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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.


The OODA Loop: How Fighter Pilots Make Fast and Accurate Decisions

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

In a comprehensive study, many people were asked about the time taken for them to make decisions regarding their life partner, their choice of beverage, and evaluation of various kinds of data. In all of the cases, there was a false belief in the individuals that they would utilize more information than what they eventually did.

You make decisions more quickly and based on less information than you think

Humans falsely believe that we process information in an incremental, linear way.

  • The Anchoring Effect suggests that the first pieces of information are weighted in a much heavier way than subsequent pieces.
  • The Empathy gap makes people fail to understand just how deep each separate piece of information is, viewing it just like a dry statistic.

Some on-the-spot gut instinct judgements are often remarkably accurate, and can also save time.

On the flip side, many judgements based on a simple observation snowball into a series of missteps due to the problem of self-fulfilling prophecy, where confirmation bias makes the person see the very thing that is already believed as true.

Becoming Reasonably Good
There is a difference between becoming an expert vs becoming reasonably good at something:  An expert means reaching the lop level in one's field. Being reasonably good at something means you have moved from 'grossly incompetent,' and can now handle that activity reasonably well. If your goal is to have a reasonable understanding of some field, you can achieve your learning goal in 20 hours.

Use This 4-Step Formula To Learn Anything In Under 24 Hours

  • Break the skill into various small parts, remembering that every big skill is a collection of many sub-skills.
  • Identify the essential sub-skills needed to give you the maximum advantage.
  • Practice the most important part that you have discovered, using the 80:20 principle in your learning.

The Pareto principle states that 20% of your activities (even lesser) deliver 80% results (even more) in almost every area of your life.

You don't need to become an expert before you start to learn any sub-set of the major skill. You just need to learn enough, so you can self-correct when you make mistakes.

Remove any obstacles that may distract you from practicing your sub-skill. Television is the biggest culprit, followed by smartphones.

Learning something new will come with some frustration. That will be a time to safeguard yourself from any distractions so you remain focused on learning the skill.

Practice for 20 Hours

It is not humanly possible to practice all in a twenty-hour stretch.

A distributed practice learning method is achievable. It would roughly mean 45 minutes of practice for a period of thirty days in a row.

For instance, writing every evening for 30 minutes can give you a reward of a 25 000-word book in a 5 - 6 week period.

Brian Herbert
“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice”.
The major obstacle in learning anything new is not intellectual - it is emotional.

The fear of sounding stupid stops us. In reality, you can learn anything if you wish to with a little daily practise over a repeated period of time.

Directness in learning

If you have a concrete objective (speaking a language, passing an exam), how you practice should match the intended use.

An extension of this idea is that learning broadly is a bad idea - that you won't remember "useless" knowledge. But this is false. Having an extensive knowledge base makes learning easier.

The Value of Learning "Useless" Things | Scott H Young

We tend to think of skills reasonably broadly, but our skills are very specific.

Direct learning minimizes the chance that we will focus on learning information unrelated to our actual goal.

The magical "intuition" for hard subjects we notice in people like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman is owed to their extensive knowledge base they could draw from.

The broader and more varied the situations you need to perform in, the broader your knowledge base should be to help you think better.

Direct practice is not the opposite of deep understanding.

A naive approach to mastering, for example, physics problems, is to continue practising exam questions. But practising limited exam questions is not the same as the range of problems you will find in the real world. To solve real problems, you need a deep structure for understanding the problems, not just memorised solution patterns that you cannot apply.

In improving your knowledge base, you're not optimising for a specific goal, but all future learning goals.

  • Read more textbooks and less popular books.
  • Take more online classes on fundamental topics.
  • When you can't build higher, go deeper. You may be hitting the ceiling with your improvement in a specific area. The only way to get better is to do more foundational work.
Potential for creativity

Humans have incredible creative potential. Our ability for creating remarkable inventions like megacities or symphonies shows our capacity to imagine possibilities and make them happen.

Looking at history shows us that collaborative creativity was instrumental to our success in the past and the future.

How Imagination Makes Us Human -- Science of Us

Human creativity is our ability to move to and fro between the realms of "what is" and "what could be."
Creativity is a two-stage process:

  • It's the ability to work through a challenge or an idea by imagining possible outcomes that are not immediately evident.
  • It's the capacity to make that imagined outcome into a reality.

Creativity is not only about genius or limited to the work of original thinkers. Creativity appears from the interconnections of ideas, experiences, and imagination.

When we participate in an activity that involves our distinct human ability to imagine, create, or enjoy imagery, sound and sensations like poetry, music or carpentry, it stimulates cognitive and physiological processes that strengthen our creative abilities.

Our creative and collaborative actions have many beneficial outcomes, and we can try to use those to change or offset the negative.

Mistakes in predicting our future feelings

We are not very good at guessing how we'll feel in the future. In predicting how we will feel in the future, we commonly use the past experience as a guide.

But our brain favours the extreme and most recent events. We tend to focus on the main features of an event and less on the journey to get there. This means that we won't always make the best decisions about our lives.

Why predicting our future feelings is so difficult

We overestimate the strength of our emotions in the future.

Studies show that people overestimated their happiness at winning and their disappointment at losing because they forgot all the other things that would happen in a day that would influence their mood.

A lottery winner, for instance, won't spend every day celebrating their win. Nor will someone with a disabling accident spend all their time in shock.

When imagining either situation, we like to think that the feelings will be long-lasting. We forget that we will adapt and that the feeling will eventually wear off.

  • When we have a decision to make, it is recommended to solicit the views of people who have had the experience you're considering.
  • We can also ask the opinions of those around us since people tend to take a longer-term view when thinking about other people's choices.
  • The kind of questions we ask is also important. Instead of asking if you should take the new job, ask what they think your day-to-day life will be like if you take it.
The meaning of bridging differences

Bridging differences means finding ways to create positive dialogue and understanding across race, religion, political ideology, etc.

Eight Keys to Bridging Our Differences

Bridge-building does not mean that you always agree with the other person or find common ground with them.

  • Bridging starts by recognizing that the other person or group has their own needs, tastes, values, goals, and worldview. Bridging happens because someone feels they have been heard and understood.
  • The key to bridging is that you don't dehumanize a member of another group. You don't see them as less worthy of health and happiness when you disagree with them.

Bridging differences is not to convert people to your ideological position.

Bridging is trying to understand someone else's perspective. It requires asking them questions and seeing the world through their eyes.

Bridging doesn’t mean abandoning your beliefs or values.

Bridging involves the cooperation of people, even when people have opposing views.

When we think about bridging differences, we usually think about big gestures or breakthrough conversations. However, much of the work happens beforehand.

To ensure inner work, we often need to cultivate the right mindsets and develop better intrapersonal skills that can build the capacity for more positive interactions with other people and groups.

To bridge differences, you need to accept that you don't have all the answers nor that your view is the absolute right one.

Humble people show greater openness to other people's views and experiences.

Bridging might involve trying to overcome a history of conflicts or creating an alliance between once-opposing groups to work toward a common goal.

The psychological and emotional distance someone needs to travel determines the time it will take to build trust to cross the bridge. Dealing with the smaller concerns first is good practice toward the more complicated issues.

Bridging often requires taking risks and exposing vulnerability. When you really hear someone else's views, you may even risk being influenced by what you hear.

The willingness to be transformed is necessary to do authentic bridging work.

It's is questionable and counterproductive to ask people to bridge differences when they're being discriminated against or denied social power.

It could be harmful to forge a connection with someone who fundamentally denies your right to exist or threatens you with violence.

The rise of disinformation

Our world has a dizzying amount of propaganda and disinformation: political misinformation, ignorance, social media, scientific ignorance, etc.

Disinformation will always exist. However, we should know how to fight it. For that, we should consider Sophism.

Ancient Greeks devised a way to fight disinformation

Initially, Sophists taught education and rhetoric as well as music and other arts. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle believed Sophistry to be a lowly endeavor designed to sound profound.

But Sophists strove for Phronesis, or practical truth, above Truth (Sophia). Sophistry presents an argument that builds into a practical truth, not the Ultimate Truth.

Debates are essential for democracy. Sadly, social media platforms are not designed for introspection and dialogue. Social media allows for a rapid spread of disinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories.

Propaganda and disinformation create a realm where disbelief is disloyalty. Propaganda is compliance and the preferred vehicle for authoritarians. A healthy democracy should promote curiosity and debate.

The Pareto Principle

... or the 80/20 principle was coined in the early 1900s by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist. He observed that the pea pods in his garden were producing peas at this rate. 20 percent of the pea pods produced 80 percent of the peas. This output was then observed by him on a larger scale, across industries, societies and companies.

This principle states that 80 percent of the output or results comes from 20 percent of the input or effort.

How to 80/20 Your Life

The Pareto principle has been seen working in various fields, and domains:

  • Sales and Marketing departments recognised that 20 percent of the customers brought 80 percent of the products, and 20 percent of their sales force made 80 per cent of the sales.
  • Businesses realized that 20 percent of the costs led to 80 per cent of the expenses. They saw that only about 20 percent of their effort created 80 percent of productivity.
  • Human Resource departments observed that 20 percent of the employees created most of the value (80 percent).

We have never considered this before but the same principle applies to our lives.

  • The kind of food we eat, only 20 percent of it really matters.
  • The people we meet, 80 per cent of those are not worth meeting.
  • The stuff we buy (like clothes and gadgets), 80 percent of it we hardly use.
  • The things we do 80 percent of the time, are not providing many benefits or fulfilment.
  • The money we spend, most of it is not useful or healthy for us.

The 80/20 law, like gravity, is everywhere in your life.

Check your money flow, relationships, possessions, and the things you spend your time on, and find if there is any improvement that can be made in your life.


Metaphors use familiar objects and phenomena to help think through and talk about abstract ideas.

Although metaphors can illustrate ideas and provide insight, they can also limit them. There comes a point when the limits they impose will outweigh the understanding they provide.

Like a moth to a flame, we're drawn to metaphors to explain ourselves

Some studies suggest that one in every 25 words we use is a metaphor. The choice of metaphor can form the way we see the world and act upon it.

In a series of experiments, participants were given two identical reports about crime, except that one report described the crime as "a wild beast preying on the city" and the other "a virus infecting the city." When asked for solutions, those who read the first report suggested stricter law enforcement, while those who read the second proposed social reforms.

Metaphors, like “trickle-down economics” and “red wall,” help frame the issues and also our responses to social and political discussions.

When politicians compare the national economy to a household budget, they want us to think in specific ways about national debt or policies of austerity.

Metaphors also play a role in science. Science accepts that metaphors can be limiting, but admit that they are an essential tool for thinking.




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