Leveraging the OODA Loop to Create Strategic Advantage

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“You have 15 minutes to get your hand off my knee.”

Many years ago, when I was much younger, my first girlfriend offered up this ultimatum on one of our first dates. I thought it was funny back then and it stuck with me, not just because of the humor, but rather because of what made it funny; the overt contradiction in the statement.  Her command of “get your hand off my knee” hardly seemed to line up with the generous amount of time provided for said hand to be removed.  In this case it was meant to be funny, by saying one thing while clearly meaning another. I wonder how often we as leaders (or companies) do the same thing  – but without the humor – that is say one thing, while we actually mean another.

This came to mind as I listened to a friend and successful business owner talk about the importance we place on customer feedback, yet how it so seldom appears to have any affect on those seeking the input. “Your feedback is very important to us” is a refrain we hear often as we are asked to provide input to companies we have worked with, or leaders or staff asking for feedback.  But the question is, do we really want the feedback?  Or is it just an inauthentic marketing ploy to appear interested in the information?

The military has a term for a procedure they call the OODA Loop.  This describes the process of:

  • Observing one’s situation,
  • Orienting with the surroundings and enemy situation,
  • Deciding how to act,
  • taking the Action,
  • and then doing it all again (the loop).

Consciously or not, we all do it, some faster than and better than others.

The military makes a big deal of the OODA Loop because the shorter the loop, the greater your advantage.  After all, your enemy is doing the same thing, and if you can complete your loop – which includes ACTION – before your enemy, they need to start again, because their orientation has changed or they are acting on bad data. Hence, a better (quicker, more informed) OODA loop equals a strategic advantage.

Which brings me back to customer feedback.  In his book Persuadable – How Great Leaders Change their Mind to Change the World, Al Pittampalli suggests that among the companies he studied, the most successful have a notable factor in common. It is NOT the fact they ask for feedback, but rather what they do with the feedback: they act on it – they change their position. I realize this is ridiculously simple, but that is the point. Pittampalli suggests that while the majority of companies (and I would also suggest leaders) say they want feedback to enable change, most don’t act on it – they are not shortening their OODA Loop.

It is a simple concept, yet it is so powerful; if we are willing to ask for feedback, we had better be willing to change accordingly, because the adage is true, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” Does your feedback loop (or your company’s) actively seek input? Are you intellectually honest about that which you hear? And the big question – are you committed to change accordingly, based on what you hear and believe to be true?  If so, you will have created a loop that makes you better… and better.

As our OODA Loop improves, so does our competitive advantage. Conversely, as it stays the same, so do we.  According to Pittampalli the big secret is pretty straightforward, change before you have to!  After all, when was the last time you heard someone say,  “You have 15 more attempts to get my order right or I am going to stop doing business with you”?

source: Leveraging Customer Feedback to Create Strategic Advantage

Last modified: May 11, 2016

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