OODA LOOP: What You Can Learn from Fighter Pilots About Making Fast and Accurate Decisions - Farnam Street - Deepstash

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OODA LOOP: What You Can Learn from Fighter Pilots About Making Fast and Accurate Decisions - Farnam Street

OODA LOOP: What You Can Learn from Fighter Pilots About Making Fast and Accurate Decisions - Farnam Street



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What is strategy? A mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.

The OODA Loop

  • Military leaders and strategists invest a great deal of time in developing and teaching decision-making processes.
  • Developed by strategist and U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, the OODA loop is a practical concept designed to be the foundation of rational thinking in confusing or cha...

Forty-Second Boyd

John Boyd developed his ideas during his own time as a fighter pilot. He earned the nickname “Forty-Second Boyd” for his ability to win any fight in under 40 seconds.

 Boyd spent his career observing people and organizations. How do they adapt to changeable environments in ...

The Four Parts of the OODA Loop

OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The description of it as a loop is crucial. Boyd intended the four steps to be repeated again and again until a conflict finishes. Although most depictions of the OODA loop portray it as a superficial idea, there is a lot of depth to it. Using it shou...

Part 1: Observe

The first step in the OODA Loop is to observe. At this stage, the main focus is to build a comprehensive picture of the situation with as much accuracy as possible.

A fighter pilot needs to consider: What is immediately affecting me? What is affecting my opponent? What could affect us later...

Part 2: Orient

Orientation is frequently misunderstood or skipped because it is less intuitive than the other stages. Boyd referred to it as the schwerpunkt, a German term that loosely translates to “the main emphasis.” In this context, to orient is to recognize the barriers that might interfere with the other ...


Orientation isn’t just a state you’re in; it’s a process. You’re always orienting

Moving Beyond Our Cognitive Bias

Four main barriers prevent us from seeing information in an unbiased manner:

  • Our cultural traditions.
  • Our genetic heritage.
  • Our ability to analyze and synthesize.
  • The influx of new information — it is hard to make sense of observations when the situation keeps c...

One needs to note incorrect assumptions and biases and then replace them with fundamental, versatile mental models. Only then can we begin to garner a reality-oriented picture of the situation, which will inform subsequent decisions.

Example: A snowmobile comprises elements of different...

Part 3: Decide

Having gathered information and oriented ourselves, we have to make an informed decision. The previous two steps should have generated a plethora of ideas, so this is the point where we choose the most relevant option.

First-conclusion bias:  We cannot keep making the same ...

Part 4: Act

While technically a decision-making process, the OODA loop is all about action. The ability to act upon rational decisions is a serious advantage.

The other steps are mere precursors. A decision made, now is the time to act upon it. Also known as the test stage, this is when we experiment t...

Why the OODA Loop Works: Speed

Fighter pilots must make many decisions in fast succession. They don’t have time to list pros and cons or to consider every available avenue. Once the OODA loop becomes part of their mental toolboxes, they should be able to cycle through it in a matter of seconds.

Speed is a crucial element...

Why the OODA Loop Works: Comfort In Uncertainty

Uncertainty does not always equate to risk. A fighter pilot is in a precarious situation, where there will be gaps in their knowledge. They cannot read the mind of the opponent and might have incomplete information about the weather conditions and surrounding environment. They can, however, take ...

First Principles: Gödel’s Proof

Gödel’s theorems indicate that any mental model we have of reality will omit certain information and that Bayesian updating must be used to bring it in line with reality. Our understanding of science illustrates this.

In the past, people’s conception of reality missed crucial concepts such ...

First Principles: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

This principle describes the limit of the precision with which pairs of physical properties can be understood.

We cannot know the position and the velocity of a body at the same time. We can know either its location or its speed, but not both. 

If a pilot focuses too hard on where a...

First Principles: The Second Law of Thermodynamics

In a closed system, entropy always increases and everything moves towards chaos. Energy spreads out and becomes disorganized.

A  fighter pilot must be an open system or they will fail. They must draw “energy” (information) from outside them...


Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

Why the OODA Loop Works: Unpredictability

Using the OODA loop should enable us to act faster than an opponent, thereby seeming unpredictable. While they are still deciding what to do, we have already acted. This resets their own loop, moving them back to the observation stage. Keep doing this, and they are either rendered immobile or for...


We can’t just look at our own personal experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experiences and the strategic world we live in.

Ideas should be tested and then, if necessary, discarded.

OODA is a feedback loop, with the outcome of actions leading back to observations. 

We can incorporate testing into our decision-making processes by keeping track of outcomes in 



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