OODA Loop 101 – Cindy goes sailing

Here is an article using some very concrete examples that I wrote explaining personal OODA loop processes for my clients.

You are a flow within a flow, a living changing system interacting with and within multiple living changing system systems. Your system has an always-on guidance system Colonel John Boyd called the OODA loop process.

When some odd noise wakes you up in the middle of the night, it isn’t the noise that woke you up- it was your OODA loop system “deciding” that you needed to wake up. We have to be sedated with powerful chemicals (or severely exhausted) to turn our OODA loops off.

OODA stands for:

Observation- All of the raw perceptual data coming in through the senses.

Orientation- The meaning / sense we make of the information—how we ‘see’ things.

Decision- Conscious and Unconscious decisions we make about what do as a result of the info gained in Orientation.

Action/Reaction- The action we take.

Our OODA loop processes are open, living, learning systems. Everything feeds back and forth into everything else. For example, as we Act, we consciously and unconsciously Observe of the results of our actions, thus we flow forward into another OODA loop.

Example– I am driving down the street in the city.

Observation- Blue Flashing Lights in the distance in the oncoming lanes of traffic, traffic going my direction is starting to slow down ahead of me.

Orientation- My mind has a history of experiences that look similar to this one- I surmise that perhaps there has been an accident or perhaps there is a crime scene up ahead.

Decision- I decide to move to the far right lane but stay on the street I am on. Since I am in the far right lane, it will be easier to bail out onto a side street if I see the traffic coming to a complete standstill.

Action- I move over to the far right lane. The OODA loop process continues.

Observation- Traffic is moving slowly, but moving. In a few moments I see wrecked autos and police on the other side of the street.

Orientation- I predict/think that the wreck will only slow things down, but not block the street totally.

Decision- I decide to stay on this street.

Action- I continue on my path, then I arrive home. Mission accomplished. OODA continues, over and over again.

Often there may be not be time to think. When there is no time to think (or when we do not stop to think), the mind will act according to whatever training (conscious or unconscious) has been installed in the past. When we experience a rapid reaction without thinking it will show us what has been learned that is operating at an unconscious level.


I am standing on a field at Goodfellow Air Force base in Texas, talking and joking with fellow soldiers. We are assembling to exercise together.

Observation- I hear footsteps running toward me rapidly from behind.

Orientation Process- I turn, see someone running straight at me, closing in quickly – My orientation process somehow deduces that she is going to try to push me over with her outstretched arms and hands.

Decision- There was no time to think. Thus, there was NO CONSCIOUS DECISION. No time for verbal thought. I REACTED (reactions come from our history of all sorts of experiences, good, bad, or otherwise).

Action- I execute a judo move I had learned about 10 years earlier and had not practiced since.

The OODA loop process continues-

Observation- As a result of my action (the judo move), I saw my friend Cindy go sailing over me and land on her back a few feet away. She was ok, fortunately. So was I. We laughed a lot.

The above example illustrates that I still ‘knew’ the judo move I had learned 10 years earlier. My friend Cindy did not know I knew how to do that. Neither did I, for that matter. My OODA loop process simply selected a response from my history—My mind “made me” do something in reaction to my Obervations of Cindy running towards me to push me over.

Cindy tried to push me over as a joke. She was in the Action phase of her own OODA loop process when I Observed her running toward me. My quick and effective OODA loop’s reaction surprised her—Cindy’s OODA loop processes did not adapt in time. The judo worked. Her joke backfired on her.

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