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Boyd's OODA vs Wardley's OODA

The original concept of the OODA loop was described by John Boyd.

The OODA loop consists of four phases:

  • Observe is what you see and only that.

  • Orient is where you add meaning.

  • Decision is where you take risks

  • Act - when you do things

The separation between Observe and Orient allows for the formation of multiple hypotheses without jumping to the conclusion too early. It also highlights the efficiency of observation - that you should design your environment in such a way that you will understand the results of your actions quickly. If you ignore the principle you will find yourself unable to connect your actions with their consequences - you will be lost.

Simon Wardley redefined its meaning to reconcile it with Sun Tzu's five factors and the two whys, which resulted in this Strategy Cycle:

OODA Loop by Simon Wardley
The Strategy Cycle by courtesy of, CC-BY-SA

The modified loop looks very similar but conveys a very different meaning. The focus is shifted from the efficiency of observations to taking into account broader context. The context (business environment, competitor actions) determines what is and is not possible in your situation.

The original meaning of the OODA loop has been hidden in Wardley's doctrine, a little bit deeper than it was initially. This manoeuvre is a compromise - when people focus on observing the external environment, they might forget about the quality and speed of their observations.

Doctrine principles that could be associated with the original OODA loop optimization.

It is worth occasionally ditching the original Strategy Cycle, going for the OODA basics, and asking yourself an exam question:

How much time do I need to spot the results of my actions?

That should trigger useful discussions about observability, the cost of introducing a change, time to market and other very practical measurements!

PS. Sun Tzu's five factor names differ depending on the translation. You will find multiple interpretations.


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