In life as well as in business, we often seek familiarity even at the cost of efficiency and excellence. We rarely pause to examine if our way of doing things – whether it is the way we brush our teeth or the way we manage our supply chain in our business – is in fact the most effective. Is it our inherent stubbornness, safety in familiarity or is it a blinkered approach? Whatever it is, we do ourselves a huge disservice in my opinion by not looking at new ways to approach an old practice.
Doing what you’ve always done doesn’t always help you win the war. Many a time, it’s simply about thinking out-of-the-box and stunning your enemies with an element of surprise. And business is, in many ways, just like war.
Noted Canadian entrepreneur, investor and financial commentator Kevin O’Leary famously said:
“Business is war. I go out there; I want to kill the competitors. I want to make their lives miserable. I want to steal their market share. I want them to fear me and I want everyone on my team thinking we’re going to win.”
It sounds quite vicious when you put it that way, but the truth is that there are several similarities between business and war. Which is why I believe that organizations would do well to take a war-like approach to running their businesses. One approach that I am particularly fascinated by is OODA (Observe – Orient – Decide- Act), which was first propagated by Colonel John R. Boyd, widely acknowledged as a dazzling strategist.
Boyd was a fighter pilot in the U.S Air Force and more importantly, he was also a thinker and a voracious reader. His tactics helped change the way the U.S. Marine Corp directed two wars in Iraq, and have also influenced successful businesses including Toyota and Southwest Airlines.
Interestingly, his concept of the OODA loop and, beyond that, to a sort of unified theory of competitiveness is just as powerful when applied to business.
The OODA loop
The OODA Loop explains how, just like war, you need agility to succeed in business too. Business success is not simply a matter of being the quickest to market, of spending the most, or of selling the highest-quality products. It’s about outmaneuvering competition, about decoding the environment you are in, acting decisively, and then capitalizing on competition’s initial confusion by confusing them some more.
The convergence of rapidly globalizing competition, real-time communication, and smarter information technology has led to a reinvention of the meaning and practice of strategy. What do you do in sectors where the time advantage of proprietary technology is collapsing even as the cost of developing it explodes?
The OODA Loop is an explicit representation of the process that human beings and organizations use to learn, grow, and thrive in a rapidly changing environment — be it in war, business, or life.
At the end of his life, Boyd drew out this much more nuanced and complex diagram that better captures his grand, deep vision of the OODA Loop as a meta-paradigm for intellectual growth and evolution in an ever-shifting and uncertain landscape:
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the OODA Loop – it can have the power and potential to change your life. As you start looking at your life through the lens of the Loop, you’ll gain insights about how to achieve success that you otherwise would be oblivious to.
If you want to test out new ideas, get feedback from your customers, adjust your product accordingly, and launch a new version before your competition even senses the opportunity; or if you want to out-think and out-execute the competition in the air or on the ground, in combat or in business, then learn how to make the OODA loop the centerpiece of your strategy process.
Watch out for the second part of this blog, where, I’ll take you through the 4 steps in detail, including some great examples of how you can use this in business.