Category Archives: Strategy

The OODA Loop: Your “Lasso of Truth” for Enhanced Decision Making

What makes Wonder Woman such a fierce warrior? We can chalk it up to her royal lineage or her upbringing as the princess of the Amazons, but it really comes down to her mission-driven, strategic mindset. She is able to break down a problem, formulate a new plan, and flawless execute. Famed military strategist John Boyd believes we can do the same.

In the 1960s, Boyd developed a strategic tool called the OODA Loop—Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. This four-step decision-making process provides a systematic method for addressing uncertainty with a strategy for winning direct competitions. It does so by helping us categorize and organize the ways we think about our environment. And those who make it through all four stages the quickest, wins.

Wonder Woman is a fighter, better than most, but it’s what she fights for that is important. It’s her vision of a future of peace and acceptance that makes her the right ambassador for everyone.—Gal Gadot

Leaders are surrounded with ambiguity. When circumstances change, too often we fail to shift our outlook, instead continuing to see the world as it was. Then, when our old outlook doesn’t work, we keep trying to force it to work. To overcome this ineffective cycle, we need to adapt our outlook so we can deal with the actual reality. That is where the OODA Loop comes in.

The OODA Loop illustrates a process to help us learn, develop, and thrive in an ever-shifting environment. Let’s break down each step.

Observe

The first step in the OODA Loop is to observe. This involves absorbing new information about our environment, maintaining a strong sense of situational awareness, and remaining open to change. Intellectual curiosity is the key.

From an Amazonian warrior’s standpoint, observing is remaining in a state of relaxed alert where while there’s no specific threat, you are taking in your surroundings in both a relaxed and alert manner. For the rest of us, observation requires us to be diligently aware of internal and external opportunities and threats. To do so, we need to keep track of revenue, expenses, and profit but also industry trends, company culture, and the overall business environment.

It is not necessarily the one with more information who will come out victorious, it is the one with better judgment, the one who is better at discerning patterns.—Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy, and War

Orient

The second step is considered to be the focal point of the OODA Loop. Orientation shapes the ways we interact with, observe, react to, and behave towards our environment. Just as Wonder Woman cannot approach every adversary with the same tactical strategies, we cannot approach every situation as if they are constant. Effective orientation involves a process called destructive deduction where we shatter old paradigms so as to put them back together in a way that is more closely aligned to our current reality, i.e. creative induction.

To improve your orientation:

Start shattering and rebuilding your paradigms. The more you do it, the better you’ll be.

Never stop orienting. Deductive destruction and creative induction is not a one-time event; it is a continual process of updating outdated mindsets to fit the changing environment.

Validate new paradigms before enacting them. Utilize past experiences to determine what has worked in similar situations, study best practices, and brainstorm with the team. Then you are ready for the next two steps in the OODA Loop.

Decide

Once we’ve observed, deductively destroyed, and creatively induced, it is time to decide on the course of action. This involves moving forward with our best hypothesis about the paradigm we feel will be most beneficial. To avoid this step is to remain unfocused and aimless. To tackle it, we are indicating that we are ready for the next step.

Act

Action is how we learn whether our hypothesis is correct. If it is, Wonder Woman wins the battle and we overcome our obstacle; if it is not, we start the OODA Loop again using our newly observed knowledge.

Whether you are an Amazonian princess or a mild-mannered supervisor, we must have a clear, applicable process to cut through uncertainty so we can make quick decisions in an organized manner. The OODA Loop (or Lasso of Truth for you Wonder Woman fans) makes this typically implicit practice explicit through an easy to follow method. It’s a wonder you haven’t used it yet.

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

Three Ways to Provide Meaningful Context with Questlove

Ever had a new, ingenious idea that was met with a thud? I’m sure YOU haven’t but you’ve probably seen it happen to others. I was speaking with a CEO recently who had been working on an exciting new direction for her company. She had questions about strategy, but what we really should have been discussing was her communication plan when launching it.

At the company-wide unveiling, she eagerly revealed the plan. There were charts and graphs and every other quantifiable measure to support her idea. And then there was silence—a bleak, soul crushing silence.

It turns out that no one, including her leadership team, had any inkling this was coming. They thought they were attending a quarterly review, not a turn-the-world-upside-down upheaval. Change, in itself, can be scary, but what’s even scarier is when you don’t understand the what’s, why’s, and how’s. What my colleague was missing was context.

Context involves our ability to interrelate something you already know with whatever change we’d like to instill. Questlove, a music aficionado, record producer, and drummer/joint frontman for The Roots, recently discussed this on Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin:

No one has ever had success in music without being contextualized in an artistic community. So, you think you like Stevie Wonder, but no, you associate Stevie Wonder with Smokie [Robinson], The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Motown family… The only people that had success without a family or contextualization are one-hit wonders… Everyone is associated with a movement. Look at The Police. They were part of that post-punk movement, early new wave movement, Talking Heads. Even if they don’t do it by design, we as consumers think that.

Just as no one has ever had success in music without being contextualized, no leader is successful in business without contextualizing their ideas. With context, the leader sets the tone so they can initiate commitment and support for change. It taps into individuals’ established schemas and mental models so they can create the mental links necessary to apply the new information to their construction of reality. If this seems complicated, these three simple techniques can help you provide context to your team.

Know thy audience. Everything is interpreted through someone’s context. It shapes the meaning in all communication. Thus, when your message is delivered in a context that is not compatible with the audience, miscommunication is inevitable. Maintain an understanding as to what your audience already knows and how they are most receptive to learning.

Squash fears. Change is often associated with fear, and fear is often associated with a lack of understanding. So illustrate how the new plan meshes with the current strategy. Explain what, if anything, it is replacing. Describe how it will reallocate resources, job duties, etc. and how it will affect individual employees.

Provide history. Every new concept has a background, a past. It may involve an update, revision, or enhancement to a current concept; a best practice; or a new industry standard…but it didn’t materialize out of thin air. Plot out the history so others can visualize how the project started and why it is necessary.

Very often we assume others can comprehend these connections without explanation; after all, it is so clear to us. However, as in the case of the aforementioned CEO, she had been thinking about her new direction for almost two years before the launch. That is two years of pondering, brainstorming, and intellectualizing. Two years of making the associations she needed to bridge the gap between her vision and the current state of the company. Two years of contextualizing.

Want to learn from her misstep? Inform your team of the issue at hand through a workable framework. Address their concerns. Give them the background information you already possess so they can visualize the decision making leading up to your resolution. It may not seem like much, but it’s the context they need to associate your new Stevie Wonder with their classic Smokie Robinson.

Weekender: Veronica Roth on Strategically Organizing Your Thoughts

veronica-roth-2Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a faction of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just one faction? Because it’s the weekend!

When I take on a new project, my initial reaction is to jump into it…and by “jump” I mean headfirst without examining the depth or temperature of the water. I hear an idea that excites me and it takes all of my willpower to slow down, assess the situation, and develop a plan. It turns out that author Veronica Roth has experienced the same thing.

A few years ago, some friends suggested I read Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. The premise had me by the end of the first chapter—a post-apocalyptic Chicago where citizens are segregated into one of five factions as defined by personality traits. With the complex plot and growing cast of characters, it can get difficult to keep track of everything going on. Apparently, this is true for both the reader and the author. In a recent interview, Roth said:

I learned a lot from writing the Divergent books, like ‘plan ahead,’ and ‘keep track.’ I loved writing those books, but by the time I got to Allegiant [the third book in the series], I was like, ‘I have set myself up with some very difficult rules because I didn’t think this through.’ I was definitely a little bit more flying by the seat of my pants with the Divergent books. This time [with my new series Carve the Mark], I was like, ‘No, you’re going to think through these planets, how they work, what they look like, what they’re called, how these languages work, all of these things. Figure it out.’

We could discuss the need for a solid implementation plan via project management practices, but knowledge of the project specifics is only a piece of the preparation process. Time must be set aside to organize your thoughts.

Some people organize their thoughts through spreadsheets; others (like myself) plot it out in charts and diagrams. Some start at the beginning; others work backwards. Some involve people from the onset; others wait until they have a skeleton of a plan. The point is to be methodical and purposeful. Think it through, consider consequences, and have the details in order before it’s time to launch.

Optics: The Most Overused (and Over Emphasized) Term in the Presidential Election

clinton-trump-handshake-bannerIt’s a little soon to look back at the 2016 presidential election for a shrewd analysis of lessons learned, but if there has been one prevailing theme, it’s the emphasis on optics. Optics places an increased value on how something looks versus how it actually is. It’s the battle between imagery and substance… and in this election, imagery clearly won.

‘Optics’ is hot, rivaling content.—William Safire

Over the last 18 months, headlines have declared “Media Figures Praise Optics Of Trump’s Mexico Visit” or “Clinton Team Fretted About Foundation Optics.” It’s not bothersome to briefly discuss how something appears; the problem is that the punditry is obsessed with the optics and covers it as if they are actualities. Just during the post-debate chatter, how much airtime was dedicated to Clinton and Trump’s “presence” on the stage versus their talking points?

But it’s more than the news coverage. The campaigns have designated optics as the single most important qualifier to win the election. Why discuss substantive policies and global ideology when you can hurl hollow on-liners to rally your base? Even if they have detailed plans, there is no political upside to discussing them in-depth; it would only give their opponent fodder to tear them down without having to mention to own plans.

dukasis-tankThe focus on optics in politics is not a new phenomenon. Remember when George W. Bush stood in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner? Or when Michael Dukakis took a picture in that tank? Or when George H.W. Bush looked at watch during a debate? Or the GOP “outrage” when Barack Obama addressed an airline attack while vacationing in his home state of Hawaii? All optics, no actual significance.bush-mission-accomplished

Going back to 1978, Jimmy Carter’s special counselor on inflation was the first to use the term optics when he told business leaders that if they went along with the administration’s anti-inflation measures, they would be invited to the White House as “a nice optical step.” At the time, The Wall Street Journal immediately rebuffed these overtures by writing, “Optics will not cure inflation.” Now, bragging about optics is the norm.

The truth is that we are to blame for optical dominance. Over the last 30 years, cable news has routinely shown loops of candidates’ quippy one-liners and we have rewarded them with higher ratings. It was only a matter of time until politicians took notice and made this the crux of their campaigns. It increased their airtime, which legitimized/propelled their candidacy, without forcing them to create an actual policy.

As business leaders, I hope we learn the right lessons from this campaign cycle. Be aware of your optics, but use them to further your substance. If you want a culture of teamwork, demonstrate public displays of teamwork. If you want a culture of innovation, demonstrate public displays of innovation. This is not the empty optics we see in political campaigns; you are modeling and reinforcing the company’s core values.

Leadership is more then looking like the leader. You are responsible for making decisions that affect the livelihood of others, the quality of products/services you provide, and the communities in which you live. These responsibilities demand (and deserve) an informed, substantive leader. Success predicated on optics is short-lived; choose a more sustainable path.