Want Your Startup to Move Faster? Use Two Military Strategies

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Speed is everything at a startup. So is discipline. By that, I mean the discipline to stay focused on the most important objectives, to do the late nights and early mornings when we don’t want to do them, and to see the results of our work as objectively as possible.

It’s not easy, especially when speed and discipline often seem at odds. We think about this a lot here at Powderkeg. How do we move as fast as possible while remaining as disciplined as possible?

We recently applied two strategies to help us. It’s early, but we’re seeing fantastic results, particularly with accomplishing objectives as a team while increasing the autonomy of team members.

I want to share these two strategies with you. Both come from military leaders known for acting boldly under pressure.

OODA Loop

Heard of OODA loop? It was created by a little-known American military strategist named John Boyd. We’re finding it an effective way to sharpen focus and maintain momentum as competing demands fly in. Many of us begin the day with OODA, which takes its name from four steps:

Observe
Orient
Decide
Act

It’s a simple formula, and you’re probably already doing it. When you arrive at the office, you survey your work (Observe). You assess variables such as urgency, time, and tradeoffs (Orient). You choose a course of action (Decide) and execute it (Act).

Then the loop begins. Act creates data that feeds back to Observe. (Or maybe something unexpected happens, like a last-minute meeting, that puts you back at the start of the loop.) Moreover, this process scales. What happens today becomes an output that impacts weekly goals, which impacts monthly goals, and then quarterly goals.

Through this continual feedback, OODA loop keeps you in an agile state (some call that looping; we like to think of it as flow). There are lots of ways to think about OODA, but this is probably my favorite: “Its power is in the way it makes explicit, that which is usually implicit.” Understood another way, OODA keeps you mindful of what is and is not in your control, making you more comfortable with acting in uncertainty.

Want to learn more about OODA loop and how to apply it? Here’s a great article to start with. 

Champion Progress, Not Perfection

"A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later."
- General George S. Patton

Many of Patton’s quotes read like he’s motivating entrepreneurs. They emphasize speed, bold decision-making, and owning a strong sense of responsibility. Reflecting on his words, I’ve realized that as startup CEOs, we have to instill these values in our teams as much as develop them within ourselves.

One of the first things I tell new team members: “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not moving fast enough.” I don’t know the right decision every time, but I do know that having the guts do something the wrong way is one of the fastest ways to learn how to do it right.

Championing progress over perfection plays a huge role here. It helps everyone feel comfortable with moving fast and trusting their own instincts.

Put Them Together

Combining a progress-not-perfection mindset with OODA loop is a great way to reach an innovative state. You’ll feel the freedom to move quickly and decisively, and you’ll create a feedback loop that integrates the results of your work and shows you what direction to go.

Matt Hunckler is the founder of Indianapolis-based Powderkeg.