OODA Loop: How The Pilots Make Faster, Smarter Decisions

A critical leadership practice for the New Normal is the ability to recognize new circumstances and quickly shift your perspective.

DECIDE DYNAMICALLY_How to How to Use Elastic Thinking to Make Faster, Smarter Decisions_LelandRussell.com

John Boyd personified this skill and it made him a perennial winner in his field.

Boyd revolutionized the methods of every air force in the world with his “bible” of air combat. He was dubbed “Forty-Second Boyd” because he defeated every challenger in ‘dog fights’ in less than forty seconds. He also developed an aircraft design theory—Energy Maneuverability—that became the standard for fighter aircraft design worldwide.

But Boyd’s most significant contribution has universal application. It has proven valuable to individuals and organizations of all shapes and sizes, even nation-states. Boyd codified a way of winning in a fast, volatile environment.

Boyd’s breakthrough was his dynamic decision cycle known as the “OODA LOOP.” It is based upon a fundamental truth:

In a dynamic environment, decisions should include a continuous consideration of the environment.

Boyd integrated continuous consideration of the environment into a 4-step Decision Cycle:


When I first discovered the OODA Loop, it seemed straightforward—a 4-step Decision Cycle with the goal being to move through the 4 steps as quickly as possible. Yes, speed is paramount but fast, smart decisions require something more profound—the capacity to rapidly change your mind.

Boyd believed that, because your environment is always changing, often rapidly and unpredictably, the greatest danger is mental inertia.

Not shifting your perspective and thinking differently when circumstances change is a recipe for decision disasters.

Breaking the Belief Barrier

Have you ever noticed what happens when someone encounters facts that conflict with their beliefs? They tend to ‘dig in their heels’ and dispute the facts, even doubling down in the face of overwhelming evidence. Thousands of experiments have documented how people actually alter the facts to fit their preconceived beliefs.

Why do we do this? We strive for consistency between our beliefs and reality. Unconsciously, we are always trying to bring the two—beliefs and reality—into alignment.

When this is difficult, our mind becomes a “spin room.” It doesn’t work like a neutral judge, impartially weighing evidence, guiding us toward wisdom. It works like a press secretary striving to justify our preconceived beliefs. What facts can we muster to confirm our correctness? What facts do we need to ignore?

This mental manipulation plays out in predictable ways. When circumstances change, the tendency is to continue to see the world as we believe it should be. We stubbornly stick with outdated assumptions, even when the evidence is crystal clear that those assumptions are obsolete.

Reality Check

One of the most effective personal therapists of the twentieth century, Milton Erickson, focused on the mental inertia challenge.  His central premise was that to accomplish their goals people must recognize and utilize what actually is, rather than lamenting, distorting, or denying unpleasant facts.

Erickson’s message was simple: acknowledge the truth of your current situation. Legendary business leader, Jack Welch, put it more bluntly. “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it would be.”

Not recognizing the reality of new circumstances is the first indicator of mental inertia. The second, equally dangerous indicator, is relying on what worked in the past to try to solve new and different problems. Worst still is doubling down and trying to make them work with more gusto, more resources, more determination.

Rather than hammering away and becoming disillusioned because the ‘obvious’ solutions aren’t working, try something different. Start with a clean slate—a new perspective.

That’s the unique and universal value of Boyd’s OODA Loop. It amplifies the importance of recognizing new circumstances and shifting your perspective quickly and thinking differently. In short, changing your mind.

How long does it take to change your mind? It can happen in an instance. It’s deciding to change your mind that seems to take people so much time. However, some can do this effortlessly as Billy Joel pointed out in his classic song, Always A Woman:

Oh, she takes care of herself, she can wait if she wants, she’s ahead of her time.
Oh, she never gives out and she never gives in, she just changes her mind.


I am confident that the leadership practice, Decide Dynamically, will make a significant difference in your success. If you’d like to know how I approach it, Let’s Connect.

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Learn more about DECIDE DYNAMICALLY.

Read a quick overview of all the Cardinal Rules.

About Leland Russell

Leland Russell is the co-author of Winning In FastTime®, a highly-acclaimed book about leading strategic action. He delivers the best ways to strive and thrive in the New Normal, serving clients as a Strategic Advisor and Leadership Coach. GEO Group Strategic Services, the consulting firm Leland founded in 1991, has a stellar track record with Fortune 500 organizations, mid-size firms, and non-profits. GEO"s typical clients are leaders and mission-critical teams.

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