Why this fighter pilot’s warfighting doctrine should be added to your toolbelt

Diagram of Boyd's OODA loop

In 1961 Korean War fighter pilot veteran, John Boyd, wrote a study of dogfighting tactics that included a tool that is still not only used by organizations like the US Marine Corps but by businesses the world over. 

It’s called the OODA (oo-dah) loop. Tactical in nature, it stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It was used to decide the actions that should be taken during aerial combat. By acting quickly, a pilot can outmanoeuvre the enemy by making quick decisions, thereby “getting inside” the opponent’s loop.

On the face of it, people and organizations already use this decision-making intuitively. However, Boyd’s method forces people using the OODA loop to reevaluate when circumstances change. 

For today’s blog post, the biggest takeaway from the idea of the OODA loop is to change our orientation based on changing circumstances. 

The tool encourages asking questions like: How has our opponent’s (or audience’s) orientation changed? Are we still pointed in the right direction? Are we looking at the right field of play? Does anything need to change? If so, new decisions and new actions would come from that reassessment.

This allows us to become more comfortable with ambiguity and changing scenarios. It keeps us from locking into a single course of action.

It’s hard to imagine a fighter pilot being inflexible in reassessing a situation based on the feedback he’s given from the enemy.

This change can be done on a large scale.

One example is global leaders deciding to deemphasize fossil fuels in favour of cleaner energy. This would be based on the observation that the world is warming and based on the orientation that doing nothing will result in climate risk that will increasingly become unmanageable.

Or it can be done on a small scale. For example, learning that CBC’s Marketplace is currently investigating a customer complaint that management didn’t think was a big deal. This changing situation will require a reassessment of the decisions being made.

So, the next time you’re planning a campaign, look to the skies for some inspiration.