Four Points for Outthinking the Competition

All intelligent organizations and even organisms win by passing more efficiently through four stages of interactions with their environments.

When the U.S. Air Force asked their best fighter pilot, John Boyd, to analyze how he trained pilots to outmaneuver even better-armed enemies, he took the task seriously. He analyzed not just his dog-fights, but many of history’s greatest battles, seeking to understand what he and other great generals did to win. After years of analysis and refinement, he came up with a powerfully simple answer.


His theory is that all intelligent organizations and even organisms win by passing more efficiently through four stages of interactions with their environments:

  • Observation: collecting data from multiple sources (e.g., the senses for organisms, business systems for corporations, spies for the CIA)
  • Orientation: analyzing and synthesizing the data to form a mental model
  • Decision: deciding to take a specific set of actions based on your mental model
  • Action: physically making or executing your decisions

You have surely heard the debates about which step is most important. Many say great companies win through execution (Action) while others say the key is strategy (Decision). Amazon offers 1,000 books about strategy and 6,000 about execution and if you read these you’d think you’d have covered your bases.

But John Boyd would likely agree with a newcomer on the block who says that if you cannot observe and orient well, all of your execution or strategy crafting skill is useless.
It is time that large companies begin to consider a new concept, Unified Information Access (UIA), a vision espoused by an interesting young technology company called Attivio. UIA, if realized, has the potential to turn the slow, entangling web that most large companies have into nimble jet planes of information.

Check my blog next week when I will share my interview with Sid Probstein, Attivio’s CTO, to learn more about this vision, how Attivio is trying to get us there, and whether we ever will reach the promise land.


About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique. Kaihan has delivered business strategy keynote speeches for organizations such as Motorola, Schering‐Plough, Colgate‐Palmolive, Fortune Magazine, Harvard Business Review, the Society of Human Resource Managers, the Entrepreneurs Organization, and The Asia Society