The OODA Loop: How Fighter Pilots Make Fast and Accurate Decisions - Deepstash
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The OODA Loop: A Military Mental Model

The OODA Loop: A Military Mental Model

The OODA Loop is a four-step method to swiftly make effective decisions in tough and high-stakes situations. It is created by military leaders and war strategists who work in extreme situations and routinely face drastic scenarios.

The OODA Loop stands for:

  1. Observe
  2. Orient
  3. Decide
  4. Act

It is called a loop as it is intended to be repeated until the conflict is taken care of.


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OODA Loop: Observe

The first step is to observe the situation in a comprehensive and accurate manner, taking into account the visible information. A fighter pilot, for instance, can observe the following:

  1. How is the situation immediately affecting me?
  2. What is affecting my opponent?
  3. What could affect me or my opponent later?
  4. What predictions can be made here?

Similarly, a doctor meeting a patient for the first time has to observe and gather information, which apart from the visible symptoms, also means verbal cues, body language and diagnostic tests.


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OODA Loop: Orientation

Orientation is a basic step but is overlooked by many. We have to orient ourselves and recognize any barriers that might be an interference in the OODA loop.

Orientation takes an objective, unbiased look at the world, free from shortcuts and mental models that interfere with our thinking. Paying attention to our own assumptions and biases like old habits, ignoring new information, and even our own cultural traditions is recommended to orient ourselves towards reality.


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Orientation: Deductive Destruction

Deductive Destruction is a way to orient yourself by paying attention to your own biases and assumptions, and replace them with objective, fundamental thought processes.

One has to pull things apart (dissection and analysis) and then put them back together (synthesis) in new ways so that new ideas and actions are revealed.


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OODA Loop: Decide

After the groundwork has been laid by the previous steps of observing and orienting, one has to decide, creating a decision field to spot any flaws and decoys.

The first conclusion isn’t always right, and we cannot make the same decision frequently.


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OODA Loop: Act

Enacting decisions is different from the deciding part. One puts the decisions to test by taking action.

The results indicate the quality of the decision and the OODA loop cycles back into a feedback loop, where successful decisions are repeated and bad ones are improvised.


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Key Benefits Of OODA Loop

  1. Speed: Decisions and amendments are faster with the OODA loop. It is an essential mental toolbox and after practice, requires only a few seconds.
  2. Being comfortable with uncertainty: Uncertainty is part of life, and many decisions are made with incomplete information and a certain amount of risk. A calculated decision based on a scientific mental model minimizes uncertainty or makes it irrelevant.
  3. Unpredictability: People fail to see the logic of your decision if it is fast, and makes you appear unpredictable and formless, increasing your allure.


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



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Key Principles Of OODA Loop

  • Gödel’s theorems: They indicate that any mental model that we try to work with will omit parts of information and we have to use Bayesian updating (Continuously update the confidence in your beliefs as you come across new information) to bring it in line with reality.
  • Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: One cannot fully know the position and the velocity of an object at the same time. We can either know its location or its speed.
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics: In any closed system, things move towards chaos and energy becomes disorganized (entropy).


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Applying The OODA Loop

  • OODA Loop is a nimble technique in tune with the ever-changing environment around us and has to be applied in our daily decisions.
  • It is a formless technique that self-improvises and adapts to the real world.
  • We will start to make better decisions and increase our awareness, moving us towards our full potential.


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