The OODA Loop. Do you do it?

While I was at EdCamp Kansas City in early November, I attended a session with John Carver and Shannon Miller from Van Meter, Iowa, about leading change. John spoke a bunch about his efforts as he leads his district to the vision of Think, Lead, Serve and 1:1 computers.

At one point, John mentioned OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. He mentioned that OODA comes originally from submarine commanders. OODA Loop “was developed by US Air Force Col. John Boyd during the Korean War. He developed it as a way to explain why some fighter pilots were better than others.” (corrected based on reader comment, see below) The idea is that once your course is set, you must regularly — based on observations — make a decision to determine if you are still on the best course. If not, you must act, or adjust course. It is a constant process often called an OODA Loop.

In his role as superintendent of the schools in Van Meter, John puts this into practice by keeping his district’s vision statement visible in his office. He said that he refers to it while thinking and talking about pending decisions. In this way, he can keep Van Meter constantly moving toward their goals.

OODA has application on the school and classroom level as well. While he did not use the phrase explicitly, Jonathan Martin, at Connected Principals, describes the dynamic of and uses the language of OODA when he writes, “School may stink for too many students, but we can correct course if we educators become the change we seek, becoming, truly and authentically, the learners we want our students to become: purposeful experimenters and innovators, digital creators and producers, professional colleagues and effective collaborators, and life-long learners.”

I would bet that Jonathan, like John Carver and me, keeps his school’s or his personal vision on the wall of his office. At my last principal position, I kept my core values of leadership on the bulletin board behind the work table in my office. It was right where I could see it during most meetings. The same language is posted prominently on this blog, “Do what’s best for children. It’s all about relationships. Process and participation matter.” In my next office, I will add the rest of my core ideas, “Learning:All children can learn and be successful. Community: Safety, Respect, and Learning.” I keep these words, my “target,” to use OODA language, in sight to act as a constant reminder for those times when I or others need it.

I will never be captain of a submarine (there, I said it. I feel better.) I can learn from the submariners to figure out where I am (orient), to use the available data (observe) to make the best decision I can (decide), and to implement that decision (act). I can keep my sights on my target and guide my school to be better. Then, I can do it all over again.

OODA – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Do you use the OODA Loop to make decisions? Is your target clear to you and everyone around you? Do you secretly want to be a submarine captain?

Cross posted on The Principal’s Point of View.

Image credits
I created the OODA Loop with neu.Draw ( on iPad

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  1. Thanks for sharing and reminding us to keep our core values visible.The OODA model is similiar to the Plan Do Study Act cycle.

    February 22, 2011
    • Dwight,

      You are welcome. Yes, OODA is familiar to so much of what we preach and practice. Thanks.

      February 22, 2011
  2. Yes, I’ve practiced and presented on the use of the OODA loop (Boyd Cycle). Jokingly, I explain there are times when we may need to add an “A” at the end for “apologize.” One of the benefits of the OODA Loop is that it is truly an ongoing cycle. Once leaders take action, they move right back into observation to scan the environment for impacts of their action, making course corrections as needed.

    As a bonus, OODA is a fun word to pronounce, and it can be used as a verb: “Did we OODA that decision?” or a noun: “Run that idea through the OODA.”

    The origination of OODA comes from fighter pilots, specifically John Boyd. One of the best articles on OODA was in Fast Company magazine

    February 22, 2011
    • Angle,

      Thank you for the additional information. Now that I have become aware of OODA, I am seeing it more often. It seems very useful for any leader.


      March 3, 2011
  3. Hi Larry:

    What a fun post– and really important too. I appreciate your mentioning me; very kind.

    I do indeed have a “core values of leadership” sign over my desk I consult often (though, in fairness, not nearly often enough!).

    It is from Tom Peters, the legendary guru and author of In Search of Excellence; he calls it the 19 E’s of Excellence:

    It is really a great list!

    Taking your inspiration, Larry, I think I’ll write a post soon about these 19E’s, but here is a quick taste of a trio of the 19:
    Empowerment: (Respect and appreciation rule! Always ask, “What do you think?” Then listen! Then let go and liberate! Then celebrate!)
    Edginess. (Perpetually dancing at the frontier, and a little or a lot beyond.)
    Enraged. (Determined to challenge & change the status quo!)

    Best– Jonathan

    March 3, 2011
    • I knew it!

      Thank you for comment. I look forward to reading about the 19 Es.

      March 3, 2011
  4. Dennis Mossburg said:

    The OODA Loop was not developed by sub commanders. It was developed by US Air Force Col. John Boyd during the Korean War. He developed it as a way to explain why some fighter pilots were better than others.

    March 12, 2011
    • Thank you. I will make that chanqge right away.

      March 12, 2011

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