The Orientation of the OODA Loop

[Editor’s note: this is the third article carrying on from an initial article about the OODA Loop]

The Orientation step of OODA incorporates a lot of internal context with outside information.  The data is integrated into the corpus of knowledge it is evaluated, interpreted, and prioritized. You’ll notice that the star connects 5 topics. This is not only to signify separation, but also influence. Boyd’s original intent was for single individuals to be taking on this orientation context, possibly getting input from advisors. In today’s business world of “two in the box” or committee based design this sort of singular responsibility and decisiveness is all but inpossible.

We’ll examine the orientation influences below the chart.  The orientation is our own perspective and understanding of the facts.  The goal of the OODA loop is in part to disorient our competitors.  Thus, the orietnation is a critical step in the process to help deliver great decisions that lead to high quality actions.

By Patrick Edwin Moran - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Flow image by Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Cultural Traditions

Culture for individuals is a complex topic where a global business scape means almost any numbers of cultures being joined due to international travel and a mobile labor force. Our personal culture experience keeps us grounded to what actions mean, what colors mean, and what language feels like. Watch international politics and see how various high level politicians either honor or dishonor their guests or hosts with intention or accident – all based on culture.

Genetic Heritage

Our predisposition towards those things that activate our impulses, our ability to focus, handle stress, and our core competencis drive our motives and color our perspective. While this can be a default influence, a self-aware individe al will be able to temper themselves.

New Information

As observation feeds new data into the works we mix that in with the other decision bearing influences and it has an impact on our orientation.  We need to take in new information with an open mind, but with care to fit it into what we already know in light of its reliability and in as much context as possible.  Raw data in an area where we don’t have a lot of experience (see the next section on previous experience) could lead us to make really bad decision.

Previous Experiences

Previous experience helps vet data, it helps us look for patterns, it helps us move with confidence rather than with apprehension or missing things that were buried in the details.  Thus it is important inside of an organization to give people the chance to gain experience in low risk situations so that they have gone through the drill and can perform under higher pressure situations that will use their developed experience.

Analysis & Synthesis

Analysis is the taking of complex things and breaking them down to their simplest parts. Synthesis is the opposite process.  We need both because they prove out for us that we’ve evaluated everything by breaking it down, and we’ve evaluated everything by considering its potential complexity.  If we’re willing to question ourselves, question the data, question the sources, question the interpretations others may offer and bring to bear the most carefully considered analysis and synthesis we increase the likelihood we make a balanced decision.

Not in Boyd’s List: Locus of Control.

While not in Boyd’s list, I might suggest that another 6th element worth considering is ‘locus of control’. This is a term that we’ll definitely spend some time on later on in this blog.  It is a term used to describe who has the control.  Knowing this, then leads us to consider what actions will lead to our gaining the control if we don’t have it, and maintaining the control if we do have it.

Last Considerations

Orientation is critical when we’re looking to figure out where we are in the grander scheme of things based on what we know so far. Much of Boyd’s efforts were focused on military tactics, but we can definitely see its value in a managerial and business scenario.  Are projects spiraling out of control?  Are competitors taking market share? Is a team member not telling you what you need to know until it’s too late?  Is a customer-facing demo coming up where your business is competing for the customer’s dollars? Any of these situations may lead to the OODA Loop’s orientation being critical so that you can take the Observations and drive critical Decisions and take Action.