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John Boyd and the four qualities of victorious organizations (jasonlefkowitz.net)
67 points by smacktoward on Nov 4, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

I've been a student of the concept of the OODA loop for about 6 or 7 years now. I've found that it shows up in different names all over every where. John Cleese talked about it many years ago "how to avoid being uncreative" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9rtmxJrKwc), his "open mode" thinking is the Observing, his "closed mode" is the Orienting, etc. Elle Luna talked about it recently, too (http://elleluna.com/post/57362799018/what-advice-would-you-g...), "divergent vs. convergent thinking" and where you go from there. It's what Scrum is all about.

I think what is really interesting about Boyd's formulation is that you can also use it as a diagnostic tool if you're having problems. There are various pathologies that appear if you drop one of the letters of OODA and still try to make work out of it. A lot of small startups get stuck in DA loops: they fail to come out for air every once in a while to Observe what is going on in the world and Orient themselves to that situation. A lot of big corporations get stuck in OO loops: they spend tons on meetings, on status reports, on market analysis, but decisions never get made and nobody has the authority to take any action.

By studying each of the pieces, how well you are doing in each, and how streamlined they are, you get a very good idea of how well you are executing work.

It's also very interesting that OODA is a fractal strategy. You have OODA loops inside of OODA loops. You can have a yearly OODA loop (project) with monthly OODA loops inside of it (sprints), and daily OODA loops inside of that (stand-ups and day-to-day operations).

> I've been a student of the concept of the OODA loop for about 6 or 7 years now. I've found that it shows up in different names all over every where.

OODA is essentially just another name for the scientific method, so its not really that surprising that it shows up under different names all over everywhere.

(Note: that I'm not intending to minimize the value of OODA by pointing out that it is just another name for the scientific method -- successfully explaining the scientific method in terms that get people to understand it and apply it effectively in specific domains -- particularly ones that have strong, established cultures that resist adaptation, is a significant accomplishment.)

> It's what Scrum is all about.

Well, its what Agile (and perhaps more to the point, Lean) is all about; Scrum is a tightly defined set of processes that comes with the caveat that if you aren't doing this exact set of processes as described, you aren't doing Scrum, and as such its somewhat in tension with OODA.

The scientific method is a method to create and verify plausible explanations for phenomena.

Strategic thinking is a method to make decisions in face of uncertainty. There is nothing scientific about it, though there are tactics in which a commander might make probing attacks to gain intelligence and test the adversary. Ultimately though, you are making decisions and taking action with inherently incomplete information.

One of the things that happen in adversarial dynamics is to use misinformation to screw around with someone else's OODA loop.

So no, OODA and strategic thinking in general are not essentially just another name for the scientific method, though it may employ science, or a skeptical stance as one of many tools to make decisions and take action. That frame of thinking exposes a limited understanding of OODA and strategy, one that is exploitable by an adversary.

Kind of disagree with the first part. But only from a perspective stand point. (Top of the structure vs half way up.)

Basically, I contend that OODA is probably the best model of human cognition - how humans capture and process information into behavior. All behavior.

The scientific method is just one application of OODA. One designed to answer questions.

Right, I don't think the scientific method captures the competitive timing aspects of the wider OODA framework.

My first exposure to Boyd and the OODA loop was about 2 years ago when I first read Steve Blank's The Four Steps To The Epiphany, and now I'm hooked. I can't wait to dig into some of the books and other resources this thread has brought to light.

It's also very interesting that OODA is a fractal strategy. You have OODA loops inside of OODA loops. You can have a yearly OODA loop (project) with monthly OODA loops inside of it (sprints), and daily OODA loops inside of that (stand-ups and day-to-day operations).

That's an excellent point and an interesting way of looking at it.

I wonder if many (most?) businesses could benefit from making the OODA loop more explicit in their operations and challenge people to think "What part of the loop am I operating in right now?" when they make decisions or take actions. Encoding the Boyd Loop right into business processes at the BPM level could be an interesting experiment...

Here's the thing though. You can hardcode serial processes with OODA in mind. That's basically what the Toyota version of lean is.

But not only is OODA fractal, but it's concurrent. Hundreds running in parallel that comprise the enterprise. The takeaway is that the processes need a shared O for that kind of organization to work.

Here's a deck I put together a while ago on this: http://www.scribd.com/doc/97861801/OODA-Build-Measure-Learn-...

The fractal goes even further. Why do you think REPL is so powerful of a feature? It essentially allows you to Observe the code and how the system reacts to running it, Orient that reaction to what you know about the system, and make quick Decisions and Actions to change it, all in a framework that encourages fast turn around time.

Frans Osinga's book would be more insightful for anyone who was interested in this article. There is a small cottage industry that has grown around Boyd's work (every year there is a conference dedicated to his ideas held at Quantico every year.)


I was about to recommend that book. It's amazing. If anybody wants to read more about Boyd I would also highly recommend Coram's book that the article mentions, I am in the midst of re-re-reading it, what a force of character.

There are also audio recordings of one of his briefings on YouTube.

The Osinga book is available free as a PDF. But if you do pay for it, it's worth every penny.


I'm making my way through this book now. It's very rough terrain since the book was a PhD thesis, but it's really the best in-depth look at Boyd's work, of which I am a big fan!

It isn't an easy read. It took me two readings and about 6 months to really start to crack the depth of the ideas.

Many people come away with only the shallow surface message and end up worse off for it. (Also acts as a nice filter)

Hi, author of the post here -- I hadn't been aware this book existed, thanks for bringing it to my attention! Adding to my must-read list now...

Good recommendation. Its a thorough book looking at the genesis of OODA (& much more). Not an easy read since its much deeper than pop-nonfiction that most people are used to.

Here are some notes I took on Certain to Win by Chet Richards. I highly recommend it, it translates boyd's strategy to business.


Boyd more or less invented the "OODA Loop" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop

Not more or less...Boyd DID invent the OODA loop. He wrote it, designed and built most modern fighter aircraft tactics from it

Love the OODA loop (and especially Boyd's idea of denying to to your enemy: kill their ability to act then kill their ability to decide and so on). My article on the topic: http://www.win-vector.com/blog/2010/04/deming-wald-and-boyd-...

No, it was Bode who invented it


By the way, its true name is "negative feedback control".

> By the way, its true name is "negative feedback control".

No. That's like saying a car's true name is muffler.

Bode along with Harold Black, Harry Nyquist, all contributed parts to control theory while at Bell.

Boyd incorporated their work to formulate OODA, which is a distinct thing and very much his invention.

Yeah, this is one of my pet peeves. "Feedback" originally had a quite technical meaning that it more or less lost once it became a buzzword in the 50s, in much the same way that "object oriented" lost its meaning in the 89s.

The really important thing about "feedback control" as developed by Black, Nyquist, et al. wasn't that they realized it's a good idea to check to see whether your plan is actually achieving its goal, and correct if it's not. That's just common sense, after all (although the usual disclaimer about common sense being uncommon applies).

The real technical contribution of "feedback control" is that true feedback, in the sense of a dynamic system, can control a system without having to build a model of it. I.e. if your control system is fast enough relative to the system it's controlling, it doesn't have to _predict_ anything, it can just _react_.

Which, if you think about it, is really the _opposite_ of what people usually mean when they say your manager gives you feedback in your performance review, customers give you feedback on your product, etc. When you get that kind of feedback, you still have to figure out what it means in order to do anything with it.

Which, among other things, led to the entire lean startup movement. http://shloky.com/announcing-origins-of-the-lean-startup/

Hey, thanks for the link.

Several books on Boyd show up on various military reading lists (http://militaryprofessionalreadinglists.com/search?keywords=...), including the one by Robert Coram that's referenced in the post.

It's too bad that the longer audio recordings of Boyd's briefings that exist are stuck in some military or private archive. (I'm not talking about the stuff that's currently available on Youtube.)

How do you have this info? Any chance of those becoming public?

Last year someone mentioned an 8 hour recording of Patterns and Conflict that was apparently distributed among some of the participants of Boyd and Beyond 2012. Googling the write-ups of that event should give you more information on which archive the audio recording should be located in (at the Marine Corps museum?).

Awesome, thank you.

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