The OODA Loop and Creativity, Try 2

Afer heavily revising my original work tying together the OODA loop to creativity, it has become clear that the project will involve much more than a few references in another paper. So I’m removing it from my current draft, but (for posterity) here were my final thoughts on Creativity in the context of OODA, at least before my work on the taxonomies of creativity changed my perspective.


The OODA loop was originally described to assist in understanding the nature of creativity (Coram, 2002). Creative thoughts, according to Boyd (1992), “permit us to rematch our mental/physical orientation [with the outside world] and grow” in the world (24). Before individuals can be creative, they must be experts. This requires reorientation. However, reorientation that leads to creativity is difficult because expertise requires considerable practice outside of an educational setting. Fortunately, educational psychology’s initial work on dual processing presents a way forward.
Modern research views creativity as a subset of expertise. This formulation is expanded on at length in Herbert Simon’s exploration of creativity in the arts and sciences . Expertise is defined by strong problem solving ability in a particular field, meaning quick scanning of a problem space for any of a large number of remembered patterns (Simon, 2001). Expertise tends to require more than ten years to develop, and a narrowness of focus that can involve both personal and intellectual sacrifices including slowed or reduced growth in other fields that are not focused on or practiced (Simonton, 2003).
The importance of reorientation in creativity is stressed by a recent overview of the growing literature on cognitive load. For instance, van Merrienboer & Sweller (2005) write that “expertise comes from knowledge stored in [long term memory] schemata, not from an ability to engage in reasoning with many elements that have not been organized in long-term memory. Human working memory simply is not able to process many elements” (149-150). Similarly, Sweller (2004) describes how random variations in ideas are necessary for creative products to be new, and not mere memories. The product of such thinking is “change via novelty” (20). Likewise, cognitive load describes originality is seen as random variations in the expression of long-term memory, and original ideas are kept or lost depending on their fitness in the landscape of thought (Sweller, 2004; van Merrienboer & Sweller, 2005). Yet as randomness in thought is assumed to be constant among all individuals, what makes those new ideas more likely to be useful is whether they are grounded in an orientation rich in relevant long term memory.
The scale of the difficult in encouraging creativity is gleaned from a recent discussion on minimal guidance instruction (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006). Directly addressing the question of discovery-based styles of instruction, Kirschner and colleagues distinguish expert from novice operating styles. Summarizing research on the expert/novice divide, the authors conclude that attempting to become an expert by replicating the style of experts is not a productive strategy. Yet in an increasingly complex world where many learners will go on to perform tasks that do not currently exist, some form of discovery-based learning will be necessary for the development of expertise in these fields of the future. The task of the educator is not enviable.
Fortunately, educational psychology’s early approaches to dual processing show the way forward. Motivation and good attitude, focused on by Sinatra (2005) and Gregorie (2005), provide an approach that will encourage learners to continue their own reorientation long after they leave the classroom. To put it simply, motivation leads to more practice, more practice loads to more expertise, and more expertise leads to more creativity. In creativity as with other fields of educational psychology, dual processing and OODA do not overturn what we already know. Rather, the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act dual-processing cycle enrich what educational psychology has already discovered about providing the best education possible to our learners.

Boyd, J.R. (1992). The conceptual spiral. Retrieved October 1, 2007, from Belisarius. Web site: http://www.d-n-i.net/boyd/pdf/intro.pdf.
Coram, R. (2002). Boyd: The fighter pilot who changed the art of war. New York: Back Bay Books.
Gregorie, M. (2003). Is it a challenge or a threat? A dual-process model of teachers’ cognition and appraisal process during conceptual change. Educational Psychology Review, 15(2), 147-179.
Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J., Clark, R.E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
Simon, H.A. (2001). Creativity in the arts and sciences. In Cultures of creativity: The centennial celebrations of the Nobel Prizes. Kenyon Review, Spring, 23(2), 203-220.
Simonton, D.K. Expertise, competence, and creativity ability: The perplexing complexities. (2003). In The Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise (R.J. Sternberg & E. Grigorenko, Eds.) New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sinatra, G.M. (2005). The “warming trend” in conceptual change research: The legacy of Paul R. Pintrich. Educational Psychologist, 40(2), 107-115.
Sweller, J. (2004). Instructional Design Consequences of an Analogy between Evolution by Natural Selection and Human Cognitive Architecture. Instructional Science, 32(1/2), 9-31.
van Merrienboer, J.J.G. & Sweller, J. (2005). Cognitive load theory and complex learning: Recent developments and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 17(2), 147-177.

5 thoughts on “The OODA Loop and Creativity, Try 2”

  1. First, would you quantify the order of magnitude of “[too] many elements” in human working memory? Second, the variations-in-and-fitness-of ideas concept you presented has me wondering about a (possibly meaningless) distinction between an idea that is changed by mutuation or supplemental, and one that is changed (non-trivially) by selective omission or decay. What is the definition of original in the field of ideas? By whatever definition, can an idea that emerges from a reduction of another idea be considered original? If one takes someone another’s idea and removes one part, does one have a candidate for an original idea?

    Not having known much (if anything) about the field, educational psychology usually makes me want to yawn. ;-\ But I’ve found your occasional monographs riveting, and I am motivated to read van Merrienboer and Sweller now. I was surprised to find no other comments here yet (maybe due to the weekend). Finally, the self-referencing ideas-about-ideas or thinking-about-thinking saturates my small mind. Do you think the observer effect is in-play here? Does one alter one’s working memory just by thinking about the organization of the elements?

  2. “Before individuals can be creative, they must be experts.”

    What about creative insights that generate new fields of endeavor in which no prior expertise was possible?

  3. Moon,

    Thank you for the excellent questions! :-)

    First, would you quantify the order of magnitude of “[too] many elements” in human working memory

    Much work has been done detailing the process in the last fifty years, but the quick answer to the question “how many chunks is too many in human working memory” is 7, plus or minus 2. [1]

    Second, the variations-in-and-fitness-of ideas concept you presented has me wondering about a (possibly meaningless) distinction between an idea that is changed by mutuation or supplemental, and one that is changed (non-trivially) by selective omission or decay. What is the definition of original in the field of ideas? By whatever definition, can an idea that emerges from a reduction of another idea be considered original? If one takes someone another’s idea and removes one part, does one have a candidate for an original idea?

    It depends on your level of analysis. Certainly, an individual can figure out something for the first time… that is already well known by others. Thus, you can have an idea that is new to you, but old to others.

    Finally, the self-referencing ideas-about-ideas or thinking-about-thinking saturates my small mind. Do you think the observer effect is in-play here? Does one alter one’s working memory just by thinking about the organization of the elements?

    Yes, in a few different ways.

    Directly, if you use up working memory thinking about yourself, you have less working memory to spend on anything else.

    Also directly, if you concentrate your working memory to purposefully pay attention to something, you will be able to use more working memory on your object of interest. “Paying attention” to a book means you ignore other things going on, devoting more working memory to what you are reading.

    Indirectly, self-efficacy (the belief you can perform a relevent specific task) makes it more likely you will use the working memory in the first place. If you see a math problem and think “I am sure I can correctly solve this,” you’re more likely to try it.

    Mark,

    What about creative insights that generate new fields of endeavor in which no prior expertise was possible?

    Hmm.. how would you compare that thought, with the new formulation, that the requisites for creativity is talent and practice, but the requisites for expertise is creativity and overpractice? [2]

    [1] http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/07/07/taxonomies-of-creativity.html

  4. I need to read link 1 and the book :)

    My admittedly data-free fingertip feeling tells me that the contention regarding creativity from the book is correct up to a point but not correct in an an absolute sense

  5. Hey Mark, catch this

    I was going through some of the old creativity reading again, and found this line (which I had overlooked the first time). It was on a paper on creativity in a corporate context Tierney & Farmer, 2002, 1142):

    Total estimated variance explained was 23 percent for the manufacturing firm sample, with the antecedent block explaining 22percent of the variance and with all variables except job tenure significant and positive. Job tenure was significantly and negatively related to creative self-efficacy.

    .

    (The research as a whole showed that creative self-efficacy and job self-efficacy interacted to help predict job creative.)

    Overlearning builds cognitive maps tight and coherent enough that the random (and most likely wrong) variation that is required for creativity never happens.

    Tierney, P.A. & Farmer, S.M. (2002). Creative self-efficacy: its potential antecedents and relationship to creative performance. Academy of Management Journal, 45(6), 1137-1148.

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