Systema: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act


Colonel John R. Boyd of the United States Airforce was a top fighter pilot who in his later years refined his understanding of arial combat into a four step lifecycle:

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

which came to be known as the OODA Loop. The objective was simple, increase the frequency of your effective strikes to a rate faster than your opponent to disorient him and achieve victory. The diagram to illustrate this, however is less than obvious:


As an alternative I prefer the sine wave presentation:


In this way we can have a better understanding of the OODA Loop over a period of time. Each time you cross the horizontal red axis you strike. One thing that must be noted is that the loop of the system in combat is different than the loop of the system in dialog. The combat loop of System A is closed. It does not wait for the target system to receive input or transmit output. In the following diagram System A is cycling much faster than System B and consequently striking more often:


Another quality of the OODA Loop is there is the entire cycle does not need to be completed. The following patterns are possible:


The shape of the cycle is irrelevant as long as you are able to complete the cycle more rapidly than your opponent. This is termed as being “inside the opponent’s loop”.

Another aspect is the ability to “push down” the amplitude of each cycle through proper training. You can act without orientation or decision being necessary if you have conditioned your system to provide the correct response to a given state.

And all of this fits in nicely with the Structured Thinking Lifecycle:


The difference is that Boyd has:

  1. Factored Repeat, Refine, Record into Observe
  2. Factored Report, Relate, Revise into Orient
  3. Factored Revise, Relate, Report into Decide
  4. Factored Record, Refine, Repeat into Act

Thus, the OODA Loop and the Structured Thinking Lifecycle complement each other nicely. All you have to do is choose your medium.