What is an OODA loop? It is neither a toy nor a traffic feature in Chicago. An OODA loop is a model of management functions first identified by Col. John Boyd, an influential Pentagon consultant and decorated Air Force fighter pilot. He was known to defeat an opponent in 42 seconds on average in a combat simulator. He attributes that feat to predicting where an opponent’s path will be, using his OODA loop model.
In the OODA loop (or the Boyd Cycle, as it is known today), the leading O is for observe, the second O is for orient, the D is for decide and the A is for act. For Boyd it was a continuous cycle that can be used to react quickly to overcome the moves of an opponent. Orienting and acting first to changing circumstances gave a pilot — or businessman — the important edge.
The Boyd Cycle is a model of agility. He was so effective as an agile fighter pilot he began writing his techniques down in the 1950s and teaching them to other pilots during and after the Korean War. His Pentagon lectures, in the early ’60s, on “patterns of conflict” were thought-provoking to both pilots and general officers. It was based on his experiences as a fighter pilot.
For Boyd, decisions were based on observation of the specific and evolving situation. This information is processed quickly, to orient it for the decision and then to act. The action provides new information to observe in the changing situation. In the orient phase, the individual is influenced by his opponent’s culture, which, if known, provides a clue to how this opponent may act. Masking your own cultural tendencies in a fast-paced situation can stymie an opponent. Do the unexpected!
Creating some confusion and chaos in an opponent is the goal of the Boyd Cycle. The more unpredictable you are, the less an opponent’s success. Maneuverability is as important in combat as it is in business. Doing the unexpected can obscure your real intention to a competitor. Surprise yourself and your competition. In the Boyd Cycle confusion occurs when an opponent thinks you will follow a predictable path and you do not.
In the business world, there are different models of success, each trying to reach a customer first with better and cost-effective products. In most models there’s a phase for data collection, for data interaction, and for identifying new efficiencies (observe). Data collection involves multiple sources and a variety of questions leading to better operations and efficiencies (orient). From here the process moves to decision-making and execution (decide). The next step is building the product or service by acting upon all the data to make it happen (act). Embedded in this business model is the OODA loop.
Other digital models have been proposed since the 1960s. Today, in a volatile, changing, crisis-filled world, they continue to build on Boyd’s original model and help to guide managers, especially in this very digital business environment. The digital world is a global world with resources coming from Europe, South America and the Far East, a far cry from the one-on-one world of the Boyd Cycle.
One cannot discuss contemporary business models without discussing the pandemic’s impact. Business models are being created for the post-pandemic world. These models focus on the evolving digital world. They answer the questions: “What happened?”, “What did I experience?”, “Why did this happen?” and “What will I do?”
They bring an arsenal of new resources to bear on these questions. Words like enable, engage, evaluate and envision are included in these new business models. Today there are teams that gather the relevant information and collaborate to “orient” and “decide.” There are also ana- lytics and artificial intelligence algorithms in “observe.”
Col. Boyd’s contribution persists since he originated and successfully used the OODA Loop as an ace fighter pilot in three wars. Col. Boyd died on March 9, 1997, yet the basic steps in many business models can be traced to his creativity.