OODA Loop – definition and meaning

The OODA Loop is the decision cycle that humans go through. When we receive a stimulus, we go through a process, which some people call the OODA Loop. In other words, it is a process that defines how we react to stimulus. As soon as we sense the stimulus, we determine where it came from. We then decide what to do. Finally, we do what we decided to do.

Humans, in fact, go through the OODA Loop process hundreds, and maybe even thousands of times each day.

OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. These are the processes we go through from receiving a stimulus to doing something about it.

Colonel John Boyd (1927-1997) coined the term in the 1950s. Colonel Boyd was a US Air Force fighter pilot and Pentagon consultant. His theories have been influential in the military, business, litigation, and sports.

He developed the concept to explain how we should direct our energies. Specifically, how we should direct our energies to defeat the enemy and survive.

OOPA Loop – we all go through it

Colonel Boyd said that human decision-making occurs in a recurring loop of observe-orient-decide-act.

An entity that can go through the cycle the fastest has an advantage over others. An entity, in business, refers to anything that is formed and administered. In this article, ‘entity’ refers to a person or organization.

Our reaction time determines how successful we are in a competitive environment. Human reaction time is the time between the onset of a stimulus and when we start responding to that stimulus.

The OODA Loop is Colonel Boyd’s explanation of how humans go through the process of reacting to stimulus.

OODA Loop - explanation of meaning with example
This image shows a driver going through the OODA Loop. First she hears the siren. She then determines that it is coming from behind her. So, she decides to pull over. Therefore, she pulls over.

OODA Loop – the four stages


This is the first stage. It does not mean only to see with our eyes. When we observe, we process about 80% of the data around us with our eyes. However, we also make observations with our sense of hearing and other senses.

For example, I might hear a gunshot but do not see the individual who fired it.


This is the stage when we determine the source of a stimulus. In the case of the gunfire, it means seeing its source.

In the Orient stage, a person is concentrating on what they have just observed.


In this step, we decide what to do about what you have just observed. In other words, you focus your attention on making a decision.


This is when you act upon your decision. For example, if you decided to telephone the police following the gunshot, you would start dialing. If you decided to attack the individual firing the gun, you would start running towards that person.

According to Tactical Response:

“The OODA Loop is a process we go through hundreds if not thousands of times in a single day. It is a process that defines how we humans react to stimulus. Colonel John Boyd coined the term O.O.D.A. Loop, in the 1950’s.”

Video – OODA Loop defense tactics

This Officer.com video explains what the OODA Loop is. It also tells us how the cycle impacts our chances of emerging from a conflict.