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Chris' Blog

The OODA Loop: An essential part of victory

Posted on October 1, 2016 at 10:25 AM

My college cross country coach would always remind us, if we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards. He had a great point, we always have to be aware of where we are, what’s going on around us, and what we need to do to improve the situation.



 

John Boyd was an American military strategist in the mid-late 20th century who is perhaps one of the must underrated figures in military history had a similar belief. Boyd thought by understanding our environment, taking into account everything related to the situation, deciding upon the best way to engage the situation, and acting effectively on it, all conflicts can be won. He referred to this method of making decisions as the OODA loop.


 

OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, act. It’s commonly shown in undergrad business course and military schools as a way to understand the market and military strategy, yet the depth behind why it is so value is often lost.


 

By understanding what the OODA loop is and how it truly works we gain a better understanding of how it is applicable to every decision we make and should be constantly occurring in the back of our minds with every task we do.


 

Boyd thought that the military used too many doctrines which can often transform with time into dogma. He felt people who rely on a doctrine for everything tend to forget there are other means of thinking. John felt people need to have an understanding of numerous ways of accomplishing task as well as disciplines that appear to be separate such as math, psychology, economics, physics, thermodynamics, game theory, and biology but can be pieced together providing a novel approach to an idea.


 

By piecing together different schools of thought it provides an outlook other people often overlook. This is extremely useful not only in the military but business, sports, and life.


 

The more intradependent skills and disciplines we can link together the more effective our orienting process (more on this later).


 

He also felt people never have a firm understanding of what is going on. That regardless of how hard we try, we will never see the whole picture because as we adjust the frame one way we lose sight of something else and the more we focus on one thing the blurrier something else becomes.


 

Boyd explained this using three theories:

 

  1. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems: Any model of the world is incomplete and thus must always be refined.
  2. Eisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: As we learn more about one area, more unknowns appear in another area.
  3. Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy of an isolated system increases with time.

 


What all this means is for a unit to prevail it must admit it works in a constantly evolving system that as more is learned, doors open to other unknown areas and the more energy we focus on one area the less energy we have to spend on another area. The only way we can understand where to place our energy and find the answers is by taking in new information from our surrounding environment and if we deny ourselves exposure to our environment, we are doomed to fail.


 

Back to the OODA loop. We start be observing ourselves with our surrounding environment. When we do this we take into account the unfolding circumstances of the situation, our guidance from above as well as our followers below, and taking in any information.


 

Once we successfully observe the situation, we can then orient ourselves by analyzing the information we have recently gathered and play out scenarios that we will later act upon. It is important to highlight that everyone will orient themselves differently based upon their culture, genetics, and past experiences. People with the same information make different choices all the time. Who we are impacts every decision we make. This is why it is important to always be learning and taking into account different cultures and disciplines.


 

Once we orient ourselves it is time to make a decision. Again, decision making takes into account all of the character traits mentioned above, but it is important to note that decisions do not always undergo the decision making process. Sometimes the decision making process is skipped when dealing with well rehearsed or impulsive split second decisions such as grabbing a child who is chasing a ball into oncoming traffic. It’s a decision we know to make so well that thinking would hinder us so our mind instinctively skips the decision step and go straight to acting.


 

This can best be described as what Colonel Jeff Cooper is referring to in his color code conditions of awareness. Colonel Cooper developed a four color system of awareness ranging from white, yellow, orange, to red. Overtime however, the system evolved into a five step process with condition black being a primeval state of awareness where only the now matters. During this stage the mind and body act upon instinct. There is no internal voice, concern for safety or outcome, and no sense of time. There is simply this instant. Since time is not a concern, there is no past experience to think about or future to worry about and therefore judgments are impossible and lacking the ability to judge an outcome, we cannot create a hierarchy of needs and thus nothing holds value. Without value nothing matters and if nothing matters fear cannot exist. This lack of fear along with reactive action rather than logical reasoning is condition black. It’s seeing, realizing, understanding or orienting, observing, acting.

 


Condition black is our most primitive animal brain survival instinct we have. It puts aside the amygdala portion of our brain associated with processing emotions and fear. Our Amygdala is connected to our sensory cortices (sight, hearing, etc.) as well as memory and the ability to recognize. By shutting down the amygdala we shut down our fear process and thus keep a more “awake” mind. We rely upon our neocortex decision making side of the brain that is responsible for logic and conscious decisions. Condition black allows us to react, no emotion, just acting out what we know.


 

Which brings up, rehearsal. A company commander does not simply send a platoon of soldiers out to accomplish a mission after giving a five minute brief. Depending on the mission, briefs can last hours and soldiers are shown sand models, overlay, and sometimes even act out their warrior task (individual skills) and battle drills (group skills) that they have practice repeatedly prior to their briefing. By rehearsing repeatedly the skills and drills become second nature to the solider so they can recall them automatically when the need arises.

 


Acting is what happens either instinctively during decision black or more regularly after we go through the decision making process and decide upon the best scenario. Acting is the most important step in the OODA Loop. Regardless of how well we observe, orient, and decide, if we do not act upon those prior steps it is all wasted.


 

The OODA Loop is used continuously in every action we make. We naturally use it for every decision we make and intertwine a variety of loops at once we just don’t realize it because like someone who has been riding a bicycle their entire lives it works in our sub-conscience. With that said, understanding the OODA Loop gives us an advantage during stressful high pressure decisions which all leaders encounter at some point or another. When the race is on and the stakes are high, the winner is the individual who can properly execute the OODA Loop the quickest.


Stay active, 


Chris Johnson

www.ImproveWithChris.com 

 

Categories: Coaching Theory

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