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.


A subject I know virtually nothing about, apart from the Wikipedia article and a couple of Taleb’s YouTube videos.

That being admitted, here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

Antifragility is a property of systems in which they increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.

Certainly sounds like a generalization of “operating inside the OODA loop,” which applies to conflict between sentient organisms and organizations.

I’ll be giving a closing keynote on operating inside the OODA loop at 11:25 ET on November 16 at the Agility, Resilience, and Antifragility 2022 Virtual Conference. It’s free and open to the public, so listen in.

New Podcast: Boyd From End to Beginning

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with a long-time friend and colleague, Jonathan Brown, to talk about John Boyd and discuss some of the major themes of John’s work.  To make it more interesting, Jonathan asked me to take the texts in reverse order, that is, starting with The Essence of Winning and Losing, then Conceptual Spiral, and continuing to “Destruction and Creation.”

The first week’s episode made it as far as Strategic Game. Next week’s podcast takes us through Organic Design, Patterns of Conflict, and finally to D&C.

Listen to Part I here:

An Orientation for IOHAI

Unlike “agility,” Boyd did define “orientation,” in Organic Design for Command and Control (1987).

Before giving his definition, he offered a preliminary thought, on page 13:

Orientation, seen as a result, represents images, views, or impressions of the world shaped by genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, unfolding circumstances and the processes of analyses and synthesis. (Emphasis in original)

Sharp eyed readers will note that by adding “analyses and synthesis,” I’ve brought the definition up to his final version in The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996). I think what Boyd is doing here is trying to ease readers into his definition, which, as we shall see shortly is complex. He’s going to define it as a process, which suggests inputs and outputs. In the representation above, he’s describing the outputs. 

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Boyd's OODA 'Loop," Really Final Edition

The Norwegian Defense University has just published a new version of “Boyd’s OODA Loop” in their journal, Necesse, edited by Royal Norwegian Naval Academy. I had thought that the previous version was about as close to perfection as can be found on this Earth, but alas Necesse is a peer-reviewed journal, and “Reviewer No. 2” ripped it to shreds. After I calmed down, it was clear that Number 2 was right. So the edition published in the journal is vastly improved over the last version.

As Boyd suggested in his final briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing (all of Boyd’s works are available for free download on our Articles page), the OODA “loop” is simply a schematic representing three processes and the interplay among them:

  • Using our existing implicit repertoire
  • Creating new and therefore unexpected ways to use our repertoire in the heat of conflict
  • Creating new repertoire, principally by training when not in direct contact with an opponent
From “The Essence of Winning and Losing,” 1996.

In fact, he even called his drawing of the OODA “loop” a “sketch,” strongly indicating that there might be better ways to represent these processes, and over time, people have suggested several.

The folks at Necesse have done a magnificent job of making this rather long and complex paper readable. Although I am sure there are many people involved whom I do not know — you have my sincere gratitude — I would like especially to thank two officers of the Royal Norwegian Navy whom I know quite well and am proud to call colleagues, Commanders Roar Espevik, Main Editor of Necesse, and Tommy Krabberød, who approached me with the idea of a new version of the paper and encouraged me to press on with a major revision as a result of certain peer review comments.

You can download the paper from the Articles page. The current edition of Necesse, which contains the paper, is available at, and past issues can be found at It’s an interesting journal. There are quite a few articles in English, and, through the miracle of Google Translate, you should have no trouble with the others. The origin of the name, incidentally, is found on the last page of the journal.

Inner conflict: Dragons and OODA loops

Artem Grinblat

My fascination with dragons started when as a boy. I’ve heard that a crane would beat a snake, deflecting and countering with its beak, that tiger beats crane, overcoming its defences with a flurry of paws, that snake beats tiger, finding a gap for precision strike, and that dragon beats them all, having four legs as a tiger, tail as a snake and long neck as a crane.

As fire-breathing cat-snake-birds, the dragons might represent our fear of predators but also, as Jordan B Peterson notes in this five minutes video, our strength when we conquer or tame them. They are also a symbol of flexibility and adaptation, of being able to show and combine efficiently what might be different and even opposite traits. And we might share this flexibility with dragons.

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Epistemology Evolves

Chuck Spinney has made a tweak to Evolutionary Epistemology, his look into Boyd’s process of destruction and creation.  If you’ve ever been put off by the density of Boyd’s paper, start here (download from our Articles page).

In particular, he added one more slide, Boyd’s “Revelation.” He explained: “As you know the Revelation was produced by Boyd at the completion of all his efforts … it is a great slide to end my brief.”


I agree. But on first reading, it may seem obvious, even trite. There’s more here, though, than meets the eye. You might try treating it like a Zen koan: What does he mean by “loser”? Somebody who loses all the time? Fifty-one percent? Only the decisive battle? Someone who quits? Does this apply to other forms of conflict, like business, where not every product or service is going to be successful? Would it be more accurate to describe a winner as someone — individual or group — who can build better snowmobiles than the competition? Seems reasonable, but it’s not what Boyd wrote. That, of course doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

And what about that term “appropriate?” According to the “Revelation,” losers can’t build snowmobiles at all, but winners not only have to build them but also employ them “appropriately.” Again, it seems obvious that to succeed, you have to use the thing you built, and why would you employ it inappropriately? Is Boyd driving at anything profound, or even useful, here?

Every word in the “Revelation” was pondered and debated, including many of the topics raised above, in those legendary phone calls Coram describes. What you see is what came out.

While we’re on the subject of winners and losers, you might compare the “Revelation” to The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996).


Not John Boyd

But a good video, nonetheless.

Here’s Prof. Daniel Bonevac giving an introductory lecture on the OODA loop:

Professor Bonevac is a member of, and was formerly chair of, the Philosophy Department at the University of Texas. I don’t know when this lecture was given, but the video was posted in April of this year. One of the interesting things about it is that Professor Bonevac is teaching a class on Organizational Ethics.

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