Gain An Advantage with the OODA Loop

As the environment around you changes – like when you go from the subway to the sidewalk – how well do you pay attention to your surroundings? How would you use these observations to inform your actions if an emergency were to occur?

The OODA Loop is a decision-making model created by Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist Colonel John Boyd in the 1970s. At its core, this model was created to help pilots operate at a faster tempo than their adversaries, thereby giving them the advantage. However, it also has very useful implications for everyday life. Whether walking on the streets or through your office, you can use this simple framework to continually remain prepared and safe.

The OODA Loop

In our Tomahawk Corporate trainings, we teach this concept as a way to gain critical reaction time in threatening situations, where every second increases your chances of surviving. Just like the Air Force pilots, if you practice the OODA Loop, you’ll be more prepared and make better, safer decisions.

The OODA Loop is comprised of four steps:

  1. Observe your environment using all your senses.
  2. Orient yourself by analyzing and contextualizing this new information.
  3. Decide on your options.
  4. Act, if necessary.

The loop is ongoing, and once you complete it, you begin again in your new situation and location. Being able to cycle through these considerations efficiently allows you to make better decisions more quickly.

Practice the OODA Loop

Let’s unpack this concept a little more. As you move throughout your day, your environment changes several times. Transitioning from the subway to a sidewalk, to a coffee shop, to a lobby, to an elevator, to an office space all offer very different environments, each with different options in the case of any sort of threat. For instance, when transitioning from the sidewalk to a subway car, your options to run or hide change from pretty good (sidewalk) to more limited (subway).

When navigating these changing environments, the key is to quickly understand what your options are so that you are ahead of the decision. If a threat emerges, you already know your options and will only have to evaluate where the threat is and what your best path to your chosen action is. Having your options figured out ahead of time can provide you with critical time to act, an advantage that may mean the difference between life and death.

Beware of Distractions

The OODA Loop might seem simple, and the reality is that many of us do this without knowing what it’s called. Unfortunately, our ability to remain engaged in our environments is continuously challenged by – you guessed it – phones. According to an April 2024 study, the average American spends about 5 hours and 24 minutes a day on their phones, and they check their phones around 96 times per day. When transitioning from the subway to the sidewalk, are you looking at your phone or looking up at your surroundings? This disengagement can lead to completely missing important changes in your environment and suspicious activity.

The OODA Loop In Everyday Life

Tomahawk trainers have worked with many practitioners to use the OODA Loop to make an impact on different aspects of their lives. It can help a CEO succeed in a very competitive environment, a boxer compete against a peer in the ring, or any one of us make better, even life-saving, decisions as quickly as we can when a threat arises. By understanding and practicing the OODA Loop, you give yourself a powerful set of skills that help you be more aware, connected, and prepared.

I’ll close with some homework: The next time the environment around you changes, take a moment away from your cell phone and observe, orient, and understand your options…it may save your life.