Any OODA is better than no OODA

John Boyd coined the term “OODA loop” some 25 years ago, but it’s always fun to watch a pundit, particularly a business guru, breathlessly discovering this amazing new strategy.

Here’s the latest one I’ve found, “What a Fighter Pilot Knows About Business: The OODA Loop,” on

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that anyone who writes about the OODA “loop” and credits Boyd (as this article did) is doing good work. Once people start down the path, a few will look deeply enough to make Boyd’s framework a powerful strategic tool.

Having said that, how much trouble would it be for authors such as this one, to Google “John Boyd” and learn a little about what he actually wrote?

For example, the article insists that:

4. Action refers to business process management (BPM). The right actions may require workflow or process orchestration, whether manual or via software, to control the flow of work and to trigger the execution of human (or automated activities) at the right time.

Does this, perhaps, give you a top-down flavor? People are “triggered” and presumably sit around with their thumbs up their you-know-whats in the interim. Boyd, by contrast, is all about creativity and initiative.  For example, on chart 74 of Patterns of Conflict, he wrote:

A common outlook possessed by “a body of officers” represents a unifying theme that can be used to simultaneously encourage subordinate initiative yet realize superior intent.

Nobody in an organization run according to Boyd sits around waiting to be “triggered.”

Oh well. As I said, anybody who spells Boyd’s name right is doing good.

[If you’d like to know what Boyd actually wrote about the OODA “loop,” I modestly recommend my paper, “Boyd’s real OODA loop,” available on our Articles page.]


4 thoughts on “Any OODA is better than no OODA

  1. Chet if you get a chance go to this link and read the free download On “Managing A Service Organization As A System ” And then see if you recognize a lot of Boyd in the article. Free download is on the left side of the webpage and you have to register but everything is Free. Later Slap

    [I haven’t visited this link and so can’t endorse it. — CR]

  2. “As Deitz points out: “90 percent of today’s businesses have neither the processes in place nor the proper culture to debrief.”

    And I have to wonder, out of the 10% that has culture in place, which culture is actually the “proper” culture. I have a feeling, by their use of the word “trigger” that most companies would use a debriefing as a tool to judge and ultimately punish/reward their employees performance, instead of actually “looping” back to extract data.

    Do you think that the fact (if I understand it correctly) that the Air Force isn’t structured as an OODA loop, but only makes use of the OODA loop in a very limited way is the reason the author didn’t really get it?

    While I agree that any mention of Boyd is good, but keeping your strong top-down structure while at the same time running the OODA loop within that structure seems very destructive (and not in the good way).

    Wouldn’t the running of the loop in a heavy top-down structure fill the organizations with very destructive messages deep within the organization?

    Ultimately is seems to me that a company so structured would find itself with a short-term gain, but a massive failure at the end. The failure will come as people find out that there is no loop, only a massive normalizing force from the top pressing down on them.

    The effort to include a OODA loop into a heavy top-down structure would ultimately boil down to lip-service being paid to people who are trying to orient within an unyielding structure. I mean most companies can’t even use employee evaluations correctly, and now they want to “debrief” people. I don’t know if I should wait for the book or the movie.

    Without the highly motivated people out-maneuvering everyone (even those at the top of their organization’s heavy top-down structure), any attempt at using an OODA type structure in a limited way, will ultimately fail.

    Which is probably where most of our military organizations are at.

  3. Chet, I’ve had a similar complaint with the lean startup movement. In my view, the over simplification of the loop may make some ideas easier to digest, but as you underscore in Certain To Win, the excessive focus on rapid cycle times misses the wood for the trees. Boyd provides a depth and breadth that is completely overlooked when he is reduced to rapid cycles of “build, measure, learn” and a footnote.

    • Chris, thanks. Exactly.

      In fact, focusing on going through the “loop” as quickly as possible may lead you to do a lot of dumb things. Like not think.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.