The OODA Loop & Hick's Law


Full diagram originally drawn by John Boyd for his briefings on military strategy fighter pilot strategy…and so it repeats, thus the “loop” part of OODA.


Col. John Boyd developed the OODA loop as a tool for fighter pilots, later marketing it to business people, remember when “all things military sounding” was very en vogue in the business world i.e. mission statement.
For those of you who may not know, OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. He was essentially telling the pilots to stay focused, do not panic, and go through the steps (subconsciously). The steps are nothing more than the natural decision making process, that is it folks. We all do it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times every day of our lives.

Observe – see the TV set is on.

Orient – focus on the current program.

Decide – do you want to watch this drivel or not.

Act – change the channel.

The main reason that it has to be taught, really ingrained in ones subconscious, is that this natural process goes out the window under high stress situations, like when you are about to get your ass shot off.
Now the key, in my estimation, is simply understanding this and the hard part staying focused to go through the loops faster than your opponent. Thus, the oft-overused term “getting inside his loop,” sounds very cool doesn’t it?
In essence, once you have the concept of the logical thought process so engrained that it is instinctive, OODA is something that one should be aware of and keep stowed in the memory banks in case you freeze up someday. It is not voodoo or mysticism and it certainly is not a technique or even a methodology.
Please understand that I am not making light of Colonel Boyd, the OODA loop, or its importance. Perhaps I am poking a bit of fun at the people who like to bandy about “hot” or “buzz” terms to make themselves sound “way cool” or knowledgeable or the “gurus” who use these terms to empire build, i.e. overcomplicating the uncomplicated to vend courses and certificates.
For myself, I really do not wish to pursue Colonel Boyd’s most interesting work further as I perceive it best fits in a university lecture hall. Suffice it to say, that the four steps of OODA are akin to all the other steps we do in our training. They are meant to be learnt and then no longer thought about. No one draws a weapon saying to themselves, “OK…step one – grasp butt, step two – clear holster” and so on. You learn by numbers, you do mechanically…if you have to stop and say “OK let’s OODA this,” you are already too slow to react effectively.
Named after British psychologist William Edmund Hick, Hick’s Law is fundamentally a formula showing that if one has more options, one takes longer to make a decision. There is also the Hick-Hyman Law, Ray Hyman, professor emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon,  which describes the stimulus vs. reaction time quotient, that even if simple options are in order if they are presented in a complex manner it affects the decision time. The “gurus” and “wannabes” have not yet discovered the Hick-Hyman Law YET.
To combine the two, and they are naturally combined, some other Professor will put his name to that collective “law,” the less choices the better and do something straightforward and fast.
Here is the way it works in real life; as you walk down a dark city street in a questionable neighborhood, late at night, you hear several rapid footsteps behind you:
> You turn and see two hoods with clubs running towards you;


> You realize you are about to be a victim;

> You have two choices; fight or flight;

> You either run or engage.
Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus and it is that simple…
In this layman’s opinion, one should be aware of both Hick’s Law and the OODA Loop but not in a mystifying or complex way in which many would have you interpret them. The descriptions and paradigms I provided are based upon my understanding of, and complete belief in, the K.I.S.S. Principle, another misconstrued and distorted acronym. The K.I.S.S. Principle, Keep It Simple Stupid, was first coined by the late, great, Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson, the dynamic and near-genius lead engineer at the Lockheed Aviation’s Skunk Works.

What K.I.S.S. really means is that one is to break problems or circumstances down into what is essential and obligatory for a given design, process, or circumstance to work at the highest rate of efficiency and longevity sans unnecessary intricacy and complexity. It does not imply a duct tape, bailing wire, and hammer solution to all problems.

Were that the case, K.I.S.S. would stand for “Keep It Stupidly Simple,” then nothing would work, for long anyway, and we’d all be maimed or dead…simplicity carried too far or applied incorrectly reverts back to over complexity and is, to say the least, counterproductive or dangerous from a combatants perspective.
It is my wish, in writing this article, that OODA, Hick’s Law, and K.I.S.S. are demystified and perhaps usable for the average person. Interpreted correctly and applied properly, they are useful tools in any of life’s endeavors.
Special thanks to Ms. Gina M. Giorno for both her editing skills and invaluable advice.


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