The Decision-Making Framework Every Professional Should Know & Use
CIA operatives need to make good decisions—usually, it’s a matter of life and death. And not only must they make the right call, they normally have an extremely narrow window of time for doing so.
John Braddock, a former case official for the CIA, explains his mental decision-making framework in his book, A Spy’s Guide to Thinking. It’s called the DADA loop: data, analysis, decision, action.
In the aftermath of World War II, the Air Force examined aerial “dogfights” to identify the difference between winning and losing pilots. Their study revealed that winners cycle through a cognitive loop much more quickly than losers.
The less time it took the pilot to collect data, analyze it, decide what to do, and then execute, the likelier they were to win. The Air Force actually used this loop structure to develop revolutionary new aircraft such as the F15 and F16, which responded more quickly to pilots’ decisions.
Now that you understand how DADA came to exist, here’s what each part of the loop involves.
In the first step, look for objective data. Maybe you’re choosing between two high-level goals for your team. You don’t have enough resources or bandwidth to do both; however, you’re not sure which one will provide more impact for your company.
So, do some fact-finding. Ask a few people in the same or similar role as you at different organizations if they’ve been in this situation or targeted either objective. What were their results? In your place, which goal would they choose?
Interview your team members as well. After all, they have context and expertise that you don’t. Which would they prioritize?
Finally, look at the best- and worst-case scenarios of pursuing each goal. If all went perfectly, what ROI could you expect? And if nothing went according to plan, what would be the outcome?
Now that you’ve collected the data, it’s time to process it. Put everything together that you’ve found. Is a certain option clearly the winner?
For instance, perhaps the majority of people you talked to were enthusiastic about goal #2. It also seems like this goal, although less ambitious than the first one, is more realistic.
It’s time to choose. You may still have doubts or uncertainties, but that’s okay. After a certain amount of analysis, the quality of your decision flatlines—and you lose precious time while you wrestle with yourself.
Not to mention, not acting is a decision in and of itself. Better to do something than nothing.
In this stage, put your plan into motion. It’s the simplest part of the process; after all, you’ve already done all the mental gymnastics.
The DADA loop runs over and over. Once you’ve acted, start gathering data again. Then analyze your data, make a decision, and act. You will probably never use this during a dogfight, but you will use it to make better choices both professionally and personally.
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