Have you ever wondered why we hesitate whenever we are asked to make a sudden decision? Have you ever been in a position of awkward silence in a group after you had said something and immediately felt like you should have kept your mouth shut? 

Well, I believe we all have these kinds of experiences at least once in our lifetime, and for some people, these are daily occurrences. Sometimes, these situations get even worse when we are rushed to make a decision, which we later end up regretting big time. It often happens because most of us do not know the right way to make a decision. Yes, you read it right! There is a right way to make a decision, and that is where the O-I-I cycle comes in.  

The O-I-I cycle represents observes, interprets, and lastly, intervenes. This is a process taught in modern adaptive leadership lessons, which is the result of over 30 years of research at Harvard University by Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linskey. It teaches us that every decision we make, regardless of its kind, can reach a favorable outcome using this simple process. The process can be simply understood, yet it can come in handy every now and then. 


There is a fine line between seeing the situation and observing it. Whenever you are forced to make a decision, just pause and take a minute or two to observe. As the experts suggest, “Get on the balcony,” and see the facts that may not have been visible the first time. Try to view the situation from a fresh pair of eyes. This would help you gather data that you were wrong about and missed out on earlier. These data can be of various types, including emotional, tactical, operational, etc. You should process all the data in your head and move to the next round — interpretation. 


Say that you have successfully gathered all the data you needed to reach the right decision. But do you think you will have to use all the data to reach that perfect decision? The answer is no. You see, in the interpretation section, your primary job is to connect the dots through the data you have gathered. You need to construct an explanation that connects your data to the decision you are trying to make. You need to filter out the wrong data among the others, which will leave you only with the correct data and help you build a bridge that would take you to your preferable decision. After you have done that correctly, it is time for the final action — intervention. 


Now comes the final and the most important part of the process – to intervene, to finally make the decision you desire. Based on the information you have derived from the previous two steps, you need to take action. Although it might seem easy to intervene at this point, it still can be quite difficult given the situation you are in. Sometimes, it is wise not to intervene at all if your previous two steps support that, and sometimes, it might be mandatory to intervene at once, not allowing you the time to observe and interpret properly. Therefore, it all comes to your intervention because action speaks for itself. 

The O-I-I cycle will not necessarily lead you to your right decision; rather, it is just a mere process, showing you the proper path to follow. If you realize that you have reached a wrong decision even after following the process, the next step would be to start over— that is why it is called a cycle. Modern leadership uses this process in order to solve adaptive problems/challenges.

Unlike technical problems, adaptive challenges are dynamic, unpredictable, nuanced, and ambiguous. For example, despite routine maintenance, a machine breaks down once every few months. The adaptive challenge here is the lack of ownership and caring for the machine because staff members see the machine as the property of the business or the company’s issue. Therefore, to fix the problem, we need to develop an adaptive change for ourselves, such as oiling the machine regularly, not using the machine roughly, etc. In this way, we are adopting a change in ourselves, in our behavior, which is the true nature of an adaptive problem. We face such situations quite often in our daily lives, and following this, we can practice leadership every day in our very own way.

The O-I-I cycle also depends on our values, beliefs, ethics, and several other personal traits. Therefore, since each of us has a different personality, it will not be wise to compare the O-I-I process of one to another. Thus, our overall decision should not be compared either. Because it is only normal to observe, interpret, and intervene differently from others in every situation. Hence, we will only have ourselves to blame and learn to take responsibility for our actions.