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Politics, Business and the OODA loop

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Warfare in the contemporary environment is all about generating tempo. Your enemy may be able to match you with their numbers and weapons; in what is described as peer-to-peer battle space, or perhaps more likely, they seek to use irregular warfare to exploit your weaknesses using so-called asymmetric warfare.

Whatever the type of warfare, the route to victory is assured by being able to cognitively move more quickly than the other side.  In the study of warfare and tactics, John Boyd developed an iterative process called the OODA loop. The loop starts with OBSERVING the results of your previous action and the enemy’s reaction.  Following the analysis of this observation you are able to ORIENT yourself to your next exploit. The next part of the process is to DECIDE what to do and finally that decision is executed with ACTION. Immediately following this action the cycle starts again.

Boyd suggested that if you could accelerate this process to the degree that you were achieving it more rapidly than your enemy then you would be “inside his OODA loop” and that would help to deliver tactical victory. Armies aim to increase their situational awareness through improved Command and Control Information Systems to generate the necessary tempo.

So much for the military, but what applicability does this have for politics and business? Politics can seem as adversarial as warfare although, since all political parties seek to promote the national interest, the form that this takes is subtlety different.  Harold Macmillan’s apparently apocryphal explanation of what is most likely to blow a government off course was “Events, dear boy, events” and that seems true for the Labour leadership recently where the inability to react quickly enough to the anti –Semitism row appeared to turn a drama into a crisis.

In this case, the leadership were unable to get around the OODA loop quickly enough before the media (social and news) started to dictate their own terms.  For businesses, competitors or the changing business environment can have a similar effect on one’s own business.  A new competitor may appear or technology may change and to avoid becoming the 21st Century version of Blockbuster Video, you need to quickly decide on your action based on your awareness of the situation.  Again this suggests the utility of Boyd’s OODA loop – make sure that you can get around in sufficient time to keep one step ahead.

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