Thursday, September 25, 2008

On OODA Loops

The schematic above is something I've hung onto for years. It's a graphic depiction of John Boyd's OODA Loop. OODA is short for: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Boyd is describing here how people logically make decisions. Most people who make clear, logical, decisions proceed through the stages of OODA. There are some people who end up at the Act stage in knee-jerk reactions at the drop of a hair plug, er, hat. Those people don't make consistent decisions and are of little good consequence over time. They are entertaining though, as their undisciplined approach to life and endless pontificating often reveals their weak mental training.

OODA Loop. So what? Well, if you understand the OODA Loop, you can also figure out how to disrupt an opponent's decision-making. The applications of this are seen in warfare and business quite often but they also work in most every human interaction including politics and sports. Take sports for an easy example. The center snaps the ball to the QB and he drops back Observing. He Orients himself to where his receivers and the defenders guarding them are while also noting the pass rush. He Decides where to throw and then he Acts. Easy.

But what if the defensive coordinator devises a scheme that gets inside the QB's OODA Loop. Let's say he calls for a blitzing pass rush scheme that doesn't reveal itself as a blitz until the snap. As the QB drops back he Observes, then Orients... but the blitz is coming so he has to Observe and Re- Orient... now he sees a rusher coming from an other direction... that causes another Observe re-loop... and so he tries to Orient again... the next thing he Observes is the turf as he is buried under his opponents. He never could get to Decision and the only Act he gets to make is picking himself up off the carpet. What happened? The defensive team got inside his OODA Loop and caused him to get stuck at O-O-O-O-O-O-O. Also known as "Oh, Oh!"

An excellent columnist, Jack Kelly, wrote on September 13th that "Mr. McCain is so far inside Mr. Obama’s OODA loop that I almost feel sorry for the senator from Illinois." Kelly was referring to how the choice of Governor Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate had knocked the smooth, auto-pilot gliding Obama campaign into a turbulent tailspin. Remember that the closely guarded naming of Palin came the morning after the grossly over-the-top Denver stadium speech. Jack Kelly was exactly right. By the way, the Palin pick also got inside the OODA loop of the mainstream media. They expect to be leaked key news early. McCain didn't court them and seek their wise council. The beltway media likes guys like Biden who they've chatted with at countless Georgetown cocktail parties for decades. In fact, as long as McCain was bashing Republicans they liked him too. But this Alaskan Governor move-- well, the legacy media has not found their bearings yet and, in fact, by attacking Governor Palin personally day after day they are not only hurting their favored candidate but damaging their own soiled brand names irreparably (see: NBC and New York Times).

Michael Barone also noted last week how McCain got inside the Obama/Axelrod OODA Loop. He quotes John Boyd's biographer:

Robert Coram describes what can happen when one player gets inside another's OODA loop. "If someone truly understands how to create menace and uncertainty and mistrust, then how to exploit and magnify the presence of these disconcerting elements, the loop can be vicious, a terribly destructive force, virtually unstoppable in causing panic and confusion and — Boyd's phrase is best — 'unraveling the competition.' ... The most amazing aspect of the OODA loop is that the losing side rarely understands what happened."

So, how does McCain stay inside the Obama OODA Loop creating "menace" and "uncertainty"? Well, for example, 48 hours before a huge debate on Foreign Policy he could abruptly say that it's time for all good men to come to the aid of their country and do their day job, US Senator, to help solve the economic problems of the day. So far the reaction from Obama/Axelrod and the Democrat handmaiden media shows them panicked, confused, and unraveling-- in the words of Robert Coram. They expected McCain to lose gracefully. To be a Bob Michel, Bob Dole type of Washington DC Republican. They are spinning and in danger of augering in.

Why did John Boyd come up with the loop? To help train fighter pilots to succeed in dogfights. John McCain: Navy fighter pilot. I don't think they teach the OODA Loop at Ivy League schools or in the street organizer/ agitator handbook.