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Understand the OODA Loop or get ready to eject

On April 26 1953, during the height of the Korean War, two US B-29 bombers dropped a devastating payload behind enemy lines - leaflets offering a $50 000 reward to any pilot who would deliver an intact MIG jet fighter to the American forces.

Although Lieutenant Ro Kim Suk may have had motives beyond the reward, there was an additional motivator that encouraged him to respond to the knock-'n-drop - MIGs were 10 times more likely to be shot down than their American counterparts in the F-86 Sabre. The irony was that the MIG was a much better plane - it could climb and accelerate faster and turn quicker.

Enter Major John Boyd, a cigar-smoking maverick with a tenacious intellect, who provided an elegant solution to the above anomaly by means of the OODA loop.

The reason the Sabre was ten times more successful than the MIG, was due to two factors; the pilot in the Phantom could see out better and the controls were hydraulic.

This enabled the American pilot to get 'inside the loop' of the faster MIG, because it shortened the 'Observe' and 'Act' leg in the loop. Smaller circle - faster cycle. Simple.

The analogy for business is clear - we begin by doing research, then see what our options are in the market, make our choices and then execute.

If we can do any of these four functions better than the competitor, then we can 'get inside their loop'. Boyd extended his research into operations management by studying Toyota. He found that they could turn out new models in three years, when it took Detroit four. There were many loops within the organisation, but Toyota empowered employees to decide and act locally while guided by a keen understanding of the bigger picture. So whatever loop an individual in the company was part of - it was smaller than Detroit's, giving Toyota the competitive advantage.

I attended a conference recently. A speaker related the following story:
"I needed to insure my new vehicle, and wanted to stay with my insurer. I was told I needed to install a tracking device. I did not want to. I was told it was compulsory. I asked to speak to the manager. He then advised me that I had been informed correctly, but he agreed that it was ridiculous and lamented: 'Those actuaries don't understand'. He then told me how to solve the problem - 'Just do what I did - get your insurance somewhere else.'"

Although the actuaries are probably correct in their motivation, here's a loop in the organisation that is so big, that the first time they'll hear this story will probably be in this article.

John Boyd died in 1997, and although widely regarded as a dazzling strategist, his ability to tell the truth so elegantly, counted against him in the political environment of the Pentagon. He never made it to General.

About Sid Peimer

Sid Peimer is a loopy strategist based in Cape Town. You can get free stuff on his website.

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