How Boyd finally got to the OODA loop

Chick Spinney, one of John Boyd’s closest associates, has revised his flow diagram depicting how Boyd’s strategic thinking evolved from his days flying F-86s in Korea in 1953 until his death in 1997.

Spinney Evolution of Boyds Ideas

In this chart, “ODA” is “orient-decide-act,” not “observe-decide-act.” As Chuck recalls, Boyd added “observation” in 1975, about the time he retired from the Air Force. “LWF” is the Air Force’s Lightweight Fighter program, which culminated in the flyoff between the YF-16 and YF-17 in 1974.

Note that Patterns of Conflict is about operating inside the OODA loop and says virtually nothing about the OODA loop itself. The only place Boyd develops — and draws — the OODA loop is in The Essence of Winning and Losing, 1996.

Chuck also highlights how Boyd returns to “Scientific/Philosophical Foundation Efforts” with Conceptual Spiral in 1992. Interesting to compare the two, the effects of 16 years of intense effort.

All of Boyd’s works, and a PDF of the above diagram, are available from our Articles page. I might also modestly recommend my “Origins of John Boyd’s Discourse,” which illustrates some of the domains Boyd investigated (e.g., evolution, complexity, Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, etc.) as he moved along Chuck’s progression.

2 thoughts on “How Boyd finally got to the OODA loop

  1. I was introduced to John shortly after Spinney’s ’83 TIME article appeared and sponsored his briefings a number of times. First time was just “Patterns of Conflict” … but he was working on “organic design of command and control” and the next time he crammed both in a single day. One of the things he would say about OODA-loop, that it was needed to observe from every possible facet (as countermeasure to biases). In discussions, we would talk about the various parts of OODA operated continuously and asynchronously (not synchronous, step-by-step).

    • Thanks – very good point. Even back then, Boyd wasn’t happy with the circular loop (which implies that one component must finish before the next can start.) That’s why he used to write it as “O-O-D-A” as you note. It took him a while, but he finally captured at least a first cut in his OODA “loop” sketch in The Essence of Winning and Losing. He died a couple of years later, so we can only guess where he might have taken it. Something for us to do, I presume.

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