Patterns of OODA loops

In my brilliant exegesis of Boyd’s Discourse, “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop,” (available through the “Articles” link in the menu bar above), I noted that:

In his presentations on armed conflict—war—Boyd never wrote the term “OODA loop” alone but used the phrase “operating inside opponents’ OODA loops,” which he seemed careful never to define. (p. 9)

If you’ve been spending more time with Patterns of Conflict than is really good for you, you may know that this is not strictly true. Near the end of Patterns, on the bottom of chart 177 (out of 185), he states that:

Simultaneously—by repeatedly rolling thru O-O-D-A loops while appealing to and making use of the ideas embodied in “Grand Strategy” and “Theme for Vitality and Growth”—we can:

  • Evolve and exploit Insight/Initiative/Adaptability/Harmony as basis to:

Shape or influence events so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength (while isolating our adversaries and undermining their resolve and drive) but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success.

First thing you should probably do is replace “Insight/Initiative/Adaptability/Harmony” with “Insight/Orientation/Harmony/Adaptability/Initiative” keeping with the final version of the “Theme for Vitality and Growth” (Chart 144).

Chart 177, by the way, didn’t appear in the September 1981 edition of Patterns. Neither, for that matter, did the “Theme for Vitality and Growth.” What Boyd has done here is to add the constructive elements, the top two from Chart 141 (which does appear), to the destructive “operate inside the OODA loop” stuff that is what’s in the bullet before “Simultaneously” in chart 177. It would probably be a good time to pull that chart out and look at the whole thing.

What’s interesting is that he doesn’t say anything here, or in chart 144, about how “repeatedly rolling thru O-O-D-A loops while appealing to and making use of the ideas …” is going to help one evolve/exploit a useful grand strategy, which is what the last paragraph of that quote describes. The closest he comes might be on chart 143, which he begins with:

Up to this point—by repeatedly adding, stripping away, and recombining many different, yet similar, ideas and thoughts—we have examined the nature of conflict, survival, and conquest in many different ways.

“Adding, stripping away, and recombining …” sort of has the flavor of loops, perhaps even OODA loops. It also harkens back to ” Structure, Unstructure, Restructure, Unstructure, Restructure” from page 7 of Destruction and Creation.”

I think this may be what Boyd has in mind, my suspicion coming primarily from his next briefing, Conceptual Spiral (1992, also available in “Articles”). Conceptual Spiral is Boyd’s examination of novelty, and what he concludes is that to generate novelty in a way to be strategically useful, you need an “analytical/synthetic process” that involves observation, analysis/synthesis, hypothesis & design, and test. He doesn’t use the phrase “OODA loop” in CS, but he does in his last briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996):

Without OODA loops, we can neither sense, hence observe, thereby collect a variety of information for the above processes [CR: the elements of orientation], nor decide as well as implement actions in accord with these processes. (p. 1)

So you need OODA loops to feed orientation and test its results, and in chart 177, John is suggesting that the OODA loop is also the process for evolving IOHAI in order to pursue the “unifying vision” that is introduced on chart 143 and explained on the left side of chart 144.

The critical concept is orientation. Once you have that, any process that feeds information to it and tests its hypotheses will work as an “OODA loop.” In fact, on the next page of EOWL, he doesn’t say, “Behold the great OODA loop!” Instead, he titles that chart “OODA ‘loop’ sketch.” Sketch. This is worth remembering if you start to get dogmatic about the OODA loop–chalking it on the floor, lighting incense, chanting … that sort of thing.

One thought on “Patterns of OODA loops

  1. Lawsamercy, as we say here in the South, if we’re trying to talk like we’re characters out of Gone with the Wind. Just keep in mind a couple of points:

    • Patterns is an example worked out in great detail. You may find what it comes up with to be an interesting or useful example, but the main purpose of Patterns is to demonstrate that the scheme proposed in “Destruction and Creation” is not just a lot of scholastic theory. Don’t be intimidated; jump in and poke around.
    • Don’t take any of this stuff—mine or John’s or anybody else’s— as gospel. Think about it. Question it. Try it yourself.

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