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The OODA Loop I’m teaching my kids… and myself

My kids need situational awareness. They focus on the wrong things at the wrong time, get lost in thought when they should be present, and interrupt conversations when they should know better. They are often so lost in their world they miss the social cues to guide their behavior.

To help my kids make better choices, I have started teaching them the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is the cycle: observe, orient, decide, act. It breaks down like this:

  • Observe what is happening right now. What’s important to notice and note?
  • Orient yourself relative to the situation. In other words, make sense of what is currently happening, and determine the impact it will have on you.
  • Decide what course of action you are going to take.
  • Act on your decision.

Here is an oversimplified example. My wife and I are deep in conversation. A kid has an idea and wants to share it with us. Rather than interrupt at that moment, if they run through the OODA Loop, it will go something like this.

  • Observe – mom and dad are talking right now
  • Orient – recognize that it’s rude to interrupt
  • Decide – wait to speak until mom and dad are done talking
  • Act – patiently wait to speak

The OODA Loop is excellent for training in basic social situations like this one. But, it works great in other, more complex cases as well.

The OODA Loop is important in leadership as well. As a leader, it’s easy to get lost in the flow of decision making, getting stuck in the back half of the loop. In these cases, the leader will decide and act, decide and act, decide, and act. The problem is that without observing and orienting, the decisions are less effective, making the actions less effective as well.

A good leader must always slow down long enough to observe and orient to a situation. Only then can they make the right decision and act on it in the right way.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash