Financial Poise
OODA Loop Decision-Making

This Air Force Strategy Can Help You Make Better, Faster Business Decisions

The OODA Loop is Not Just for the Air Force—Use It When Making Quick Business Decisions, Too

In business, there are undoubtedly days when you feel like you’re constantly moving at speeds faster than Mach 5. With all the chaos that can ensue with endless zoom meetings, calls, emails and more, it can be no small challenge to slow things down to a manageable pace when you are making decisions. Yet, making business decisions quickly—and still reaching that comfortable state within a consistent process—is possible.

Where can you look for such a process? Of all places, the U.S. Air Force. That’s right. The Air Force follows a very distinct strategy for making decisions that applies to its fighter pilots in particular. They call it the OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

Now, before I get deep into this concept, you may be tempted to assume that a concept made for F-16 fighter pilots doesn’t apply to your world. Not true. The reality is that the OODA loop can work well for any professional that strives to move at a faster pace when making business decisions.

Observe and Orient

How do you slow yourself down mentally while continuing to act in the present? You begin by getting comfortable with having a mental process for planning what you’re going to do. As you finish moving through Observing, Orienting, Deciding and Acting, you’ll reset immediately back into the next cycle.

Let’s Face It: Some People Can’t Handle Change

For some people, when the environment throws them a curveball, they’ll simply lack the wherewithal to deal with it. Specifically, those who can only execute on the original plan are often the same people whose plans will fail. Why? They simply cannot react to a new set of circumstances while making business decisions that are sound. For them, there is only Plan A. There is no Plan B.

For the rest of us, when there’s a response in the marketplace, it’s not enough to have a sense of what your overall plan is. You need to know what the different elements of the plan entail so that you can say, “Okay. I know my plan has five elements. Because of this new response the marketplace has given me, I now need to adjust elements 2 and 3 to make sense while I’m still carrying out elements 4 and 5.”

The fact that you’re executing all elements of a plan while making business decisions at any given moment is wonderful. But we all know reality doesn’t always mesh with our best intentions. There may come a time when some pieces of our plan may no longer be relevant due to a myriad of factors. Just as a fighter pilot has to quickly move in a different direction based on all surrounding factors, you need to do the same. Take the situation apart, piece by piece, as quickly as you’re able. Evaluate which piece still applies and which piece must be dropped—at least temporarily. Then, move forward.

Decide and Act

Don’t analyze this forever. Remember, it’s not just OO (Observe and Orient). It’s OODA. That “Decide and Act” part of the equation can’t wait or be overanalyzed. The fighter pilot in a dogfight doesn’t say, “Hmm. This is a new and peculiar set of circumstances I hadn’t considered. Could we all head back to base and take a meeting to discuss it before we take any further action?”

The same holds true in making business decisions. The longer you put off deciding and acting, the longer you may open the door to greater risk in many forms, from internal dissatisfaction to competitor advances on your customers. Time waits for no one.

Can Speeding Up Actually Calm You Down?

You would think that a very deliberate process based on swiftly moving from one stage to the next, like the OODA loop method, would induce anxiety, especially when making good business decisions under pressure. However, for many leaders, it’s just the opposite. The OODA loop actually has the potential for bringing anxiety levels down.

Even if you’ve planned everything out with great confidence, new challenges will always arise. That’s life.

Four Questions to Ask When Making Business Decisions Quickly

Let’s say you’re currently present in five markets, and a new opportunity for business growth is going to catapult you into an additional 25 markets. That opportunity won’t wait for you to debate it endlessly. So, it calls for you to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act upon it, one way or another.

Begin with a series of thoughtful, reflective questions, such as:

  • How does this opportunity change our business?
  • Is this an opportunity that’s really just about scaling, or are there different things we need to consider?
  • Is this opportunity going to change others’ expectations of us going forward? How?
  • How will this opportunity change our business strategically? Financially? From a human resources level?

As a result of dealing with a new challenge, opportunity, threat or other unexpected event, it’s okay to make peace with the reality that the nature of your business may change as a result. However, even in the face of sudden change, your core way of doing things as a business should not change as a result—and there’s a big difference. Fighter pilots know that the nature of their flight plan can change in a heartbeat, too. But they know that the way they work through the problem doesn’t need to vary wildly.

When there are countless variables for change, it’s good for leaders to have a source of stability they can count on. So consider using a methodology like the OODA loop. Even if you have five issues on the table, and they all demand a different type of response, this consistent approach can help you make better business decisions with speed and purpose.

[Editor’s Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following webinar series: The Start-Up/Small Business Advisor. This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 22, 2018.]

©All Rights Reserved. February, 2021.  DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM

About David Spitulnik

David Spitulnik is a successful executive with over 40 years of experience in both large technology companies and in consulting to and leadership of mid-market, closely held and family owned businesses across a variety of industries. In addition to serving as chair of the Private Directors Association’s Private and Family Business Center Outreach Committee, David…

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