Archive for the 'O.O.D.A.' Category

More on John Boyd and O.O.D.A.

10 February 2006

Tom Peters is running an interview + PowerPoint featuring Robert Coram, who wrote a book about Col. John Boyd’s career and thought. Worth a look.


O.O.D.A.: Mike Leach

28 January 2006

A few weeks ago Michael Lewis had a crackerjack article in the New York Times Magazine about Mike Leach, the head football coach of Texas Tech University.

I grew up in West Texas, where football is all but the official religion, and attended one of the best football high schools in the country, so I can appreciate what a radical cultural departure it is for Leach to minimize the inside running game in favor of a sophisticated, free-flowing, and innovative passing attack.

It strikes me that Leach employs the advantages of high tempo that Col. Boyd preached in his OODA gospel. Lewis quotes part of a Leach pre-game speech to his players, when he told them to “play together with great tempo.” Lewis goes on:

He had been harping on tempo all week: he thinks the team that wins is the team that moves fastest, and the team that moves fastest is the team that wants to. He believes that both failure and success slow players down, unless they will themselves not to slow down. “When they fail, they become frustrated,” he says. “When they have success, they want to become the thinking-man’s football team. They start having these quilting bees, these little bridge parties at the line of scrimmage.”

This matches my own experience of business and of life. In school, you get to the end of a semester, right after a period of huge (forced) productivity to finish papers and exams . . . and then you take such a big fat breather over the holidays that you can barely get re-started when the next semester rolls around. A department of a company will work like dogs to hit quarterly or annual targets . . . then have all the wind go out of their sales on January 3.

This is not to say that we can’t move at different speeds at different times; indeed, probably we should to keep ourselves fresh. But when we decide to, as Leach points out, we can keep up a tempo that gives us advantages over our challenges, whether those come in the form of business competitors, personal deadlines, career advancement, or what have you.

My renewed commitment for myself as I “play” the game of life: play with great tempo.

O.O.D.A.: Introduction

27 January 2006

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.)