How OODA loops break
Summary: Analysis of America on the FM website talk about broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) Loops. But what does this description mean? What are the consequences? Here’s the second of a series by Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) explaining this important subject.
In the last post, I ruminated on what a broken OODA loop is. But what is it that breaks?
A working OODA loop needs things like (see the OODA loop sketch at the end of this post):
- A repertoire of actions that can flow implicitly from orientation, that is, you need to be (physically) able to do them and do them intuitively as Boyd would say
- Implicit guidance and control links that can initiate these actions, that is, you can act when you intend to act
- Orientation that can trigger appropriate actions, that is, you have made the process of selecting actions intuitive (that does not mean mindless, by the way)
- A functioning conceptual spiral, that is, the “continuing whirl” of reorientation, mismatches, analyses and synthesis that does a couple of things. First, it keeps our orientation process aligned with reality, the unfolding situation. Think of this as allowing us to deal with the novelty that is flowing “around and over us,” much of it generated by our opponents. Second, it allows us to generate novelty of our own. I go into interminable detail on this in “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the Meaning of Life.”
If any one of these is absent, if it “breaks,” then the OODA loop is broken. Just from looking at the length of the descriptions on this list, you can probably guess where most problems arise: Orientation. To come to grips with this, you have to keep in mind that although we often talk about orientation as a picture, as our impression of reality at some point in time, it really refers to the process of keeping those pictures up to date and projecting them into the future so we can use them as decision models.
Or, as Boyd once told me, an orientation is simply a pattern of ideas and actions.
Think of orientation as something like an attractor. For example, if your orientation is that lower prices drive sales, then all of your actions will revolve around lowering prices — discounts, sales, rebates etc. Higher quality, cool features, and better service may not take as important a role. Your orientation will change over time, but it will always stay within this pattern of “low prices drive sales.”
Problems occur when the orientation process “locks” in a pattern that isn’t producing accurate representations of reality or, equivalently, decision models that don’t provide effective actions. Suppose, for example, that the “low prices drive sales” orientation suddenly confronts a competitor whose orientation attractor might be described as “insanely great” (and, of course, who has the actions to make it happen). Unless the low price competitor can shift in time to a more effective pattern, they are doomed.
Another problem is when there is not a common implicit orientation, that is, when there is no attractor or when there are many. In other words, when we don’t agree. This is probably what most people mean when they say that our OODA loop is broken. As Fabius notes, “America will be what we will it to be. Until we have agreement on that, in some broad fashion, we can do little.”
About the photograph: “Broken Glass Shards” by Epoxydude.
For More Information (and a picture of a OODA loop)
(a) Other posts about OODA loops:
- Boyd’s Real OODA Loop, Fast Transients, 28 September 2012
- John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the meaning of life, Fast Transients, 11 October 2012
- The lowdown on OODA Loops, 16 October 2012
(b) Posts about America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop)
- The housing crisis allows America to look in the mirror. What do we see?, 8 March 2009
- The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
- The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
- We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009
- A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
- Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009
- The weak link in America’s political regime, 16 September 2009
- DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009
- Attention fellow sheep: let’s open our eyes and see the walls of our pen, 16 October 2009
- America’s broken OODA loop in action: a swarming attack by ankle-biters in our intelligentsia, 26 February 2011
- Today’s geopolitical analysis. Let’s laugh while America’s wealth flows down the drain., 11 August 2011
- A look at an enemy of America, and a discussion about the execution of al-Awlaki, 13 October 2011 — Facts are less important than our tribal loyalty.
- Chuck Spinney explains our broken OODA loop, 25 September 2012
A picture of a OODA loop in action