what you observe, are there any threats, or opportunities? Who is around you, are they a rival or an adversary? Maybe they are friends or family members. If you are creative, is there an opportunity for your creation?

This is the most important part of OODA, because it takes into consideration your genetics, cultural heritage and previous experiences. All of the information you gathered from the observation phase can now be blended and unified for the next phase.

Decide – Now you need to take all the information you have acquired from the observation and orientation phases and make a decision. Usually there are many options available to you, but because of the work you did in the orientation phase, you now have a head start to making a correct decision. 

Part of this phase – creates a hypothesis, in which you as the one who is making the decisions must choose the best course of action. Essentially, you are saying – because of what I have observed and the opportunities presented, the outcome will be… This requires a fair amount of internal dialog and this theory will be established on your comprehension of the circumstances.

Act – this is the fourth step in the OODA Loop, however, by definition, this is a loop, so even though this is the fourth step, it is not the end of the decision making process. What this is, is our ability to take the previous parts of the decision making process and turn it into action. 

If you are creating, this will be where you make your creation, but sometimes the creation does not turn out the way you wanted it to. Do you stop and give up, no; you go back through the OODA Loop again and progress through each phase. The more you go through the phases, the better your final product is.

How can this help me?

Ok, so where does this lead us? Let me give an example.

You need to go grocery shopping. Now anyone will tell you that grocery shopping can be daunting and expensive unless you have a plan, this is the start of your OODA Loop. So you go through the observing phase. Going through the pantry, cabinets, refrigerator and freezer. Knowing what you generally eat and need for stocking up your food supplies you decide what is important and what isn’t, by way of your decision making process, the action is making the list.

You drive to the grocery store, and in the act of driving, you run through your OODA Loop several times during your trip. Then you make it to the parking lot of the megamart. You observe people vying for parking up front, and circling the parking lot like sharks circling a school of tuna. You also know that the parking spots on the outer fringes of the parking lot are usually empty. You go there and you are correct.  

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You observed the situation, you oriented your thinking because of past observations where you could park easily, you made a decision and acted on it.  Now you walk past the yellow Hummer still circling the parking lot and smile, because you have come out on top and as the yellow Hummer does its next circuit, you will be starting your shopping.

We use OODA Loop regularly everyday, from the time we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we make decisions based on our environment. Most people go through the OODA Loop without even thinking about it. However, mastering this skill can make your decisions easier and better. So you don’t have to be a military strategist, you don’t have to be a CEO of a major corporation, because all you need to do is make a decision, and the OODA Loop is your best friend.

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