O-O-D-A Loops and Chess

O-O-D-A Loops and Chess

Part of making a good decision is just making a decision. You can’t always sit and weigh the pros and cons. There just isn’t time for that. Making a good decision means sticking with your choice and dealing with what comes with it. Being able to deal with the consequences – that’s making a good decision.

— JX Burros, author

All last week I was in San Diego at a conference of television direct response marketers. For those who don’t know what that is, they are the folks that run those infomercials on television with the oft repeated phrase, “but wait…there’s more!” as they hawk the latest and greatest new kitchen gadget or whatever.

These conferences are interesting as they have become very ritualistic. Everybody within the first few seconds of meeting is reaching for their business cards to give to the other person. The cards are usually thrown into a collection for the trip home, not to be seen again until the next conference. Maybe they serve a function to show the boss back home how much work was done.

Forgetfulness Leads to Shock

But as fate would have it, I forgot my cards at home and could not give any out. The shocked look on faces when they asked me for a card was priceless when I simply said, “I didn’t bring any because it is my experience that few, if any, follow up after a conference.” My declaration did not stop them from handing me one of their cards.

If I took a card, I would then declare, “I WILL follow up.” This would lead to a discussion as to why. And this was the first conference that I used a chess metaphor to explain. As I thought about business and life as a chess metaphor, its profundity grew. I really do follow up more than 99% of the people I meet and it has to do with the way I envision the game of chess.

Taking Care of Business… in a Flash

Early in life, it occurred to me that I did not have to be the smartest person to succeed if I could move twice for every single time my competitors moved. In fact, even if they had more resources (chess pieces), as long as I moved twice as fast as they moved, I could not just survive…but thrive. Muhammad Ali and Sugar ray Leonard knew this, as they would try to hit their opponents three times for every time they got hit.

Speed in decision making and action washes away a lot of mistakes and missteps. Everybody “talks” about moving fast. We have smartphones that connect us. We work 60 hours a week to keep up… but how many decisions and real actions are taken? I am not howling at the moon… while everybody else is busy being busy, we have built a company that actually prizes moving faster than competitors. We are not concerned with always making the “best” decisions, just making them and moving on.

An Experiment

I invite you all to try this experiment when playing chess. Here are the rules. Let your opponent seize from the start ANY THREE chess pieces (except the King). But insist that you are allowed to move twice for every move they make.

You will win…plain and simple. You will win even if your opponent is a great player. After winning several times, let the opponent pick four pieces. You will still win despite the opponent starting with superior resources.


Anybody familiar with the great military theorist John Boyd will notice how much this strategy of quick decision making and action is similar to his O-O-D-A loop. Observe; Orient; Decide; Act. Whether chess, life or in war, the victory overwhelmingly goes to the person, company or army that cycles through their O-O-D-A loop the quickest.

So what do chess and the O-O-D-A loop have to do with following up from conferences? I think many get stuck after O-O…so they do not decide and cannot act.

Moving twice as fast as your opponent or competitor does not imply mindless activity. It is possible to move deliberately as well as quickly. Playing chess is not a random movement of pieces, nor is moving in business. Orienting one’s observations of the chess board or business landscape is essential. But if you torture the deliberation process, you will have problems of decision and action.

 “You can’t always make the right decision, but you can always make the decision right.”

 — Thomas Murdock

About Jaffer Ali

Jaffer Ali is the CEO of e-commerce company, PulseTV.com. He is a serial entrepreneur who has touched every part of the online ecosystem since 1998. Jaffer is known as a contrarian thought leader who has contributed over 250 essays to industry trades covering every aspect of online media and marketing topics. A collection of his essays can be downloaded for free: Chasing String In The Digital Era.


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