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An OODA Loop Made of Straw

From AFJ:

…This notion that there are specific knowable causes that are linked to corresponding effects dominates military thinking and manifests in our drive to gather as much information as possible before acting. This concept was captured by Air Force Col. John Boyd’s decision loop: observe, orient, decide and act. In this OODA Loop, an endless cycle in which each action restarts the observe phase, it is implied that collecting information would allow you to decide independent of acting. Also implied is the notion that you can determine measures of effectiveness against which to observe each action’s movement toward achievement of your goal so you can reorient. The result of this type of thinking is to spend a lot of time narrowing the focus of what we choose to observe in order to better orient and decide. This drives one to try and reduce the noise associated with understanding the problem. We do this by establishing priority information requests or other methods of focused questions aimed at better understanding the core problem so we can control it.


The OODA Loop is not a linear process, orientation is the key and the OODA Loop does not by default “narrow your focus”. WTF?

Maybe the military or, more likely, some brigade commander, instituted a process like this in Iraq for their information-intel analysis, maybe not, but if they did it was not what Colonel John Boyd argued they ought to do. Nor is it an understanding of what the OODA Loop is or how it works.

Here’s an OODA Loop for Dummies level brief from Dr. Chet Richards intended for businessmen but there are more sophisticated explanations out there by Chet and others. Google is your friend. 🙂

Operating Inside Their OODA Loops

This post might help as well:

Chet on TEMPO….Rao on OODA

7 Responses to “An OODA Loop Made of Straw”

  1. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Here is what I wrote in the email exchange and I’m sure I’m on the fringe:
    From a cognitive perspective there is zero linearity in OODA. I’ve become attached recently to the notion of feed-forward (rather than feed back) because cognition is an emergent process—as is OODA. At the personal level, OODA is a splendid description of the connection of cognition to action. Polanyi, in his book Meaning, describes a tacit triangle where the three points are The Knower, Subsidiary Particulars, and the Focal Target—which are great descriptors, but I believe Polanyi would have been better served to describe the process they way NN Taleb described his anti-fragility concept—where the the anti-fragile system (which thrives on chaos—and to some extent, I believe human cognition may qualify as slightly anti-fragile) is fitted on a curve is convex, thus the mathematical function would be akin to a stairstep (I’m thinking a spiral stair step—which is hard to draw)—point is in the OODA process we’re constantly adding subsidiary particulars to our minds in the form of focal targets (objects of our immediate attention). Imagine playing a piano and using sheet music—if you take your eyes off the sheet music and look at your hands—chances are, you’ll lose your place; tempo/pace will suffer. So the symbiosis of the aural, combined with sight on the music and the physical completes the loop—three distinct neurological links combining to produce meaning and more subsidiary particulars from which to draw.

    I don’t have the math skills to attempt, but my guess is fractals (self-similarity) are writ large in the cognitive soup (I’ve called OODA a soup of cognition, for the inter-relations of our senses at any given moment have profound affect on "how" we respond.) Self-similarity  has a meaning component as our cognition is based on patterns—that are jagged and have multiple connections–bumping into/agreeing/disagreeing—being clueless together. Those patterns are mostly language based, and achieve an ability to share when we can articulate to others (kind of like an after action report to someone who has tacit experience in the arena being debrief).

  2. Peter J. Munson Says:

    Another gem quote from the article, "Decision-making in the 21st century will take place under conditions of ambiguity and hyperspeed in information."  What the heck is hyperspeed in information, other than a load of bull wrapped in a cool new buzzword.  I just don’t buy this, or most of the Design(TM) craniology rolling around.  I think it is mostly written by people desperately trying to make sense of a world they don’t understand, but they expect to be able to control finitely.  While information overload has different dimensions today, it is little different than the uncertainty of yesterday, and human relations, while maybe more complex, have never been something we could fully quantify.  Chaos theory, complex adaptive system analysis, fractals, etc, may as well be done with tarot cards if we really think we are going to get to a point of omniscience in the world of human interactions.  We need to observe and think with a very broad aperture and constantly reevaluate everything, while still having the boldness to act decisively when it is called for.  Some people can do this.  Many cannot.  No matter how hard we try to systematize our analysis, metrics, decision-making, etc, coup d’oeil is still relevant because certainty will always be an illusion.

  3. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "The result of this type of thinking is to spend a lot of time narrowing the focus of what we choose to observe in order to better orient and decide." I like how the author says, "what we choose" to observe. You don’t choose, you observe. I don’t think you actually "choose" your orientation either, but base your orientation on what you believe is a position of greatest advantage in the environment that your feed-forward gives you until the feed-back sets some kind of temporary position. The only restriction to orientation would be that your feed-forward is  biased, as orientation is an isolation of advantage, in the environment you observe. On the other hand, once the military understands the OODA loop, there probably is a lot of time spent "narrowing the focus of what we choose to observe", because going into the loop means a degree of uncertainty is present (as the gap between feed-forward and feed-back is real), and people, especially people (military) under that kind of pressure, naturally fear uncertainty. Its far easier to simply "see" what you want to see, as long as it is familiar.

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Larry, Concur. Choosing is failure out of the box. I believe observe is just as significant as orientation—with all the implications.

  5. Peter J. Munson Says:

    I wrote a longer essay expanding on my response here and some debates at SWJ and elsewhere.  It is at my blog here: http://peterjmunson.blogspot.com/2011/10/black-hole-of-real-thinking.html

  6. Larry Dunbar Says:

    I agree, not only is observe just as significant as orientation, but if you think of the OODA loop as an analogy of time-steps, then Observation takes the greatest amount of time, and covers the greatest amount of distance, i.e. step is the distance covered. Orientation takes less time and less distance to cover, because it is an isolation of the environment. In other words, with orientation you are isolating the point in time that gives you an advantage and isolating the positioning the bias from your past spatially within the environment. So as you approach Action, everything is compressed except Observation. Observation is not compressed, because, as in the hipbone game, the closer you get to the end of the game, the more differences are exposed, through feed-ahead and feed-back. Like the synapses in the brain, the gap between decision and action becomes a self-realization between the past and future. The advantage in a gap being that everything is duplicated with precision and accuracy (only inverted), and the "stuff" inside the gap holds judgement. Of course if there is no "stuff" in the gap, then the transfer is complete as-is and there is no judgement call.

  7. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Larry,
    We agree! :))
    At some point I’ll write a post on my thoughts relating to feed-forward, but you captured the essence in your observation about Observation takes the greatest amount of time. Part of Observation is preparation, assembling patterns from which meaning can be derived—whether fighting, playing ball, or litigating a case (just to name a few—for all activity has the elements of OODA).

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