The OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop is a decision-making concept that was developed by military strategist John Boyd to describe the means by which an enemy can be defeated or a goal can be achieved even in the face of an imbalance of strength. Since its initial application in combat operations, it has been applied frequently in business, litigation, law enforcement, and other venues.


In the observe phase, the goal is to build a comprehensive, accurate understanding of the situation. This requires not only complete awareness of the environment, as well as the meaning of the available information. When observing, it's important to be able to quickly assess what information is valuable and what is distracting.

The orient phase is often overlooked, but presents the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk. Boyd described this phase as the schwerpunkt, meaning "the main thing."

When orienting, we engage in sensemaking, either developing a new narrative from observed facts (synthesis) or applying an existing mental model to the situation (analysis). A good strategist can do both, drawing on the tools of different disciplines to construct their understanding of the available information.

We must be mindful to always adjust our mental models as new information becomes available. If you create a mental model without being willing to destroy it, you are vulnerable to disruption.

We must also be sensitive to our biases. Boyd warned in particular of our cultural traditions, our genetic heritage(?), our ability to analyze or synthesize, and the constant influx of new information inhibiting our ability to orient effectively.

In the decide phase, we make an informed decision, choosing from whatever options are available. These options should each be treated as hypotheses that can be tested and refined. Any issues that are uncovered should feed back into new phases of observation and orientation.

Finally, we act. Then, we learn. And then, we cycle back to the beginning all over again.

Gaining an advantage with the OODA loop

To gain an advantage over an opponent, focus on the Orient phase. You can do this by:

  • Speed your execution tempo: this will disrupt your opponent's ability to orient itself among the new information you generate
  • Overwhelm your opponent by acting with great, sudden force
  • Disrupt your opponent's orientation with false information that reinforce mistaken mental models and inhibiting their sensemaking capacity