Sharpening Orientation and Decision Making

Continued learning, training, applying concepts learned and practiced in real world situations, then critiquing results to learn more; are keys to sharpening ones orientation and hence decision making. As the last post stated; "orientation is an on-going process". Not just in preparing but re-preparing (Adapting) based off the results of our actions,  our strategy and tactics used to achieve results.

The Boyd Cycle (Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action) a mostly mental process, of thinking, decision making and threat assessment. A process that is emboldened by action. Action causes some type of reaction, based on the circumstances, therefore we must reorient based on our perception, decide intuitively using judgment and act again to seize the initiative an on-going process till we gain control.  

Action we must keep in mind is not always the act of moving forward, it could most definitely be a decision to stay put, move away from, communicate, negotiate, or even in some cases allow nothing to happen, yes decide to do it another day. When you have the clear advantage. Advantage is determined by your orientation as to what is happening now! Not based solely on what you learned from training. Training gives you tools in the tool box and any good training should make it clearly understood that decision making and options are as, if not more critical than any physical technique taught.

With that in mind. Orientation is about discovery, discovery as to what the situation is. What is going on? In his book The Ascent of Man Jacob Bronowski said; "Discovery is a double relation of analysis and synthesis together. As an analysis it probes for what is there; but then as a synthesis it puts the parts together in a form by which the creative mind transcends the bare limits, the bare skeleton, that nature provides." In law enforcement and security this means we have to be situationally aware; as to what the whole environment is telling us. The people involved, verbal and non-verbal queues, the location your at, the witnesses, the reporters, fellow officers shared information (Communications) etc. are all necessary to get a complete picture (orientation) of the ongoing situation.  

Circumstances change, they evolve, we have to decide in moments, seconds if circumstances are going in a positive direction towards resolution, or if circumstances are spiraling out of control towards negative, disastrous results. Then we have to plan, mentally how to handle and resolve the problem. This means constant assessment, "turn Boyd On" and assess, act and re-assess, observe, orient, decide and act do achieve results.

How do we improve our knowledge our view of whats going on, our orientation and decision making? The key is conditioning the mind through training. As we train our physical skills. Only more often. There is not a lot of time devoted in our professions law enforcement and security, to developing the mind to make better decisions. In 28 years of training between my military and law enforcement careers almost all training was devoted to developing physical skills; shooting, defensive tactics, handcuffing, impact weapons, as well as tactical deployment and movement such as vehicle stop techniques and building searches etc. This is very important training. We need to know how to "act" when the time comes for action. This post however I want to focus on the mental training that is long overdue and much needed.

In his book The Minds New Science by Howard Gardener,  it states; "The true subject matter of psychology is the mental act, such as judging, sensing, imagining or hearing each of which reflects a sense of direction or purpose." 'one cannot simply see; one must see something; and the act of seeing something is psychological or mental.' The book goes on to say that ; "one cannot conceive of thoughts and judgment, let alone study them, except by taking into account ones inner phenomenal experience." Your individual experiences!

This was explained by Boyd in his definition of orientation; "Orientation is an interactive process of many sided implicit cross referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections that is shaped by and shapes the interplay of genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences and unfolding circumstances." We see things based on our beliefs and experiences is a simplified interpretation of this definition. If this is in fact the case and I believe intuitively it is indeed a big part of how we see the world and thereby make decisions.

A good starting point in my opinion is serious self analysis. What are our strengths, our weaknesses? How do we improve our shortfalls and enhance our strengths so that in the world of protecting and serving, in the world of law enforcement and security we can detect, avoid, defuse and resolve conflict? The rapidly changing world requires we be innovative and adapt to new threats. The self analysis, looking honestly at ones self with integrity is where the change begins. It may sound a bit philosophical but I believe an honest self-assessment is the beginning of improvement. Too insure we are not living in a world of self-deception! Imagine the results of that? Maybe you, we, have seen them? "Ego's go up good common sense decision making and safety go down!" Enough on this, just do it. It pays great dividends. Its a form of training!

Next we must train the mind, the decision making cycle, the "Boyd Cycle" must be turned on and conditioned. Gary Klein in his book "Intuition at Work" states; "I prefer a muscular view of intuition that treats our intuitions as skills that can be acquired, as strengths that can be expanded through exercise."  Training individual law enforcement and security officers how to make better decisions through the use of tactical decision games or decision making exercises is key to improvement in this area.

TDG is basically pen and paper exercises. A  brief written scenario is given to individuals with a time limit usually imposed  to impose some kind mental pressure. The individual ,or it can be done in a group setting, come up with an answer or answers to the particular problem. Not only a solution is sought but the why, the rational behind the solution is even more critical. Instructors who facilitated the learning are key and need to be prepared to play the devils advocate, and throw in (strategically) a few "what it's" to spark some further thinking and decision making. 

TDG can be kept simple and conducted in a roll call type environment at the beginning of a shift or upon reporting to post . You can also get more involved and take TDG to the level of table top exercises or expand to free play force an force exercises. These test not only decision making and cognitive abilities of individual officers, but the physical skills and cohesiveness in which they work as teams under real world pressure. Not to mention the physiological effects  such as tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, slow motion time, memory loss and fine motor skill depletion. Fabulous stuff! But may I suggest you start out slow and develop decision making first through simple pen and paper and then evolve. "Crawl, Walk, Run principle. Tactical Decision Games work at developing sharp thinkers who are able to work together and resolve dynamic and dangerous encounters more efficiently and effectively than those who train solely in the physical realm.  

My organization has utilized tactical decision games for three years and there has been a profound improvement in decision making. Communications and coordination between officers responding to calls has improved. Our overall tactical response and approach to calls which enhances safety of officers and citizen. The TDG have improved decisions as to what is and is not probable cause. Do we have the right to arrest or not. It has improved on scene communications between officers and has spurred more open communication in after action reviews post incident. (more on AAR in future post). Morale a constant changing entity of its own is improved because of the open communications. Basic tactical concepts like utilization of cover, concealment, backup and contact cover principles improved. Again enhancing safety of officers and bring about safe resolutions to dangerous dynamic encounters.  

The physical skills developed and sharpened are critical to this job. But its a big mistake to think its the only critical component. Decision making on the fly, in rapidly changing circumstances must be trained and sharpened as well. The results of not doing so can cost us dearly.

More on the how too of tactical decision games in the next post. Whats "Leaderships" role in developing great decision makers? As well as a fantastic resource book; Raising the Bar by Don Vandergriff who's methods of training has developed great decision makers throughout the military, private business, security and law enforcement.