In Boyd’s grand scheme of things, Orientation drives action. The easiest and most reliable way to defeat opponents is to mess with their orientations so that the resulting actions are ineffective, late, or missing altogether.
It’s an ancient idea, all the way back to Sun Tzu (“All warfare is based upon deception.”), and that’s just what we have in writing. We can be sure the idea itself dates way before Sun Tzu.
In any case, a few thousand years later, Boyd added the idea of operating inside the OODA loop:
Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. Strategic Game, 47
The core idea is that you have to execute your nefarious plan before your victim can understand what’s happening, which includes clearing up the ambiguity and seeing through your deceptions. And just as the picture is becoming clear, it isn’t the right picture. That’s how pickpockets and many stage magicians work. As Caroline Williams wrote recently for BBC Future,
According to neuroscientists our brains come pretty much hard-wired to be tricked, thanks to the vagaries of our attention and perception systems. In fact, the key requirement for a successful pickpocket isn’t having nifty fingers, it’s having a working knowledge of the loopholes in our brains. “How pickpockets trick your mind“
As we’ve pointed out before, the side with the most accurate orientation wins, or at least that’s the way to bet. Often, just good enough will do:
“A street thief will avoid like the plague people who are demonstrating a very open awareness of their environment. The man on the tube who is looking around, being very aware, they won’t go anywhere near,” quoting “stage pickpocket” James Brown.
If you read Williams’s article carefully, you can see that pickpockets play on the assumptions of their victims. For all practical purposes, “assumptions” might be considered as the static component of “orientation.” You might think of “orientation” as the mental model, based upon our assumptions, that we can use to make predictions about what will happen if …
Mistaken assumptions, then, often lead to mistaken conclusions, and this can happen even in the pristine world of physics, as another recent article, this time on PBS, illustrated:
Einstein was “one of the most accomplished scientists ever—he took part in the process of discovering quantum mechanics,” says [Harvard astrophysicist Avi] Loeb, and yet “he had a prejudice that turned out to be wrong.” Kate Becker, “The Mistaken Assumptions That Changed Physics History“
Another article worth reading carefully.
We read these, and our reactions might swing between “This is terrible; people should be more careful,” to “Idiots! I’d never do anything that stupid.” Boyd’s approach might be more like: These are indeed terrible. Wonder how we can inflict more of them on our opponents?