the learning loop

John Boyd’s OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was developed as a framework to help pilots make better decisions in battle. Since its inception in the 1970’s it has been adapted for other areas of operations, including business.

“Decision makers gather information (observe), form hypotheses about customer activity and the intentions of competitors (orient), make decisions, and act on them. The cycle is repeated continuously. The aggressive and conscious application of the process gives a business advantage over a competitor who is merely reacting to conditions as they occur or has poor awareness of the situation. Especially in business, in which teams of people are working the OODA Loop, it often gets stuck at the “D” (see Ullman) and no action is taken allowing the competition to gain the upper hand or resources to be wasted.” —Wikipedia

I came across the OODA Loop while in the military and have referred to it a few times, but it was not a major influence on my own thinking, or so I thought.

Source: Wikipedia

I posted one of my models on LinkedIn this week and immediately received feedback that it was similar to the OODA Loop. Xavier Tholey wrote, “Harold, I love your model and find a clear translation to the OODA loop within an eco-system based on network/connection/links (meaning all of them !). Have you ever studied the OODA loop?” I responded that I was familiar with John Boyd but I never saw the connection with my network learning & working models. Xavier wrote back:

“I really think you extrapolate the OODA loop to the network aspect of organisation. In a digital world it makes your work unique and critical from my point of view ! Thanks for sharing , I am only using loops in my rôle now, from PDCA to OODA to learning loop . I never really found the learning loop despite reading about 150 leadership books, plus Web research ).”

The latest iteration of my work/learning model builds on the perpetual beta working model, as well as others. In this case I wanted to make the Seek > Sense > Share of personal knowledge mastery very clear in its role in organizational knowledge sharing. As Xavier noted in his own research, few management writers are seriously looking at the alignment between learning and work, other than a passing nod to education and training. Kenneth Mikkelson and I highlighted the need for learning-oriented leadership in our HBR article, The Best Leaders are Constant Learners. Today, learning has to be part of work for everyone, and that is the foundation on which all my models are based.

Further Reading

Understanding the Limits of Hierarchies by @OpenSourceWay

“As I say in ‘The Open Organization’, networked structures more easily facilitate what US Air Force Colonel John Boyd calls the ‘OODA loop’ [Observe, Orient, Decide, Act]; they allow for quicker reactions to immediate, pressing situations. Hierarchies might let you make one-off decisions at a faster rate, but, ultimately, they’re just not as responsive in the long term.”

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