When Do You Choose Which Kind of Problem-Solver You Are?

I feel as if I see more problems and crises than I know what to do with right now. Sometimes, I want to wade right in and solve those problems. Sometimes, I assess quickly and realize I have good possibilities. However, there’s a third option, and that’s when I stay stuck. In my case, it’s not quite paralysis, but I just can’t choose. There is no right or wrong approach, but we can help ourselves be more effective when we choose. If we don’t decide, our default approach can soon hurt us instead of help. How do you decide?

And yes, this totally depends on the kind of decision you’re making at the time.

John Boyd was an Air Force fighter pilot and developed this decision-making loop (the image with this post). Here’s how the internal part of the feedback loop works:

  • Observe the situation.
  • Orient to the culture, situation, etc.
  • Decide as a hypothesis.
  • Act as a test. Allows us to observe again.
  • Repeat

Notice all the interim feedback loops. As soon as we observe, we can orient, but everything is either a feed-forward or a feedback loop.

When I remember the OODA loop, I realize I have a small step and can move again.

I’m not a fighter pilot (and I suspect you, my dear reader, are not either). We can often make enough time to observe and then orient. And the more we think about decisions as hypotheses and small actions, the more likely we are to decide better. We can decide how to act and when to try something small.

How OODA Helps Me Choose Better

If I remember OODA (and sometimes, that’s a big if), the acts of Observing and Orienting often help me breathe first. That breathing allows me to wait, so I don’t create problems for other people. (Yes, I have absolutely done that.) Instead, if I can hold off for a nanosecond or two and observe and orient—and breathe—I might discover that other people can and want to act. They might have more skills or abilities than I do.

Most of the time I can assess quickly, and I do that with Observe and Orient. And, I have no problem finding a hypothesis and creating a small test.

And I feel as if I’m paralyzed by indecision, I can use that time to work through the Observe and Orient steps with feedback.

I suspect we each have a default approach when we want to solve thorny problems:

When you think about the OODA loop, what’s your default position? Are you like me, where you’re more apt to skip the Observe and Orient steps? Or, do you have more trouble with the decide/hypothesis step? Maybe you have trouble considering that first small step.

With OODA, I have a way to make sure I’m thinking well. I can choose when and how to solve, or when to try a small experiment and gather more data.

That’s the question this week: When do you choose which kind of problem-solver you are?

P.S. I very much enjoyed reading Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram. (Link is an Amazon affiliate link.)

2 thoughts on “When Do You Choose Which Kind of Problem-Solver You Are?”

  1. Johanna, many (and I shudder to think of how many that “many” is) years ago, somebody told me about the training that American fighter pilots got before being sent into combat. These pilots were drilled on all sorts of miserable, unexpected, perilous situations and how to survive them.

    To assist them as they faced danger, the planes they flew were supplied with manuals that ticked off protocols for handling crisis. The co-pilots were to scan the manual for something that matched whatever mess they were in — and the first instruction in every protocol was “wind the watch for up to ten seconds.”

    What watch? Supposedly, the control panels in the fighter planes had a watch embedded under a glass bubble. They’d unlatch the glass, then wind the watch before getting to the next step. When this came to light after the war ended, a technical writer explained, “Winding the watch meant that the men would be grounding themselves in something close at hand, rather than envisioning a fiery explosion in the air, or a swift dive to a watery grave. It settled them so they could think.”

    I wish we had more “wind the watch” moments among our voters, our leaders, and the globe at large.

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