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The OODA Loop is a concept originated by military strategist Col. John Boyd of the United States Air Force. Its main outline consists of four overlapping and interacting processes: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.
The accompanying diagram shows a decision cycle known as the Boyd cycle, or the OODA loop. It has become an important concept in both business and military strategy. According to John Boyd, decision-making occurs in a cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (either an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain a military or business advantage.
John Boyd developed the concept to explain how to direct one's energies to defeat an enemy and survive. Boyd emphasised that "the loop" is actually a set of interacting loops that are to be kept in continuous operation during combat. He also indicated that the phase of the battle has an important bearing on the ideal allocation of one's energies.
Boyd’s diagram shows that all decisions are based on observations of the evolving situation tempered with implicit filtering of the problem being addressed. These observations are the raw information on which decisions and actions are based.
The observed information needs to be processed to orient it for further making a decision. In notes from his talk “Organic Design for Command and Control”, Boyd said, “The second O, orientation – as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences – is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act” (the underlining is Boyd’s). As stated by Boyd and shown in the “Orient” box, there is much filtering of the information through our culture, genetics, ability to analyze and synthesize, and previous experience. Since the OODA Loop was designed to describe a single decision maker, the situation is usually much worse than shown as most business and technical decisions have a team of people observing and orienting, each bringing their own cultural traditions, genetics, experience and other information. It is no wonder that it is here that decisions often get stuck and the OODA Loop is reduced to the stuttering sound of “OO-OO-OO” . 
Getting stuck does not lead to winning as "In order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries--or, better yet, get inside [the] adversary's Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop. ... Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries--since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against."  (John Boyd, "Patterns of Conflict" presentation)
The OODA loop that focuses on strategic military requirements, was adapted for business and public sector operational continuity planning. Compare it with the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) cycle or Shewhart cycle, which focuses on the operational or tactical level of projects. 
As one of Boyd's colleagues, Harry Hillaker, put it in his article "John Boyd, USAF Retired, Father of the F16" : The key is to obscure your intentions and make them unpredictable to your opponent while you simultaneously clarify his intentions. That is, operate at a faster tempo to generate rapidly changing conditions that inhibit your opponent from adapting or reacting to those changes and that suppress or destroy his awareness. Thus, a hodgepodge of confusion and disorder occur to cause him to over- or under-react to conditions or activities that appear to be uncertain, ambiguous, or incomprehensible.
Consider a fighter pilot being scrambled to shoot down an enemy aircraft.
Before the enemy airplane is even within visual contact range, the pilot will consider any available information about the likely identity of the enemy pilot: his nationality, level of training, and cultural traditions that may come into play.
When the enemy aircraft comes into radar contact, more direct information about the speed, size, and maneuverability, of the enemy plane becomes available; unfolding circumstances take priority over radio chatter. A first decision is made based on the available information so far: the pilot decides to "get into the sun" above his opponent, and applies control inputs to climb. Back to observation: is the attacker reacting to the change of altitude? Then to orient: is the enemy reacting characteristically, or perhaps acting like a noncombatant? Is his plane exhibiting better-than-expected performance?
As the dogfight begins, little time is devoted to orienting unless some new information pertaining to the actual identity or intent of the attacker comes into play. Information cascades in real time, and the pilot does not have time to process it consciously; the pilot reacts as he is trained to, and conscious thought is directed to supervising the flow of action and reaction, continuously repeating the OODA cycle. Simultaneously, the opponent is going through the same cycle.
How does one interfere with an opponent's OODA cycle? One of John Boyd's primary insights in fighter combat was that it is vital to change speed and direction faster than the opponent. This is not necessarily a function of the plane's ability to maneuver, rather the pilot must think and act faster than the opponent can think and act. Getting "inside" the cycle — short-circuiting the opponent's thinking processes - produces opportunities for the opponent to react inappropriately.
Another tactical-level example can be found on the basketball court, where a player takes possession of the ball and must get past an opponent who is taller or faster. A straight dribble or pass is unlikely to succeed. Instead the player may engage in a rapid and elaborate series of body movements designed to befuddle the opponent and deny him the ability to take advantage of his superior size or speed. At a basic level of play, this may be merely a series of fakes, with the hope that the opponent will make a mistake or an opening will occur. But practice and mental focus may allow one to reduce the time scale, get inside the opponent's OODA loop, and take control of the situation - to cause the opponent to move in a particular way, and generate an advantage rather than merely reacting to an accident.
The same cycle operates over a longer timescale in a competitive business landscape, and the same logic applies. Decision makers gather information (observe), form hypotheses about customer activity and the intentions of competitors (orient), make decisions, and act on them. The cycle is repeated continuously. The aggressive and conscious application of the process gives a business advantage over a competitor who is merely reacting to conditions as they occur, or has poor awareness of the situation.
The approach favors agility over raw power in dealing with human opponents in any endeavor. John Boyd put this ethos into practice with his work for the USAF. He was an advocate of maneuverable fighter aircraft, in contrast to the heavy, powerful jet fighters that were prevalent in the 1960s, such as the F-4 Phantom II and General Dynamics F-111. Boyd inspired the Light Weight Fighter Project that produced the successful F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet, which were still in use by the United States and several other military powers into the twenty-first century.
- Decision cycle
- John Boyd (military strategist)
- Maneuver warfare
- SWOT analysis
- Problem solving
- Nursing process
Footnotes and references
- ↑ David G. Ullman, “OO-OO-OO!” The Sound of a Broken OODA Loop, Crosstalk, April 2007, http://www.stsc.hill.af.mil/CrossTalk/2007/04/0704Ullman.html
- ↑ Jim Kotnour, Leadership Mechanisms for Enabling Learning Within Project Teams in proceedings from the Third European Conference on Organizational Knowledge, Learning and Capabilities, OKLC 2002
- The complete set of briefings by John Boyd, including analysis and links
- The Essence of Winning and Losing — a five slide set by Boyd.
- Constructing The Infrastructure For The Knowledge Economy: Methods and Tools, Theory and Practice, By Henry Linger, p.449
- Frans Osinga, Science Strategy and War, The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-37103-1. Argues that Boyd's own views on the OODA loop are much deeper, richer and more comprehensive than the common interpretation of the 'rapid OODA loop' idea.
- David G. Ullman. Making Robust Decisions: Decision Management For Technical, Business, and Service Teams. Victoria: Trafford ISBN 1-4251-0956-X — ties the OODA Loop into decision making processes.
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