How the OODA Loop Will Determine Today’s Super Bowl Champion

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

Photo Credit to Mark Zarrilli//Getty

The OODA loop is an individual and organizational learning and adaption process and stands for Observe-Orient–Decide-Act. Its origins are often connected to fighter aviation and influenced by complexity thinking, cognitive science, human factors, cybernetics, the 2nd law of thermodynamics... blah, blah, blah. In short, the OODA loop provides a non-linear way to think about survival and growth in our VUCA world.

Sense-making (Observe): John Boyd considered calling his decision cycle the SODA loop for Sense-Orient-Decide-Act but decided that the SODA loop would not pass the giggle test. The team that is able to make better sense of its operating environment and act accordingly will probably win. Why probably? There is some luck involved in all competition.

Orient. Real work is done in preparation and a team’s orientation is really about how that team overcomes the unavoidable realities of being human. Ego, fear, cognitive biases, pattern entrainment, noise, and the fog of war are at play today. To disrupt the other team’s orientation, mismatches must be exploited and created through the concept of fast transients and tempo. It is not about cycling through the OODA loop faster than the opponent. It is about quality and control. The team that dictates the tempo of the game will probably win.

Decide. This is where the OODA loop gets tricky. Decisions in today’s game are best done through the Implicit Guidance and Control (IG&C) link found between “Orient” and “Act.” Here, the team with the best schema, shared mental models, and repertoire will benefit from the ability to make rapid decisions, effectively slowing down their opponent’s OODA loop. The advantage goes to the team that forces their opponent to test a hypothesis—move away from their gameplan—and decide on a course of action that is not part of their IG&C.

Act: There will be a time today where the best decision leads to a bad outcome. Probability and luck will be a factor in today’s game and team players, coaches, and staff will have to learn to separate decisions from outcomes. Even if that is after the game.

Brian “Ponch” Rivera is a recovering naval aviator, founder of AGLX, and the creator of the ZONEFIVE™ Team Performance Indicator. Contact Brian at

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