The OODA Loop: A Potent Tool for Decision Making

Mark Bridges
4 min readMay 25, 2023

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Decision Making is crucial to the success of any organization. Military strategists utilize their training and experience to develop battle plans and make prompt decisions aimed at accomplishing particular objectives. Strategies, concepts, and practices from the military have found pervasive application in business and daily life. The works, memoirs, and experiences of renowned military historians and strategists, such as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” Clausewitz’s “On War,” and Liddell Hart’s “Strategy,” are highly regarded in the business world and continue to be utilized by business executives around the world.

Using military strategies, numerous businesses have effectively captured markets, competed with competitors, and achieved strategic objectives in the marketplace. Unity of command, planning, effective communication, Decision Making, mutual comprehension, and coordination are indispensable in both the military and the business world.

Colonel John R. Boyd was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force and a renowned military strategist whose theories and writings have been widely adopted by the military and the business world. Boyd served at the Pentagon and supported the F-15 Eagle program with mathematical analysis. Together with the mathematician Thomas Christie, he developed the Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) theory of aerial combat, which became the industry standard for the design of fighter aircraft. Additionally, he contributed significantly to the development of a lightweight aircraft (later known as the F-16).

The Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) Loop or Boyd’s Decision Cycle is considered Colonel Boyd’s most renowned theory. It is a tool used by the military to plan and execute strategic decisions.

The OODA Loop is a Decision Making mechanism used in the business world. The model is composed of a 4-stage decision loop:

  1. Observe — entails gathering as much pertinent data as possible.
  2. Orient — involves analyzing the data gathered.
  3. Decide — entails choosing a course of action.
  4. Act — involves implementing the decision.

The OODA Loop provides numerous benefits to organizations that implement it. For instance, this framework:

• Improves the agility of practitioners’ processing and reaction times.

• Establishes harmony and reduces discord among the parties involved in implementing a decision.

• Enables prompt, objective decisions.

• Allows individuals to focus on specific elements rather than uncertainties.

• Promotes Problem Solving and innovative skills.

• Establishes a culture of dynamism, adaptability, situational awareness, and openness.

• Emphasizes the significance of thorough planning and preparation for successful Decision Making.

Poor planning, lack of practice, and improper execution of the OODA Loop may lead to the following negative effects:

• Erroneous, expensive decisions due to a dearth of conceptual comprehension.

• Problems and catastrophes resulting from a decision made without considering all available information, scenarios, consequences, and possible outcomes.

• A deceptive perception of the model’s credibility among individuals.

• Neglecting to use the OODA Loop in an iterative cycle under familiar conditions results in undesirable outcomes.

• Failing to account for the additional response times inherent in team settings and collaboration leads to discord between team members.

Let’s delve deeply into the OODA Loop’s first two stages.

Stage 1: Observe

The initial phase of the OODA Loop requires data collection, meticulous evaluation of the hazard or problem, and comprehension of the organizational and external circumstances.

Observations affect Decision Making. If the first phase of the OODA Loop is faulty, the subsequent decision and action will also be problematic. The Observation step necessitates accumulating all pertinent information regarding the current organizational state, competitors, and market in order to accurately assess the unfolding situation. Before making a decision, this is crucial because, while quickness is essential, developing your analytical skills and being able to see what’s really occurring are more important.

Stage 2: Orient

During the “Orientation” phase of the OODA Loop, information is gathered, analyzed, and a comprehensive understanding of the situation is developed. This stage involves reflecting on the findings from the observations and determining the next steps.

During this phase, we attempt to construct a mental model of the environment or problem, taking into consideration our prior experiences and biases.

Interested in learning more about the other steps or stages of the OODA Loop? You can download an editable PowerPoint presentation on the OODA Loop here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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Mark Bridges

I blog about various management frameworks, from Strategic Planning to Digital Transformation to Change Management. https://flevy.com