06/13/2013 06:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

John Boyd, An American Genius: What Everyone Should Know About the OODA Loop

One of the greatest military minds of all time, John Boyd was a pilot in the Air Force from 1951-1975. He was puzzled by the fact that, in Korea, American fighter pilots were able to win nine of ten dogfights against Soviet convoys -- despite the fact that the Soviets had a superior plane (the MiGs), and had more training time.


It was this puzzle on which Boyd built his entire career. The answer he found was that, in an effort to save money in their production, American manufacturers made planes without the metal canopies that protected the pilots. Hence the American pilot could see. The MiG, on the other hand, had a metal protector that prevented the pilot from seeing his target.

Out of that insight came one of the most important military breakthroughs of all time: observe, orient, decide, act (OODA). It is still the military policy of the U.S. Marine Corps. Essentially it argues that who ever can perform the quickest OODA Loop can win the conflict.

Boyd developed his theory over 30 years and laid it out it in a lengthy presentation, which he sent around to different military executives. It was never accepted in the Air Force but to this day it is idolized within the Marines.

The best book written on it is called John Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram.

Right now I am hoping that every young person will learn about the OODA Loop. I find it extremely helpful and relevant in my own work.

OBSERVE: You are aware of what is around you.

ORIENT: You take the time to think.

DECIDE: You make a decision based on the best information available to you.

ACT: And, finally, you take steps on this information.

You do the loop over and over again, continually adjusting and responding. You look and think before you make a decision. You act. You do it all over again. It is one of the most important lessons for a young person to learn.

I try to bring the OODA Loop to everything I do, particularly to NFTE in order to teach low-income youth how to start their own businesses: you have to be constantly aware and adjusting to feedback around you. This insight is so important to entrepreneurs as they develop startups that have to respond to an ever-changing market.