Originally, the term refers to the implicit guidance and control link from orientation to observation, which then loops back into orientation. That loop can become locked, so that we only see what we want to see, thereby reinforcing our original orientation.
More generally, it refers to Boyd’s comment at the bottom of Chart 3 of The Essence of Winning and Losing (the infamous OODA “loop” sketch):
Note how orientation shapes observation, shapes decision, shapes action, and in turn is shaped by the feedback and other phenomena coming into our sensing or observing window.
Problems can arise when we limit the range of phenomena so that we don’t detect mismatches in time to do anything about them. Here’s an interesting example, from “What Martial Arts Have to Do With Atheism: An interview with Sam Harris about self-defense and the seduction of faith,” by Graeme Wood at Atlantic.com.
First, an aikido master demonstrating the technique of the “touchless takedown/no-touch knockout” with a group of his students:
And then what happens when he confronts a master who is not one of his students:
[I can't vouch for the authenticity of either of these. Read the article and decide for yourself.]
Along those same lines, here’s a recent piece in the New York Times that refers to David Freedman’s summary of John Ioannidis’s paper on why so much published, peer-reviewed scientific research is wrong, in that it cannot be reproduced or is contradicted by more precise studies later on. As Freedman’s original article notes:
Simply put, if you’re attracted to ideas that have a good chance of being wrong, and if you’re motivated to prove them right, and if you have a little wiggle room in how you assemble the evidence, you’ll probably succeed in proving wrong theories right.
This is an extremely difficult habit for leaders to break because it requires you fire sycophants (who may be long-time friends or even family members), promote unorthodox or unpleasant employees who habitually tell you the truth, and establish robust ties to the eternal world, even when others inside the organization complain that you’re stepping on their toes.
You’re already doing all this? Oh, really?