How to Move Time Within OODA

by Aaron on January 6, 2012

I like thinking about timing, and I’ve recently done a little bit of thinking about marketing, so here’s my all-in post on timing. If you want me to continue writing on the subject, share this with your friends, because I’ll start focusing my attention elsewhere unless this goes awesome.


And without further ado…


OODA is cool. Timing is cool.


You observe what’s going on, orient yourself to figure out what it means (and reevaluate your observations), decide what to do, act, and then look at the results.


There are lots of implications, and ways that you can play with it. I’ll talk about the ones I learned about.


How frequently you can observe things changes how frequently you act.


If you go through an OODA loop every time you act, you can’t act without observing, unless you want to shoot blind. More on that later.


One of the biggest differences between now and about this time last month is the pace of the project. And I think that Observation speed is a major cause of that.


When we were putting together the book, I could get feedback on the organizational structure by just rereading sections in the new order. This would take like, 10 minutes. I could get faster feedback by skimming, and cut that down to minutes. By the time the book was over, I could recall posts on the order of seconds.


If I wanted someone else’s opinion, I could talk with them about it. If I wanted them to directly observe the book, this would normally take a few hours. If I skipped to sharing my Orientation, I could get feedback from other people in like half an hour if they were online.


Now, we’re trying to build relationships with allies over email, and write posts to get people to come on the site and build awareness.


This takes a while. Like, as a rule of thumb I expect an email with someone to take like, a day, unless I respond to them within an hour.


Still though, things seem to be maxed out at one meaningful Observation a day. It takes a while to find out if a post works, or if something is scheduled, and it takes a while for things to come up. So the project slowed down.


You can precompute steps.


I previously talked about speeding up your actions by cutting down on Orientation and Decision making.


Sebastian is really good at this. One of the most interesting things about working with him is that he really quickly has an interpretation of what’s going on, even if he doesn’t have that much information. For instance, everyone on the project was mailing back and forth about title names and different marketing angles and considerations, and we kind of didn’t know what would work. We had reasons for thinking things, and we would need to test them out. Then all the sudden Sebastian would come in and say something that made sense, and we would all change our minds.


Basically, he’s able to decrease the amount of time needed to Observe and Orient.


But he’s not pulling it out of his ass. Most of the time, he’s right about what’s happening and what we should do, or at least more right. Posts with his influence do better. His marketing efforts get farther.


But you still need information in order to accurately know what’s going on. You can’t covary without getting bits in. Where do his bits come from?


Principles. Where do those come from?


Experience. He just has more of it than we do. He’s done lots of projects, and reads ridiculous amounts of history. He already has a lot of information and Observations about things that happen, and has already Oriented himself with regards to those.


He now gets to reuse Orientations. Assuming that things work similarly to the way he did with his other observational data, he needs less time to Observe and Orient.


Living on Principle basically just lets you decide everything faster.


You can trade time between steps.


There are 24 hours in a day, and you can never, ever, get any more.


But you can change how many OODA loops you get in a day.


For instance, you can spend less time Orienting and Deciding, fire more randomly, but be able to cram in more observations. This is basically the “fire bullets, then cannonballs” strategy.


If your Orientation or Decisions aren’t very good, then this is probably what you should be doing. If something works, you just need to figure out why, then repeat it.


If you’re inexperienced and thus your Orientation and Decisions are a bit funky, then you really should be doing this. It gets you the Observations you need in order to build up a framework of what’s going on, and doesn’t overfit to your previous training data.


If you have lots of experience, you can just live on Principle, and see how well they work. Combining strong principles with lots of shots, and you can get success and more data at the same time.


You can substitute steps.


Sometimes though, the Observations limit your speed.


For instance, a decision might need input from someone else. What can you do then?


What I did a lot was trade off Observing their actual response and spending more time Orienting myself to possible answers. I would try and predict what they would say, then tell them that I was guessing that in the email.


If my confidence of my prediction and the utility of the action were both high, then I could just act on that default assumption. If it was correct, then yay, if not, then oops.


Another possibility is just to consider both answers, and do what you would do in either case.


Observations can substitute Orientations or Decisions by just letting you try lots of things, then see what what works.


Orientations can substitute Observations by using previous data.


Orientations can substitute Decisions by filtering out information. (This one seems riskier than others)


Decisions can substitute Observations via precommitments.


Playing around with this is left as an exercise to the reader.


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