Understanding the OODA Loop by Derek Stephens

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

The key to acting more quickly than your adversary is to make it an unconscious response.

The more you study law enforcement training, the more you are likely to see the term "OODA loop." This term was coined by U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd to explain the dynamics of fighter combat and why some pilots succeed when others fail. Boyd concluded that the outcomes of aerial engagements were often determined by how quickly a fighter pilot can process through the OODA, which meant to observe the enemy, orient to the stimulus presented by the enemy, decide to take action, and then act on that decision. Boyd added "loop" to signify that the process was continuous as long as combat was engaged.

Today, Boyd's combat theory is being applied to military engagements, to business strategy, to litigation, and of course to law enforcement operations and individual officer defense.

The OODA Loop has its place in law enforcement, but unfortunately, the concept has become something of a training catch phrase that is often misunderstood.

What It All Means

The OODA loop is a simple yet complex summation of how the human brain processes information and how humans react. First, you observe what is going on around you using your senses. Next, you orient to what is going on around you and put it into context with information rooted in your long-term memory, including training—both good and bad—life experiences, and your genetic heritage. After processing this information you must come to a conclusion about your surroundings, and you must make a decision to act or react. The final stage, if there truly is one, is the physical action. In order to process through the OODA loop, you must perform a physical action to implement the decision you have made. If your action is appropriate and effective you begin to gain the upper hand and can often process through more OODA loop cycles at a faster tempo than your adversary, which ultimately leads to victory.

Failing to act, or failing to act quickly and appropriately, will often result in defeat. The more defeat you suffer without being able to gain an advantage, the less likely you are to have an effective physical and mental performance. This puts you behind the reaction curve, where you process information more slowly and every time you cycle through the OODA loop you are at even more of a disadvantage.

Boyd understood how people process information in combat and the role that training, experience, and forethought play in maximizing your ability to be victorious.

The Way to Victory

One of the most important things that Boyd's OODA loop can teach you as law enforcement officers is that your survival skills such as firearms training and defensive tactics training must be properly encoded into memory.

In a life or death situation, you need to be able to process through the OODA loop as quickly and effectively as possible in order to increase your odds of survival and triumph. The fastest way to process through the OODA loop is to quickly orient to what is happening and virtually bypass the decision-making process by already knowing what action to take based on the stimulus. Boyd called the process of bypassing steps of the OODA loop "implicit guidance and control."

Implicit guidance and control is an unconscious preplanned physical response to a known threat stimulus, which is often referred to by psychologists as a "learned automatic response." Some experts also refer to this as a "threat stimulus response pairing."

Read the complete article at Police Magazine