And we’re back – with some thoughts on the OODA Spiral

Just short on my lunch break, but had some fascinating side discussions helping out with the strategic planning for ironically the Association of Strategic Planning (ASP).

(Warning, on a reread this is heavy wonk on esoteric terminology, and I’ve found hyperlinks outside the blog to reference ideas expire and then do little good, keep google handy).

I was pondering the idea of combining Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s game theory approaches  with proactive OODA loops.  An idea that I have played with for years, my father started calling an OODA Spiral.  If Observe, Orient, Decide, Act is a good scientific model for human / mammal decision making….

Then it possible to get “looped.”  Literally things are happening faster than you can keep up, and the world passes you by, at least for a moment.  Happens to me allot when I am trying to do something while my Wife and Daughter compete for my attention.  Invariably I get looped by to much information and burn my breakfast on Saturday morning.  I would argue that getting looped, or a lock of the decision cycle is generally what happens to a quarterback right before he gets sacked.  Can’t make a decision fast enough, and somebody else ends the play for him.  Read:  “Looped” = Decision lock = a stalled or interrupted OODA cycle.  You get stuck on observe and orient, can’t decide and act fast enough.

SO a decision spiral is when a decision making process gets looped, and more information / things happening just loop again and again into a spiral of inaction.  That would be what the US military calls “Shock and Awe”.  If there is more happening than you can deal with, you loose the ability to make decisions until the world slows down enough that you can orient to it.

The Game theory aspect of it it simply knowing what people will focus on, and if you can loop them, trap them in an OODA spiral they no longer can make make actions that effect you – at least as long as you can keep them in a spiral.  Talk about taking initiative.

That’s the idea anyway.  Let me know what you think.

The concept that hit me talking with my friends at ASP, was that in organizational strategic planning, i.e. strategic planning for a business; a decision spiral could be related to the common phenomena of strategic plans that sit on a shelf and never get implemented.

This goes back to my old post on OODA loops and the tyranny of the urgent killing any schwerpunkt one might have.  So busy fighting off alligators you forget you are in the swamp to drain it, not fight alligators.  In business, most of the executives I know are so busy fire fighting, caught up in tactical urgency, they never have time for anything strategic.

That’s pretty well established.  But think of that in terms of an organizational OODA spiral. The environment is changing faster than the organizational decision cycle can react, and eventually they give up trying to constantly reorient.  They don’t even figure out how to orient to a strategic plan they spent resources developing, they just see lots of change and work that is hard to understand, and the whole company joins in a stand alone complex of work on tactical urgency, maintaining the status quo…  Instead of making strategic decisions and actions that would remove or preempt the tactical problems.  The whole organization gets trapped in an OODA spiral.

Apologies – A stand alone complex – concept from a show called Ghost in the Shell.  Basically a stand alone complex is a simple idea empowered by the information age.  Given the same information, people tend to make the same decision.  Give the same information in the form of tweets and TV to a few million kids on twitter, you get brand based social moments and the Arab spring.  A stand alone complex is a simple consequence of game theory.  Viral information that inspires action in a significant part of the population, that all individually come to the same orientation, decision, and action from the same or similar observation.  That is a stand alone complex.

So what?

OK.  Many esoteric ideas add up to what?

The short version is simply this.  If we know the root cause of a problem, we can engineer a solution.  If strategy rarely if ever gets implemented in businesses because of a stand alone complex in the form of an OODA spiral, at least among leader ship.  Then the solution is to not let leadership get looped.  Prevent the  OODA Spiral.  Traditionally in strategic planning that means the executive decision maker simply makes the decision and then coerces action down the chain of command to make change and implement strategy.

But there have got to be other ways than brute force, right?  Can a strategy professional influence a CEO, Board, or group of senior decision makers in such a way to prevent the OODA spiral that prevents them from implementing a strategic plan once they have it?

I’m thinking yes.  Change management before the Change? More on that later

Thanks for reading the Lunch Time analysis.

-Ted S Galpin SPP




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