There is no shortage of decision-making processes and concepts. From decision trees to flow charts, many have searched far and wide for practical advice on how to make better decisions. In fact, we discussed this topic a bit during a professional military education session. We used an article titled, “Destruction and Creation” by former United States Air Force fighter pilot, John R. Boyd. Boyd is well known in the U.S. Marine Corps due to his military theories. Specifically, Marines have studied, learned about, and applied Boyd’s observe, orient, decide, act (OODA) “loop” decision-making process.
I’m actually not really a fan of Boyd’s work. In fact, I jokingly refer to myself as anti-Boyd, because (in my opinion) he tended to overcomplicate simple concepts. (Download and read the “Destruction and Creation” article I provided above for an example of this). Whereas theologians and business professionals use metaphors and analogies to explain their concepts, Boyd backed his concepts using science and math. Even so, I wholeheartedly agree with the OODA process. Using this construct as a baseline, I will quickly describe how we can make better and more well-informed daily decisions!
Let’s begin by discussing the four categories that make up the OODA process.
Boyd’s OODA “loop” decision-making process.
I like to break things down into simple concepts. Some may even argue I oversimplified complex concepts, but I’ll do it anyway. Below is my graphical depiction of Boyd’s OODA loop.
- Observe: Gather information using your five senses.
- Orient: Develop perception–use your prior experiences and knowledge to process the information you absorbed.
- Decide: Choose the option you feel will produce the outcome you desire.
- Act: Implement the option you chose. Note: Whether positive or negative, your action’s consequences will serve as feedback or “information” that your five senses will absorb, thus restarting the OODA decision-making process.
How can you refine this process?
Research shows that we consciously and subconsciously make thousands of decisions a day! That means that we constantly repeat the above process whether we know it or not.
Quick example: I caught myself subconsciously going through this process while I was typing this section. 1. I felt slightly annoyed by something on my body (observe). 2. I recognized it was my nose itching (orient)! 3. I quickly determined that I should use my hand to stop the itching (decide). 4. Before I knew it, my hand was scratching my nose (act). I repeated the process once I realized I was scratching my nose with my bare hand (gross) which triggered the decision and subsequent action to wash my hands. See how it works?!
As demonstrated in the quick example above, these steps require minimal cognitive engagement. Here is another oversimplified graphical depiction of what I’m describing.
The million dollar question: If most of our decisions are made with minimal cognitive engagement, how can we refine this process?
I’m glad you asked! As we saw in the above example, we often do not recognize the OODA loop process until immediately before, during, or after the “act” phase. As such, the implied understanding is that there is little we can do to affect our decision making cycle since the vast majority of the process is done unknowingly. Of course that understanding does not align with one of my core beliefs: I determine my own destiny. With that in mind, I’ve sought to identify areas within the OODA loop cycle that I can control. What I found was that those areas resided in the “orientation” phase.
In figure one, I highlighted that you develop your perception during the “orientation” phase. That perception is based upon two things we can impact: knowledge and experience.
Knowledge and Experience
Knowledge and experience combine to deepen our understanding of the world around us, challenge our unconscious biases and preconceived notions, and refine our critical thinking skills. Throughout this discussion, I will equate “knowledge” to “education,” and I will use the term “experience” in its most practical form–a firsthand encounter with facts or events.
Knowledge is a structured framework to learn about various subjects and explore different perspectives. It equips us with the necessary tools to analyze information, evaluate evidence, and form rational opinions.
Knowledge exposes us to diverse ideas, cultures, and philosophies. This exposure allows us to engage with a wide range of perspectives, enabling us to develop a more nuanced understanding of the world. Knowledge encourages us to question assumptions, challenge biases, and consider alternative viewpoints. It fosters empathy and a deeper appreciation for the complexities and diversity of human experiences.
How to increase knowledge.
Attend formalized training.
There are numerous free and paid courses available online and in person. Never allow your formalized training to stagnate.
Network with experts.
Share ideas and learn from professionals inside and outside of your organization/industry. Remember: innovation is applying old ideas and concepts in new ways.
Observe and record the world around you.
Diversify your knowledge by exploring new concepts or ideas that are unrelated to your profession. For example, I have recently indulged myself in growing plants and fruit. Not only can I adopt concepts like identifying the proper nutrients to enrich the soil for optimal growth, satisfying my curiosity enhances my ability to learn. (Here is a good reference to support my latter claim. The psychology and neuroscience of curiosity)
In addition to knowledge, experiences play a crucial role in shaping our perspective and opinions.
Experiences provide us with firsthand knowledge and insights that cannot be acquired through books or lectures alone. Whether through travel, work, or personal interactions, experiences expose us to different environments, people, and circumstances. They challenge our existing beliefs and expose us to new ideas and ways of thinking.
Experiences also allow us to put theory into practice, providing a tangible context for our learning. By engaging in real-world situations, we learn to adapt, problem-solve, and make informed decisions. These experiences, whether positive or negative, contribute to the evolution of our perspectives and opinions. They provide us with a deeper understanding of the complexities of life and foster personal growth.
How to diversify experiences.
Do new things.
Change up your routine. For example, you could try eating foods normally associated with breakfast for dinner and vice versa for a few days. Believe it or not, sometimes your mind needs these kind of drastic changes for stimulation and growth.
Read new things.
Millions of authors have shared their philosophies, beliefs, and ideas with you through articles and books. Take time to learn about the world through others’ perspective–especially if they contradict your own.
Watch new things.
I’ve always enjoyed watching slapstick humor, action, and shows about earth science and biology. As such, my daily actions and decisions reflect what I watch. Watching new things exposes you to new perspectives you would not have otherwise had.
Knowledge and experience work hand in hand to shape our perspective and opinions. Knowledge provides a foundation of usable information and critical thinking skills, while experiences add real-world context and personal insights. By continuously learning and engaging with new ideas and experiences, we have the opportunity to broaden our horizons, challenge our assumptions, and develop more informed and well-rounded perspectives. Ultimately, by focusing on these key concepts, we can positively impact the orientation phase of our respective decision making cycles and train ourselves to make better decisions.