Unlike Patterns of Conflict, where Boyd went through so many versions that he finally quit numbering them, he only distributed one edition of his paper, “Destruction and Creation,” which carries the date 3 September 1976.

“Destruction and Creation” asks the question:

Actions must be taken over and over again and in many different ways. Decisions must be rendered to monitor and determine the precise nature of the actions needed that will be compatible with the goal. To make these timely decisions implies that we must be able to form mental concepts of observed reality, as we perceive it, and be able to change these concepts as reality itself appears to change. The concepts can then be used as decision models for improving our capacity for independent action. Such a demand for decisions that literally impact our survival causes one to wonder: How do we generate or create the mental concepts to support this decision-making activity?

He gives an answer later in the paper, then spends the next 20 years illustrating his concept for creating and updating mental models (it may not be entirely obvious, but that’s what Patterns, Organic Design, and Strategic Game are).

Somewhere along the way, fairly early, perhaps only a year or two after D&C, he coined the term “OODA loop.”  Originally it was just that, a loop, a circular process of observe, then orient, then decide, then act. I’ve heard him brief it just that way.

But problems soon began to crop up. For one thing, it’s slow. For another, quality of decision and “speed” through the OODA loop can trade-off.  That is, to go faster, you may have to hurry your decision making.  A British writer and officer, Jim Storr, simply pointed out that real organizations don’t behave as if they were cycling through OODA “loops.”

In the last work of his career, The Essence of Winning and Losing, published shortly before he died, Boyd finally produced a sketch of the OODA loop that resolved these problems.  I’ve just posted a revised version of my paper “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop” that looks at what he came up with and why. This version notes that although he rarely wrote “OODA loop” by itself before his last briefing (lots of mentions, though, of “operating inside the OODA loop”), “rarely” doesn’t mean “never.”  There are, as best I can tell, three times in the 320 or so pages that separate “Destruction and Creation” from The Essence of Winning and Losing where Boyd does mention the OODA loop per se.  None of these, though, are accompanied by any description, definition, or explanation, much less a figure or diagram.

And I’ve done some wordsmithing and added an epilogue on the bookends theme.

You can download this edition, as well as all of Boyd’s works and lots of other interesting stuff from the Articles page.



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2 thoughts on “Bookends

  1. More information…

    Destruction and Creation has an original date of 1976, a year after Boyd retired from the Air Force. There is a 1987 version (minor changes) in the archives at Quantico. I recreated an electronic version at There is no mention of OODA loops in Destruction and Creation.

    During Boyd’s Oral History interview in 1977, he did say “Get inside his abilities to observe, decide, and act – the observation, decision, action framework.” (#237). Over the next few years, this expanded to include “Orientation.”

    Boyd included multiple text references to observation-orientation-decision-action and O-O-D-A loops in Patterns of Conflict.

    As listed on the page of “The Essence of Winning and Losing” (1995) with the sketch, Boyd wrote, “We can further clarify these statements and their interconnections by the following sketch.”. Besides the eponymous items (O-O-D-A), Boyd added items that included feedback, feed-forward, and interactions.

  2. I started doing feedback/feedfoward dynamic adaptive computer resource management as undergraduate in the 60s (IBM would pick it up and ship in their standard systems). One of the things I had to do for dynamic adaptive computer resource management was implement new instrumentation (observation) to gather the information for the dynamic adaptive operations. One of the hardest things (that I would joke about) was doing all the new instrumentation in zero instructions (aka very close to zero overhead).

    I started sponsoring Boyd’s briefings at IBM Research in the early 80s … and somewhat immediately hit it off with John … especially over feedback/feedforward characteristics. The first briefing was “Patterns of Conflict” only … and then I think he was experimenting with “Organic Design of Command and Control” … and would do both briefings in a single day.

    In briefings, Boyd would talk about doing observations from every possible facet (as countermeasure to orientation biases).

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