Lessons in Analytical Agility From the Architect of the F-16

Key Points From Fighter Pilot John Boyd's Framework for Agility

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How do you get your organization to learn from the insights you have uncovered? And how can it adapt?

Companies can become more agile through the power of analytics.

A system to accomplish this stems from an unlikely source -- the military, or more specifically, fighter pilot John Boyd. He was an intellectual who studied the history and theory of warfare and one of the main architects behind the F-16, one of the most agile planes of its time.

After Boyd finished his work on the F-16, he devoted most of his time to developing a framework for agility, which he called the Observe Orient Decide Act loop or OODA.

Credit: Bloomberg

To Boyd it was a general framework for gaining competitive advantage to outmaneuver rivals. And it is surprisingly applicable to achieving maximum agility in marketing. Here are some key points.

Observe (and Sense)
Keep all your senses open, not just your eyes. Consumers constantly give marketers cues about what they need and want. They always have, but now marketers have the ability to instantaneously capture these cues because people live on platforms that generate data. We can capture and analyze all this data to get a pretty complete picture of what some have called "digital body language." Reading the digital body language and responding to it is what agile marketers do better than their competitors.

The data from your observations needs to be processed to so as to use it for decision making. Put it in context of what we already know about the customers and what we are trying to achieve with them.

Create (and Decide)
A fighter pilot's spectrum of potential decisions is pretty limited -- up, down, left, right, faster, slower, shoot or hold fire -- that 's about it.

In marketing, things are more complicated. We not only need to decide; we also have to create. What is different about how content is created in the agile system is how it is connected to the other stages in the loop. It is constantly informed by the information we receive from our customers. That information not only provides new insights that can lead to new ideas; it also provides fast feedback on which ideas are working. The agile principle of deliver today and adapt tomorrow can be applied to the creative process so that less time is spent on planning and more on real-time market testing.

The end goal is customer interaction that drives value. These interactions can happen anywhere, anytime. The explosion of marketing channels has provided marketers with two crucial challenges: within-channel optimization and cross-channel integration.

This new way of working has resulted in the emergence of agile marketing teams. These teams are cross-disciplinary, combining planning, analytics and creative work in small results-focused teams. The role of informal communication is much more important to this new way of working whereby decisions often need to be made on the fly.

This is an edited excerpt from "Sexy Little Numbers: How to Grow Your Business Using the Data You Already Have," by Dimitri Maex with Paul B. Brown.

Dimitri Maex is managing director of OgilvyOne New York, Ogilvy & Mather's digital direct operations.
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