Shaping and Adapting: Using the Environment (The Last Hundred Yards) To Unlock the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop

In April of 2015 I posted an outstanding research paper from United States Marine Corps Major P.J. Tremblay titled “Shaping and Adapting: Unlocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s 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 (education and training, biases, beliefs) and inherent mobilization of selective mechanisms (school solutions, policy, procedure, checklists, SOPs) that influence focus and attention, the “bottom up” processing are the actual observations sensed with all our senses in real time.

Maj. Tremblay's piece relates exactly to what I am trying to inspire police to understand and apply in The Last Hundred Yards Series. Decisions must be made by those closest to the action, by those officers on the scene. These decisions are not based on school solutions but instead based on education, training and experience applied to the unfolding and evolving complex situation.

The Major explains 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.

Incestuous Amplification is also a condition in conflict and crisis where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.

Simply put incestuous amplification is when the police responding are locked on to a school solution, policy, procedure, checklist and try implementing that solution even when the situation calls for some other option. They fail to make effective change to the altered situation. They do not adapt! Instead they are habitually responding not considering the situations novelties, or even distinguishing the situation as an adaptive challenge our technical problem. This has huge implications on how we train and prepare officers for and how they respond to crisis situations.

I am not going to give a lot of statistics because statistics lock us into a certain way of thinking. But humor me for a few sentences.

Statistics show police use force in approximately 1.4% of all the calls they respond to. Statistics also say; most people approximately 99.3 % do exactly what we tell them to do, 97 % of them, without questioning authority at all. They just do what they are asked to, or are told to do. Why? These people believe in the justice system and even if they are in complete disagreement with police actions they acquiesce until they get their day in court. The other 2.3 % are known as difficult people. With these folks we have to communicate negotiate and interact with in our efforts to shape and reshape the situation. These difficult people sound a lot like cops. Don’t they? Difficult people are argumentative, and challenge police actions in the moment. However with good sound interaction that involves a two-way discussion or debate, reasoning takes hold and difficult people, at least most of them eventually see the value in voluntarily complying. The problems for police are those people in the .07 percent bracket, who no matter what, have the mindset, the motivation and intent, to do harm or kill anyone who gets in their way. For more guides and reports in this area, click here.

According to the above statistics police responding to and dealing with people in conflict and crisis have success (effective and safe) resolution in the majority of problems they face. And they do this without resorting to physical or deadly force. Does this success rate lead us to complacency and the status quo of hurry up and get there? Have we been habituated into expecting nothing bad to happen? If the answer is yes, as I believe, it is. Then status quo becomes a major problem, especially when the proverbial black swan (unexpected, unpredictable and complex) event takes place on your watch and what you have always done (habit, incestuous amplification) no longer works.

Are the decisions we make while we respond to, and arrive on the scene of a disturbance or crises of some kind; more based on habit or do we think strategically and tactically about what we are doing? Think, about this seriously and candidly. I believe for the most part with some exceptions (those 5% who constantly learn-unlearn and relearn-ADAPT), it’s the habits we form through training and on the job such as; petal to the metal rushing to calls, pulling up front or in the driveways of houses, knocking on front doors, immediately making entries where disturbances are taking place, pursuing suspects on foot into buildings and through the woods, approaching vehicle stops as routine no risk situations, looking people in the eyes instead of at deadly hands, reaching into cars on car stops, etc, etc, etc… we all too often fall back on in our responses. Habitual responses are based on repetition in our daily activities, our daily responses to calls and crisis situations.

Instead of relying on habits, the police need to be of thinking of a strategy; the possible methods and sequences of events as the situation plays out (friendly and adversarial sides) based on experience; estimating the odds of how things could unfold and the risk verses time equation, as well as, choosing the proper tactics; which method best fits this particular scenario. Decisions based on strategic and tactical thinking instead of good luck and habits.

“Decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless.” ~Col. John Boyd

Police have spent a lot of time over the years doing stimulus response training most of it has been centered around formal training classes on defensive tactics and firearms training in an effort to better prepare officers for those situations where their lives and others are on the line. This type of training works very well, developing these skills. My question is; does our responding to and from calls in the manner we do, describe above stimulate our minds and condition our responses? The answer is a clear yes! We are conditioned that nothing bad will happen because our rate of success is so high. This on the job (stimulus/response) training puts us at a disadvantage when things go bad. It enhances the complacency factor from day to day responding to uneventful or successfully resolved crisis situations.

Habituation is the psychological process in humans and animals in which there is a decrease in psychological response and behavioral response to a stimulus after repeated exposure to that stimulus over a duration of time.

To become more effective we must understand conflict and violence at a much deeper level as well as develop officers knowledge of habituation and how developing good adaptable habits to enhance their ability to use their senses and develop a smooth running observation, orientation decision and action cycles. Research has shown that the use of decision making exercises and decision making critiques is a training methodology that conditions the mind to adapt and enhances the decision making capabilities of individuals, teams and organizations. (See Critical Decision Making Under Pressure and the work of Maj Don Vandergriff). It’s time we focus more intently on developing individuals, teams and organizations in the three levels of conflict (moral, mental and physical). We must learn, unlearn and relearn not only in training methodologies but in where an when we are being affected by the vast array of situations that condition the mind and how to leverage that experience to more effective strategic and tactical responses based on the strategic and tactical mind. This will allow us to harness the power of the individual and group OODA Loops which in turn help us to shape and reshape the situation in a safe and effective way.

Next Post In The Last Hundred Yards Series is a Comparison Example: Habit verses the Strategic and Tactical Mind