The OODA Loop

Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act in rapid succession.

Oh boy, Joel, are you kidding? How can you blog about something like this to OODAyour clients in the energy utility industry? After all, many like to criticize energy utilities for their speed. This is not the electronics, pharmaceuticals, or similar industries.

Perhaps the root problem here is not speed but risk aversion. It seems safer to do nothing than to change and be wrong, even if what we are doing right now is dead wrong. I remember one utility that had the policy that no customer would be promised a new electric service in less than 30 days because that was the amount of time the utility was certain they could achieve. I asked if they could change the policy to be a guarantee of no more than 30 days but the utility would make every effort to beat that date. I made the plea with the obvious benefit that the revenue impacts are better if the meter is set and spinning sooner. The room fell into a cold silence. They simply did not like the increase in risk.

I still remember one management leadership session I ran decades ago where I characterized this and criticized the industry as changing in geologic time frames. To my shock, the ranking executive in the room leaped to his feet and challenged me …

“Mr. Gilbert. I have listened to you for the better part of an hour commenting on our need to listen to our customers and to move quickly to resolve their concerns. I am objecting to your choice of words implying we change in geologic time frames!” … after a seemingly endless pause, he continued … “We don’t move that quickly!”

Obviously, this was a gracious and supportive comment, which I have cherished to this day.

The OODA Loop sounds an awful lot like that old joke about the two guys running from an approaching grizzly bear. The one stops to put on a pair of sneakers while the other asks him why as he keeps running. The answer is of course that the challenge isn’t to outrun the bear but the other person.

The OODA loop was developed by military strategist and USAF Colonel, John Boyd. Boyd applied the concept to the combat operations process, often at the strategic level in military operations. The approach favors agility over raw power in dealing with human opponents in any endeavor. John Boyd put this ethos into practice with his work for the USAF. He was an advocate of maneuverable fighter aircraft, in contrast to the heavy, powerful jet fighters that were prevalent in the 1960s, such as the F-4 Phantom II and General Dynamics F-111. Boyd inspired the Light Weight Fighter Project that produced the successful F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet, which are still in use by the United States and several other military powers into the 21st century.

Perhaps then, the key to the future is to focus the organization on OODA. How quickly can you make decisions? How comfortable are you with adjusting your path as new data emerges? Can your organization change its mind without fearing criticism? And, can it truly mobilize and act on the ideas it does decide?

Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act or risk being nullified by others who outmaneuver you. This is the key take-away from the book I recommended in last week’s blog, The Creator’s Code. It’s a must-read for anyone working to innovate in our industry.



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