Dynamic Decisions: A Best Practice for 21st Century Leadership


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A prerequisite for successful 21st Century Leadership is the ability to recognize new circumstances, and then quickly shift your perspective and think differently.

John Boyd personified this ability and it made him a perennial winner.

He revolutionized the methods of every air force in the world with his “bible” of air combat. He was dubbed “Forty-Second Boyd” because he defeated every challenger in ‘dog fights’ in less than forty seconds. He also developed an aircraft design theory—Energy Maneuverability—that became the standard for fighter aircraft design worldwide.

But Boyd’s most significant contribution has universal application. It has proven valuable to individuals and organizations of all shapes and sizes, even nation-states. Boyd codified a way of winning in a fast, volatile environment—a superior Decision Cycle he called the “OODA Loop.”

The OODA Loop is based upon a fundamental truth.

Every individual and organization undergoes a continuous cycle of interaction with their environment.

Boyd broke this continuous interaction cycle down into four interdependent steps:

  • Observe Collecting of data by means of the senses
  • Orient Analyzing and synthesizing data to form a current mental perspective
  • Decide Deciding on a course of action based on a current mental perspective
  • Act Implementing a course of action

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When I first discovered the OODA Loop, it seemed straightforward—a 4-step Decision Cycle with the goal being to move through the 4 steps as quickly as possible. Yes, speed is paramount but fast, smart decisions require something more profound—the capacity to rapidly change your mind.

Boyd’s key insight was this: when your environment is changing, often rapidly and unpredictably, the greatest danger is mental inertia.

Not shifting your perspective and thinking differently when circumstances change is a receipe for decision disasters.

The Belief Barrier

Have you ever noticed what happens when someone encounters facts that conflict with their beliefs? They tend to ‘dig in their heels’ and dispute the facts, even doubling down in the face of overwhelming evidence. Thousands of experiments have documented how people actually alter the facts to fit their preconceived beliefs.

Why do we do this? We strive for consistency between our expectations (which are based on our beliefs) and reality. We unconsciously try to bring the two—expectations and reality—into alignment.

Our mind becomes a “Spin Room.” It doesn’t work like an independent judge, impartially weighing evidence, guiding us toward wisdom. It works like a press secretary striving to justify our preconceived beliefs. What facts can we muster to confirm our correctness? What facts do we need to ignore?

This kind of mental manipulation plays out in a predictable way in decision-making. When circumstances change, the tendency is to slow down decisions and continue to see the world as we feel it should be. We continue to rely on outdated assumptions, even when there is crystal clear evidence that those assumptions are no longer valid.

Reality Check

One of the most effective personal therapists of the twentieth century, Milton Erickson, focused on the mental inertia challenge.  His central premise was that to accomplish their goals people must recognize and utilize what actually is, rather than lamenting, distorting, or denying unpleasant facts.

Erickson’s message was simple: acknowledge the truth of your current situation. Legendary business leader, Jack Welch, put it more bluntly. “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it would be.”

Not recognizing the reality of new circumstances is the first indicator of mental inertia. The second, equally dangerous indicator, is relying on what worked in the past to try to solve new and different problems. Worst still is doubling down and trying to make them work with more gusto, more resources, more determination.

Rather than hammering away and becoming disillusioned because the ‘obvious’ solutions aren’t working, try something different. Start with a clean slate—a new perspective.

That’s the unique and universal value of Boyd’s OODA Loop. It amplifies the importance of recognizing new circumstances and shifting your perspective quickly and thinking differently. In short, changing your mind.

How long does it take to change your mind? It can happen in an instance. It’s deciding to change your mind that seems to take people so much time. However, some can do this effortlessly as Billy Joel pointed out in his classic, “Always A Woman”:

Oh, She takes care of herself, she can wait if she wants, She’s ahead of her time,
Oh, She never gives out and she never gives in, She just changes her mind.

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If you’d like to learn more about how you can create Superior Decision Cycles in your organization, let’s connect.

 

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 MEET LELAND IN ONE MINUTE

LELAND RUSSELL is founder and CEO of GEO Group Strategic Services, a firm that cultivates 21st Century Leadership. Leland helps exceptional leaders shape smart solutions and accelerate superior results with powerful, proven methods.

Leland has built a stellar performance track record with a wide range of Fortune 500 organizations, mid-size firms, and non-profits. His typical clients are CEOs, business leaders, and mission-critical teams.

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