Shaping and Adapting: Unlocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop by Major Paul Tremblay Jr

Major PJ Tremblay just gave permission to share his brilliant paper called "Shaping and Adapting - Unlocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd's OODA Loop.pdf" with police and those who visit our website. This paper explains the actual complex nature of the Boyd Cycle verses its often oversimplified and misunderstood OODA Loop.

The paper is thoroughly researched and discusses numerous factors crucial in making sound decisions. Feedback loops are discussed as well as the difference between direct outside observations and indirect causal loops as the difference between “top down” processing and “bottom up” processing of perception. While “top down” processing refers to a person’s expectations of what is likely to occur based on previous experiences and inherent mobilization of selective mechanisms that influence focus and attention, the “bottom up” processing are the actual observations sensed.

The Major goes on to explain what I believe is an important concept for police to understand called incestuous amplification. Incestuous amplification occurs when one’s preconceptions misshape the observations that one is sensing. These misshapen observations then blur the true connection between the individual and the environment because the brain begins to synthesize cues and preconceived responses. This has huge implications on how we train and prepare officers for dynamic encounters. You must read this piece.

Shaping and Adapting: Unlocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop

Thesis: A common misunderstanding and over-simplification of Boyd’s ideas has crept in over time, leading to an increasing emphasis on absolute speed and efficiency over relative speed and effectiveness. This emphasis creates a mismatch between institutional training goals on the one hand, and individual mastery on the other. If this mismatch is not re-aligned, efforts to improve decision-making in general, let alone adaptability and innovation initiatives may miss the mark; despite millions of dollars and labor hours invested. Shaping and adapting will continue to occur, however, it may be in spite of, rather than because of, the Marine Corps’ institutional efforts.

Discussion: This paper aims to clarify and reinforce Colonel John Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) framework that General Krulak referred to in Cultivating Intuitive Decision-making and what General Dunford infers in 2015 Commandant’s Planning Guidance in an effort to expand on and improve the collective understanding of this crucial idea. This framework, known to some as the Boyd Cycle, is widely recognized as the OODA “loop.” The necessity for this clarification is two-fold. First, the OODA loop is a widely accepted decision-making framework in the United States Department of Defense and beyond. However, its depiction as a four stage cyclical model in many, if not all doctrinal publications and professional venues is not only incomplete but also highly misleading. The components themselves are accurate; however, the lack of context combined with the graphical depiction of an orderly, linear sequence misrepresents his theory and has led to training and education shortfalls. Second, by exploring the complexity and dynamics of Colonel Boyd’s final depiction of the loop, one will appreciate the detail, focus, and depth required to understand, shape, and adapt at the individual level. This understanding can then be scaled to the unit, organizational and institutional levels; fostering an even greater understanding and appreciation of the remaining doctrinal publications. Finally, this improved understanding will help shape future Marine Corps training, education, and command climates.

Conclusion: To accomplish what General Dunford calls for in his guidance: the ability to innovate and adapt in “increasingly uncertain, complex, and decentralized operating environments” leaders at all levels must embrace how individuals actually interact with their environments. Studying the full version of the OODA loop rather than simplifying it to a linear process is the first step in appreciating the complexity of this interaction. This renewed understanding and appreciation will enable Marines, young and old, to expand their individual capacity for desired action, nurture new and expansive patterns of learning and thought, and harness the true power of the idea. The ability to innovate and adapt effectively in increasing uncertain, complex, and decentralized environment requires excellence in thought and in deed. Excellence in thought requires both intuition and insight. Excellence in deed is acting on that intuition or insight; not simply acting for the sake of acting.

The full PDF is at the link provided below.

Stay Oriented!


Shaping-and-Adapting-Unlocking-the-Power-of-Colonel-John-Boyds-OODA-Loop.pdf310.51 KB