Shostack + Friends Blog Archive



John Boyd was arguably the best fighter pilot in American history. While at the Air Force Fighter weapons school, he was not only undefeated, he won every fight so fast he was known as “Forty second Boyd.” While there, he wrote the “Arial Attack Study,” which transformed the study of fighter combat from an art to a science. But his impressive achievements came after he left.

His truly impressive achievements were his “OODA loop” concept and his Discourse on Winning and Losing. His writings are there to support a presentation; many of them don’t stand well on their own. Other writers present his ideas better than he did. But they don’t think with the intensity, creativity, or rigor that he brought to his work.

The Boyd Cycle, or OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, loop) is perhaps one of the more misunderstood concepts out there. I’ve been familiar with it for a while, but only after struggling with some of the charts did I get how much each of those terms encompasses. The key to the OODA loop is not just acting faster; its acting faster in such a way that between observation and action, your opponent is presented with a change. By understanding their orientation, you select an action that will anticipate and block their natural choice. As you loop through this faster than them, they are left unable to move effectively, and you will win.

Robert Coram, the author of the Boyd biography (pictured here), wrote this page, and there’s an excellent biographical summary on a Finnish web site. I’ve just finished the Coram bio and am at work on Hammond’s.

3 comments on "Boyd"

  • Mort says:

    I have to agree completely. The Coram biography was a great read and very engaging. Let me know how the Hammon one compares?

  • Iang says:

    I stayed up late last night reading his Patterns of Conflict slides. There is just enough to get where he’s going with it, but obviously it would be better off as a book or manual so as to see the development of his points. He makes some good observations .. but I haven’t got to the modern stuff yet, so quite what he has to say that is currently relevant eludes me for now. Which is to say, keep writing the impressions 🙂

  • Mort says:

    I started reading the PoC slides and got side tracked by thinking about Tufte. I recently attended a lecture by Tufte, and it included his rant against PowerPoint. Much of his rhetoric is around excessive use of bullets and how they limit thought and the data being presented. Tufte makes it sound like this is all PPT’s fault. I found it interesting to see the selfsame problems floating around in slides from 20 years before PowerPoint existed…

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