John Boyd

John Boyd was ahead of his time when he created his system for understanding and analyzing how humans make decisions.  He presaged some of the neuroscience of the past 30 years.  His insights probably resulted from the fact that as a fighter pilot he had to make consequential decisions quickly and accurately.  I learned about Boyd in many conversations with Lt. Fred Leland of the Walpole MA PD, one of the recognized experts on Boyd’s method.  The OODA Loop is a great self-awareness tool for others – like police officers, doctors and nurses — who make lots of consequential decisions, often in the tightest time frames.

The following is reprinted from a blog on the Huffington Post by Steve Mariotti, Founder, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship: John Boyd, An American Genius: What Everyone Should Know About the OODA Loop


One of the greatest military minds of all time, John Boyd was a pilot in the Air Force from 1951-1975. He was puzzled by the fact that, in Korea, American fighter pilots were able to win nine of ten dogfights against Soviet convoys — despite the fact that the Soviets had a superior plane (the MiGs), and had more training time.

It was this puzzle on which Boyd built his entire career. The answer he found was that, in an effort to save money in their production, American manufacturers made planes without the metal canopies that protected the pilots. Hence the American pilot could see. The MiG, on the other hand, had a metal protector that prevented the pilot from seeing his target.

Out of that insight came one of the most important military breakthroughs of all time: observe, orient, decide, act (OODA). It is still the military policy of the U.S. Marine Corps. Essentially it argues that who ever can perform the quickest OODA Loop can win the conflict.

Boyd developed his theory over 30 years and laid it out it in a lengthy presentation, which he sent around to different military executives. It was never accepted in the Air Force but to this day it is idolized within the Marines.

The best book written on it is called John Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram.

Right now I am hoping that every young person will learn about the OODA Loop. I find it extremely helpful and relevant in my own work.

OBSERVE: You are aware of what is around you.

ORIENT: You take the time to think.

DECIDE: You make a decision based on the best information available to you.

ACT: And, finally, you take steps on this information.

You do the loop over and over again, continually adjusting and responding. You look and think before you make a decision. You act. You do it all over again. It is one of the most important lessons for a young person to learn.

I try to bring the OODA Loop to everything I do, particularly to NFTE in order to teach low-income youth how to start their own businesses: you have to be constantly aware and adjusting to feedback around you. This insight is so important to entrepreneurs as they develop startups that have to respond to an ever-changing market.


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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1 Response to John Boyd

  1. TimelessMonk says:

    Once we make OODA second nature, the next challenge is to re-orient (the second “O” in OODA) our past approach to things so that our observations (the first “O” in OODA, which is fed back from orientation) are purer and our situation awareness is more accurate.

    Result? Quicker victories – in dogfights, catching criminals, rearing children, etc. It becomes great fun (with only one thing left to factor in, which John Boyd implied in all his work and which I will discuss if there is any interest in doing so)…

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