Gentle Bamboo Solutions

The OODA loop to make fast decisions


We are working on a game-based learning project for young professionals to learn to be more agile. The game involves a team of sailors braving the high seas and overcoming difficult odds to complete their mission. Shoutout to N and K for developing the game.

The need is clear. In organizations that over the years have scaled, bureaucracy has set in. What was initially envisioned as a way to streamline operations and make teams more efficient – for example: let’s insist on doing everything through proper channels and not permit shortcuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions – is now a bottleneck when individuals are working from home.

So, how can we help individuals in teams to make and defend their decisions confidently? I am not looking for motivation. I am looking for a framework.

A friend pointed me to a quote that is often attributed to the U.S. Navy Seals. "Under pressure, we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training."

So, I started looking for frameworks from the armed forces. I spoke to a cousin who was in the Indian army. He referred me to the work of United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. John Boyd developed a four-step process called the OODA loop for making effective decisions in high-stakes situations. It was created for pilots to use in dogfights high in the air where they moved at high speeds and needed to avoid enemies while tracking them and keeping track of objectives, terrains, fuel, and other key variables.

The four steps are Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

Observe: Observe the situation with the aim of building the most accurate and comprehensive picture of it possible. In a business environment, when working on a project, questions like – What is immediately affecting us? What is affecting my competitors? What could affect either of us later on? Can I make any predictions? How accurate were my prior predictions? – are relevant.

Orient: To orient means to rapidly learn. Analyse the situation you are in, recognise your biases and how they are colouring the way you see the situation, make plans, take them apart, and put them back together in new combinations to find how seemingly unrelated ideas can work together to create new insight.

Decide: The previous two steps provide the groundwork you need to make an informed decision. If there are multiple options at hand, you need to use your observation and orientation to select one. That’s deciding.

Act: There’s a difference between making decisions and enacting decisions. Once you make up your mind, it’s time to take action. By taking action, you test your decision out. The results will hopefully indicate whether it was a good one or not, providing information for when you cycle back to the first part of the OODA Loop and begin observing anew.

I think I’ll be using this framework to discuss agility in corporate life. Have you used the OODA loop? What other frameworks would you recommend?