Adaptive Capacity and the Business OODA Loop

“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome,”
— unofficial slogan of The Marine Corps.

An organization that is ready to scale through adaptation it is said to have Adaptive Capacity. The more change it can absorb and the faster, the more Adaptive Capacity it has.

As a coach, your job is to create Adaptive Capacity. To understand how a coach can create Adaptive Capacity, we need first to understand what needs to happen to enable adaptability. We talked about John Boyd’s OODA loop as a model of adaptability. One of the limitations of his model is that only one source of delay is represented (Information to Decision). But in real life situations there are other forms of delay that can significantly affect the speed of the cycle.

To better understand where a business leader can put its efforts to speed up the OODA Loop, I extended the concept to clearly identify all points of potential slowdown.[1]

It all starts from a clear Strategic Intent. A clarified Strategic intent is a mental model of What and Why with a clear definition of the Desired End State.

Combined with knowing what is going on around you (Situational Awareness), one can make sense (Sense Making) jointly of the desired end state and the situation, so that the situation can be understood in terms of what can be done to achieve the end state under the circumstances at hand.

Sense Making will adjust your mental models at every cycle. If you also capture lessons that were taught via formal Institutional Knowledge, the lessons will serve as guidelines for future mental models even if you or anyone else is unavailable.

Mental models serve as accelerants for decision and action, the implicit guidance and control in the original OODA Loop.

Between Decision and Effect you will encounter Friction.

“Everything in war is very simple,’ Clausewitz[2] notes, “but the simplest thing is difficult. In war more than anywhere else things do not turn out as we expect. Nearby they do not appear as they did from a distance. Moreover, …every fault and exaggeration of [a] theory is instantly exposed in war.”

Clausewitz terms “friction” as the “only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.” Friction points to all the factors that will prevent the effect from turning out exactly as intended.

You won’t know about the effect of your actions unless you collect information. For this you need to setup Sensors, acknowledging the fact that people have access to information that is filtered by the sensors available to them.

Sensors should also collect information from the environment to provide a complete picture for situational awareness. However, sensors can create information overload that will slow down the cycle. To bring information load to optimal levels, you need to use Strategic Intent to select and synthesize the collected information before feeding it to Situational Awareness.

From the book 5 to 50 to 500. Copyright © 2018 by Eric Kish

Eric Kish as an author, speaker and practicing CEO. He is the author of 5 to 50 to 500: How to build and run scalable organizations and Everyday Turnaround: The art and science of daily business transformation

[1]This model is an adaptation of the Command and Control (C2) Model developed by Bremmer in 2004. The Dynamic OODA Loop: Amalgamating Boyd’s OODA Loop and the Cybernetic Approach to Command and Control — Berndt Brehmer, Department of War Studies at the Swedish National Defence College

[2] Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) was a Prussian general and military theorist



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Eric Kish

Eric Kish

Practical CEO, Author and Speaker