OODA Loop for Creative Thinkers

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No, this isn’t about the Oompa Loopma song.

I first ran across a reference to OODA Loop last year and put it on a scrap of paper in my tickle file always intending to follow up on how this was relevant to creative problem solving and/or creative thinking. A recent quick turn project reminded of this process and how creators can use it to move ideas and projects forward.

OODA Background

Designed in the 1950s by military strategist, U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, it is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Action methodology taught to combat personnel. This rapid decision-making technique has been adapted to non-military situations including business to gain competitive advantage(s).

The OODA Loop Process

OBSERVE: Data gathering. Focus on external parameters and filter the most important or relevant information. The more information [quickly] collected potentially results in more accurate insights.

ORIENT: Data comprehension. Analyze your observations as it relates to the problem or situation. Boyd emphasized how other factors like cultural traditions, genetic heritage, previous experience and new or unknown information might contribute.

DECIDE: Simply, make a decision based on your observation. Build your context and determine your course of action. While this doesn’t guarantee success, you’ve made the first step by making a decision. Outcome is complicit with your capabilities, resources, experience and your actions.

ACT: Execute your decision.  Take action based on consequences and results.

The Loop also emphasizes feedback and recycling through the loop until there is successful conclusion.

Researchers have highlighted how the OODA Loop can improve decision-making, especially under stressful situations like combat. Another aspect of procession a heave volume of information with OODA is improved cognitive capacity. By applying and repeating the Loop productivity increases as well as one’s ability to adapt to change.

Simply, high-speed decision-making and feedback upgrades your critical thinking for a sharper mind.

How can we apply this military strategy process to creative thinking and problem solving?

There are four core principles of Creative Thinking:

  • Phrasing problems as questions
  • Generate ideas
  • Evaluate ideas positively
  • Taking responsibility

IDEO’s famous design thinking frameset is:

  • Frame a question
  • Gather inspiration
  • Generate ideas
  • Make ideas tangible
  • Test to learn
  • Share the story

Looking for a streamlined approach, check out Paul Plsek’s approach: Attention, Escape and Movement

Do you recognize similarities between these decision-making methods?

OODA Loop for You

If or when you work in a fast-paced environment, time for traditional creative meditation become a luxury. Those who have been-there-done-that and thrive while combating stress, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

  • Extreme and unrealistic deadlines
  • Constant, never-ending on-demand results

Real world OODA Loop application include a Live-Event Note Artist or Improv performer.

Both scenarios need to Observe and absorb information quickly and Orient themselves interpret that information. Next, each will make that Decision about what to illustrate and then take Action.

The OODA Loop is more than a decision-making strategy for military, business and engineering fields; it can be very useful to expand your cognitive reflexes with potentially valuable outcomes for liberal arts and sciences.

Give it a try and remember to incorporate feedback and restart the loop with new information.

Further reading: The Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop, Dr. Jamie Schwandt