40 Years to Draw a Loop? The "Gouge" on John Boyd's OODA Loop

Updated: Nov 15, 2019




Boyd’s final version of the OODA loop, prepared with assistance from Pat Petland, an instructor at Nellis Air Force Base. It makes clear Boyd’s vision of the loop as “an ongoing many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, correlation, and rejection.” - Major Ian T. Brown USMC (Image Source: U.S. Marine Corps History Division)

Gouge: Lexicon borrowed from fighter aviation used to describe the essential lessons, tricks of the trade, skinny or poop, or inside scoop on what really matters


If you had one page to situational awareness around the richness of John Boyd's OODA loop, How would you do it?

I was asked this question by Sonja Blignaut last week as we are preparing for the upcoming Cognitive Edge Premium Webinar on the OODA loop and the November OODA-Cynefin exploration with Dave Snowden.


I thought about writing a one or two-pager on OODA loop myths and some of the basic "Do's and Don'ts" but as I was sketching some ideas out, I went to the Google Box to see if there are any interesting infographics that cover the 40 year history behind the OODA loop sketch. I found none. So I built one by blending a timeline with something naval aviator's call the "Gouge."


It will evolve.


The one key implicit takeaway from The "Gouge" on John Boyd's OODA loop is that John Boyd did not spend 40 years to come up with a single loop representation of his OODA loop. So please stop drawing the OODA loop as a single loop!


For those that argue that PDCA is like the OODA loop I would agree with you had Boyd's thinking not evolved beyond his E-M Theory and his later studies of the Toyota Production System. To be clear, I consider PDCA to be a great tool that fits in the OODA loop when operating in an ordered system. By the way, Six Sigma is a great tool when used in the correct context.


The "Gouge" on John Boyd's OODA loop shows the evolution of Boyd's thinking, moving from a mechanistic, linear view of the world to his embracing of natural science and a non-linear view of human and biological systems. One of the key events in the "Gouge" is when a group of U.S. Navy TOPGUN instructors, according to Dan Pederson in his book, Topgun: An American Story, challenged Major Boyd on his E-M Theory, suggesting that Boyd's E-M calculus ignores a critical factor: the human or crew in the cockpit. This is a seminal event missing from other key OODA documents.


By using a timeline approach, The "Gouge" on John Boyd's OODA loop is intended to visualize what is behind Boyd's back-of-the-napkin, non-linear decision-making framework. For example, as you look at the timeline you may notice that A Discourse on Winning and Losing (The "Green Book"), which includes The Essence of Winning and Losing (1995), took nearly 20 years to complete and around 15 hours to brief. Think about that the next time you see the OODA loop drawn as a single loop.


The "Gouge" on John Boyd's OODA loop:


The "Gouge" on Boyd's OODA loop Updated 16 Sep 2019

Below my signature block you'll find the sources I used to build The Gouge on John Boyd's OODA loop. Also, Ian T. Brown was kind enough to send a 39-page document, Papers of John R. Boyd, that I'm happy to share via email.


For the upcoming OODA-Cynefin Exploration, I am trying to coordinate access to Marine Corps University Archives.



Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, founder of AGLX, the creator of the ZONEFIVE™ Team Performance Indicator, a CE Cynefin Foundations trainer, and co-creator of the Toyota Flow System. Contact Brian at brian@aglx.consulting.



  1. Boyd, John. 1976. A New Conception of Air to Air Combat.

  2. —. 1976. Destruction and Creation.

  3. —. 1986. Patterns of Conflict.

  4. —. 1987. The Strategic Game of ? and ?

  5. —. 1987. Organic Design for Command and Control.

  6. —. 1992. The Conceptual Spiral .

  7. —. 1995. The Essence of Winning and Losing.

  8. Boyd, John Capt USAF. 1964. Aerial Attack Study. USAF Fighter Weapons School.

  9. Boyd, John R. 2018. A Discourse on Winning and Losing . Edited by Grant T. Hammond. Maxwell: Air University Press.

  10. Brown, Ian T. 2018. A New Conception of War: John Boyd and the U.S. Marines, And Maneuver Warfare. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press.

  11. Hammond, Grant T. 2001. The Mind of War, John Boyd and American Security. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

  12. Headquarters United States Marine Corps, Department of the Navy. 1989. Fleet Marine Force Manual 1, Warfighting.

  13. Klein, Gary, interview by Brian Rivera. 2019. John Schmitt, Warfighting, RPD and the OODA loop. Whistler, (August 20).

  14. Osinga, Frans P. B. 2015. "The Enemy as a Complex Adaptive System ." In Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd, edited by John Andreas Olsen. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.

  15. Osinga, Frans P. B. 2005. Science, Strategy, and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd. The Netherlands: Eburon Academic Publishers.

  16. Pederson, Dan. 2019. Topgun: An American Story . New York: Hachette Books.

  17. Richards, Chet. 2018. Boyd's OODA Loop (It's not What You Think). April 12.

  18. —. 2004. Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business. Xlibris Corporation .

  19. Richards, Chet, interview by Brian Rivera. 2016. OODA loop and Complexity (December 21).

  20. Schmitt, John, interview by Dan Grazier. 2016. PODCAST: The Creation of Warfighting, with John Schmitt (Nov 28).

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