2021: The ultimate OODA loop
This week I ran into a friend on their break. They looked bedraggled, so I asked what was up. They sighed and shared the following (extremely relatable) description of what work has been like for them lately.
This sounded exactly like the way many of my workdays have felt lately. I do a lot of things or answer a lot of questions or file a lot of forms or talk to a lot of people, but I almost never feel like I've accomplished anything. At the end of even the busiest day, I don't feel like I've progressed. Listening to my friend give voice to this work-stuck experience, I realized: it's just an OODA loop.
OODA is an acronym that stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. I learned about it in a martial arts class, and it explains one way humans function. First, something happens. We observe, to take in what is happening; we receive and collect a bunch of data. Then we orient to the situation, to figure out what all that data means. Next we decide what we're going to do about it. Then finally we take action. The whole process usually happens in microseconds without us even noticing because the human brain is amazing.
In a fight, if I can be unpredictable in some way I can trap my opponent in their OODA loop. I could use broken rhythm timing or throw strikes from unexpected angles, so by the time my opponent has orientated to Thing 1, they have to start over observing a completely different Thing 2. If I can keep them stuck between Observe and Orient, they may never get to the Act part. That's good for me because it means I am much more likely to win. More likely I will score points in a sport match, and more likely I will make it home safe in a self-defense situation.
Just like all other things martial arts, this concept clearly applies to the rest of life as well. At work, every time I am interrupted (or I interrupt myself), I start again at the beginning of my OODA loop. Each new email means I have to read it (observe), understand it in context (orient), choose the appropriate response (decide), then reply, forward, delete, or save it (act). Next email. Repeat.
And that's the trap. I'm busy putting out fires as they flare-up, so I don't have time to make progress toward anything else. I'm not on the planning committee, I'm on Flame Watch. I'm busy just maintaining. Which is basically what I've been doing for all of 2021.
I realized this week I've been waiting all year for 2021 to begin. 2020 was such a shitshow, 2021 was supposed to be different. We were going to have a new President with new policies. We were all going to get vaxxed and Covid was going to end. Most importantly: we were going to get somewhere beyond where we had been stuck for the whole of 2020. So much hope. So much promise.
But the January 6th riot at the capital reminded us it was going to take a lot more than just a new Head Whiteguy to sort out the insanity that is our political system. Everyone who wanted to get vaxxed, got vaxxed, and summer was like a whole new magical world - until Delta showed-up. And it's still basically impossible to make solid, long-term plans. The 2021 I've been waiting for never arrived, and now the 2021 that did show up is almost over.
2021 continued the 2020 trend of serving up one maddening catastrophe after another. I recently observed that as a society we appear to have given up on getting rid of Covid. I guess I need to more fully orient to that reality so I can decide what to do about it. I've been busy trying to keep on keepin' on. I guess it's time to interrupt the interruptions. Then I can get to doing something with my 2022.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.