27 January 2006

O.O.D.A.: Introduction

I've become fascinated with the decision-making matrix that goes under the heading of "O.O.D.A" -- short for "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act". This was formulated by a famous fighter pilot and military thinker, Col. John Boyd, who derived an entire approach to conflict based on continuous feedback. A good graphical example of his OODA schematic is here.

The short version of OODA is that it allows you to get inside the heads of adversaries, unsettle their worldview (by disrupting their schemes for observation, orientation, decision making, and action), and come out on top. Boyd developed his ideas in part by dogfighting: he had a standing bet that he could start with any other fighter pilot on his tail and, within forty seconds, be on that pilot's tail. He never lost the bet. (This earned him the nickname "Forty Second" Boyd.)

There have been roughly a bajillion applications of Boyd's work to the business world, some of which I'll be posting here. For now, here's a link to "Boyd and Military Strategy", which itself points to more of Boyd's work (most of which I haven't even read yet).

My own interest in OODA is not so adversarial; what fascinates me most about it are two things: (1) its application to decision-making at a personal level, and (2) its emphasis on tempo in your actions. Boyd held that if you can increase the tempo by which you work through the OODA loop, you will always have an advantage over those competing against you. This idea, which traces its roots right back to Sun Tzu, is one that is far too often overlooked in business and in personal life: if you work a little more, a little better, a little more sprightly day by day, you'll come out miles ahead.

(Now that I think about it, this last idea meshes well with -- it could even be derived from -- Richard Hamming's amazing, mind-blowing "You and Your Research", about which I'll write more later.)


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