OODA Loop as Flowchart, Try 2

Earlier, in a post picked up by Coming Anarchy, ZenPundit, and others, I attempted to reconstruct the OODA Loop as a flowchart. You may remember I drew it like this:

Since that post, I have been in an email conversation with an expert on OODA loops. He asked me not to quote him, so I will neither use his words nor his name (if he lets me, sure sure I will!) Dr. Chet Richards of DNI. The expert informed me that my drawing contained an important mistake. That is, the flow from Observe to Act is the primary link out of Observe. Most actions are not “decided” upon, so the Observe-Decide flow is a secondary link.

So by thickening the Observe-Act link and thinning the Observe-Decide and Decide-Act links, the flowchart becomes:

However, two things looked wrong on this new version to me

  1. If the Observe-Act link is a primary flow, then why isn’t the arrow from Observe to Act straight?
  2. If a man goes out of his way to decide an action, then it makes sense that that decision will always be observed and always be acted upon. My “corrected” flow chart implies either one or the other may happen.

New problem: the flowchart is ugly. The Decide-Observe link is the only curved line. The flowchart isn’t close to symmetrical.

That’s easy enough to fix:

Corrected OODA Flowchart

Observe the fixed OODA loop!
Orient yourself to its wonder!
(No decision is necessary to…)
Act by leaving comments!

8 thoughts on “OODA Loop as Flowchart, Try 2”

  1. “The expert informed me that my drawing contained an important mistake. That is, the flow from Observe to Act is the primary link out of Observe. Most actions are not “decided” upon”

    Your anonymous expert had a deep and incisive criticism there on more than just flowchart design. I wonder if it was his original thought or John Boyd's but regardless it is a very important observation.

    We all have a tendency to some degree to run on a mental ” autopilot” – whether you want to call this phenomena ” framing”, worldview, paradigms, schemas, ideological constructs, etc. – the precise meaning vary but the effect is to shape our perceptions of the world ( highlighting or omitting data) and to an extent predetermine our responses in a large picture sense. Ideological blinders concentrates our vision but they distort our view of reality.

    There are good reasons for this – namely economy of time – to not consciously and sequentially go through each epistemological step of thinking through *all* of the implications of every event. Or even the most probabalistic ones. That would be impossible to do and self-defeating if we tried. We'd effectively be paralyzed. So normally we ” React” rather than ” Decide —> Act”.

    A critical skill is to be able to periodically attempt to step outside one's worldview and look at an event from multiple perspectives other than one's own. You have become a strategic thinker when you know *when* to do this as well as *how*.

    Again, kudos to your expert.

  2. Younghusband,

    In flowcharts, a rectangle means a “process.” So “observing,” “orienting,” “deciding,” and “acting,” are all processes.

    Likewise, the cylinder I use for world means “direct access storage.” Processes work on data, and the world is a data-storage device that we can access directly.

    I drew the chart in OpenOffce.org, but Microsoft PowerPoint uses the same symbols


    A pretty good explanation of flowcharting with the most common symbols is at:


    An EXTREMELY good introduction to visual documentation generally, including the direct access storage symbol, in the form of a 1.1 meg powerpoint, is at


    As the sage once spoke, “Those who cannot draw, chart.” 🙂

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