It seems that I’ve shared this with four or five different groups of people over the last couple of weeks, so I thought it worthwhile putting it on the blog. Plus this is one of those instances where the Wikipedia page is not the best launching point.
Colonel Boyd was an interesting bloke who had a huge influence on military tactics. One of his key insights was that success in a rapidly changing environment depends on your ability to adapt to the environment as it changes about you. The successful army is the one that can adapt as the world changes around it, and not necessarily the army with more resources at its disposal. This is interesting as the evidence is in and it shows that – for the vast majority of businesses – your competitors have very little influence on your success or failure; the largest factor is your ability to adapt and stay relevant as the market changes around you. Think Nokia, RIM and the iPhone. Or think in terms of high speed rail and point-to-point buses vs. discount air travel in Europe. The complication here is that today’s environment is changing so rapidly that your art – your product – might only have a shelf life of six months or so.
The OODA loop is Colonel Boyd’s attempt to capture what it takes to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. He also pointed out that the best place to put pressure on the enemy is Orient: behave in such a way that they they struggle to understand what is happening around them. And the best place within Orient to attack is Analysis & Synthesis, by presenting forcing them to reconcile New Data that conflicts with their existing beliefs (Previous Experience, Cultural Traditions, and Genetic Heritage).
So success in a rapidly changing environment depends on your ability to learn, which many people will find unsurprising. What’s more interesting though, is that unlearning, setting aside past beliefs that are no longer relevant, is actually much more important and much harder.
In many ways, its your ability to unlearn that drives your long term performance.