Boyd’s OODA “Loop”: What and why?

As Frans Osinga pointed out in his 2006 examination of John Boyd’s philosophy of conflict, Science, strategy and war: The strategic theory of John Boyd, the OODA loop is the best known but probably most misunderstood aspect of Boyd’s body of work. Even today, it’s very common to see people describe the OODA loop as a loop. However, when Boyd finally got around to producing a “sketch” of the “loop” (his terms), it was, as I’m sure practically all readers of this blog know, something entirely different.

From “The Essence of Winning and Losing,” 1996.

Why? The reason is that the OODA “loop” is an answer to a specific problem. It is not, for example a model of decision making — in fact, it simply requires you to make implicit and explicit decisions and link them to actions, all the while experimenting and learning.

On November 30, I gave a lecture on this subject to the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. My host, Johan Ivari, arranged for it to be recorded and made available on the University’s web site. They broke it into two parts:

Part 1

Part 2

I had a lot of fun with this, and the students asked some great questions. I hope you enjoy it!

By the way, check out some of the other interesting videos on their site.

2 thoughts on “Boyd’s OODA “Loop”: What and why?

  1. Hey Chet, hope all is well with you!

    Appreciate the links below. Don’t see much on John anymore, so thought I’d pass on a couple of things.

    Great brief/talk! Was glad to see you referencing Cynefin and Recognition Primed stuff. Going back aways, I saw things sorted out as Boyd on warfare, you on business, Fred Leland on law enforcement, and Don Vandergriff on mission command. My focus — of which you were of great help — presented through Project White Horse 084640 ( was on decision making in unconventional or severe crisis.

    The last post ( included a fairly long two parter:

    DaVinci’s Horse #6 At Five Years: Unconventional Crisis, Narrative Rationality, Sense-making, and the Readiness Factor

    This was my view of things after 9-11, lots of reading, designing, doing, and analyzing homeland security exercises combining Boyd, you, Snowden on Cynefin, Klein on RPD, Lagadec on unconventional crisis; And a piece done for the Navy on High Reliability organizations, plus couple of others. (Included discussion of the Mann Fire also) The idea of “The Readiness Factor” made a lot of sense to me then 10 years after 9-11 (motivated by your recent, read again after a long time) and still makes sense to me today. Alas, I’m not sure anyone other than Fred Leland read any of it. Combination of no response, changing jobs, and changing nature of things that long after 9-11, I figured I’d done everything I was capable of and with one exception related to developing some modeling and sim stuff for higher level folks in disaster management (based on training for “readiness”) which never got much off the ground without funding, I went back to looking at the air-sea-battle stuff and South China Sea, then retired.

    Since retiring, I’m indulging my hobby related to aviation with a website –

    Last two years been helping an old friend BGEN RG Head on his book on attack aviation -just published , my review on the link. Shorter version attached.

    LWF /F-16 is discussed and RG uses that with Boyd stuff and Gen Mike Loh inputs in his book briefs. Loh was RG’s classmate in the second class at the AF academy.

    Final thing, have you seen recent book Flying Camelot: The F-15, the F-16, and the Weaponization of Fighter Pilot Nostalgia? (

    Story line is a lot about John, Fighter Mafia and Reform stuff. Author actually tries to be even handed, but has some weird ideas about combat aviators. You indeed may find much amusement but it is well written and has some intriguing thoughts.

    Again thanks for sending the links on

    All the BEST


  2. Had to stop the video just for a second and – in addition to “thank you for posting this” – take note of the reference to Kahneman’s System 1 thinking. Internalization of this kind of thinking probably fits up well to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state.
    I’m just binging on all the content here and finding so many connections to other topics, perhaps too many. What’s noise and what’s signal?

    Thanks again!

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