Posts Tagged ‘OODA Loop’

That’s my OODA Loop, and Yes, I am Happy to See You!

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Having introduced the OODA Loop yesterday it’s now time to examine how its application is relevant in my life currently.

Traditionally associated with military tactics in aerial combat, this recurring decision-making cycle consists of these steps – Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Information from each step feeds forward into successive steps. Similarly, results of each increment feed back directly to the Observe step since they represent significant changes in the overall situation.

This has proven effective in the stress of combat because correctly applied it allows the pilot to respond effectively to the environment and to his opponent. He will defeat the enemy and perhaps most importantly, he will likely survive the encounter.

While I am not engaged in aerial combat presently, I do find myself in a rather stressful situation. I am currently unemployed; my economic survival and readiness for my future are in question. As such, it occurred to me to revisit the OODA Loop with the following question in mind – could I apply it to my present circumstances?

Here’s what’s going on with my OODA Loop, mid-cycle:

Observe – Relevant aspects of my observable environment include, [1] a US economy in a deep and severe recession, with sparse, if any at all, indications of near-term improvement, [2] an aerospace industry that is stagnant with no major US government acquisitions on the horizon, [3] a personal economy that includes mortgage commitments, and retirement savings which, although “above average” will not be sufficient on their own, especially in light of likely Social Security and Medicare reform.

Without making my age an inordinately large part of this conversation I will say that I am too young to take early retirement, but I’ve been around long enough to become vulnerable in terms of age and wage discrimination in my former industry.

If the preceding observations seems overly negative, I will assert that I do have useful skills accrued over my undergraduate education and professional career. These are reusable skills that can be leveraged and repurposed.

Orient – A large part of my orientation step depends on the quality of, and my interactions with my immediate and extended network, and with friends, one of whom has assisted me in a role as my mentor. The interim result of my orientation step is an awareness that [1] software solutions are ubiquitous with little prospect that software’s role in our lives will diminish, [2] modern personal computers are incredibly capable and can be leveraged to host powerful development environments, [3] the open source software movement has produced vast volumes of free software, [4] delivery systems, most notably cloud-based computing have revolutionized how software can be distributed, [5] the internet itself stores expansive resources to learn many things, including software development, [6] new means of “knowledge delivery” are beginning to emerge, most notably Udacity.com, a free, online university taught by world-class professors, from institutions such as MIT and Stanford. Did I mention it was free, and world-class?

Decide – Based on my observe and orient steps I have decided on this path: I will prepare myself to become a hybrid of a systems engineer and a software developer, by following a jointly determined (by myself and my mentor) learning curriculum, using my “powerful laptop” along with open source software development tools fashioned to implement a linux-python-java-groovy-grails-MySQL ramp in order to develop value-added solutions to customers ranging from small business to large-scale aerospace, delivered whenever possible as a hardware/software appliance bundle, or as software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Act – Based on the above plan I will learn specific software skills through [1] self-directed study using borrowed books and the internet, and through [2] successive classes at Udacity.com. Associated actions, on a parallel path to the software learning include, learning the basics of business, and business development through interaction with my network, and by attendance at various meetups and user’s groups. In addition I will be revisiting selected liberal arts educational objectives that weren’t part of my aerospace engineering eduction.

As a result of actions, taken above, more feedback is directed to the Observe step and the cycle repeats.

Note, to tell this story, it has been streamlined. In reality I have already been doing this over the course of a year. I have been through roughly four complete cycles, and this post represents a distillation. At this point I am effectively entering a new Act step which will include enrollment and completion of several Udacity.com courses for the next hexamester that starts Monday the 26th of June. Having completed Dr Peter Norvig’s most recent class, cs212, the Design of Computer Programs I have Observed, Oriented, and then I Decided on the next classes. Note that the classes I will take are different than what I might have expected to take prior to the last cycle through the OODA Loop.

This is an experiment-in-progress, but so far, I’d say it has been effective for me. In my opinion it is a flexible, agile approach. With current economic stresses and uncertainties, combined with concerns over the long term prospects for traditional employment models in corporate America, I believe that this kind of method is as applicable, now, to people in my situation, as it was when first formulated by John Boyd for application to aerial combat.

Is there an OODA Loop in your Future?

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Being out and about in today's dismal economyJohn Boyd’s OODA Loop as Data Flow Diagram by Michael LaRue presents an array of opportunities and challenges. Since the word displaced is a euphemism for laid-off/unemployed, let's face it, restoring an income stream is one of the most important of those challenges. One way or another, doing that will require some situational assessment and decision-making.

Regardless of how well an aerospace engineering degree and decades of professional experience may equip a person, there is no silver bullet solution, or natural growth path towards a comfortable future, once displaced. A person in this position has to be resourceful and purposeful in moving forward.

Presented with this exact situation myself, I wondered what decision-making framework from my prior experience might serve well? Fortunately for me, something came to mind pretty quickly, the famous OODA loop!

My exposure to this concept came while working on an enhanced threat assessment feature of the Space-Based Space Surveillance system. Don't worry, it's unclassified, or at least it was at the time.

Briefly, OODA is a method for effective decision-making which is composed of a recurring cycle of the following steps: Observe – Orient – Decide – Act. This loop was created by Air Force Colonel John Boyd for application to military tactics in aerial combat. To paraphrase, the objective is to defeat an enemy in combat, and survive, by operating at a tempo faster than their ability to effectively make their own decisions. An excellent introduction to the subject can be found within this wikipedia entry.

For a person in my position, this seems like useful strategy to employ. If you are in a similar situation and don't think it's good, then perhaps you married rich, are already otherwise financially independent, or you've got a better idea yourself. If that's the case I'd love to hear from you; let me in on your secret, please!

To illustrate the OODA Loop I've created a Data Flow Diagram. This is a notation by Tom DeMarco in his excellent book, Structured Analysis and System Specification. I've used this notation frequently, to great effect in my aerospace engineering days. Most other times I've seen it presented though, it's been in a classical flowchart style. Rather than just regurgitate that form, I thought a fresh look might be helpful.

In my next post I will outline how I've applied, and will continue to apply, this approach, to the ongoing process of recreating myself for my future.

Until then, if you've lacking for something constructive to do, at least start doing the first of the two O's – start observing your environment and your circumstances. What could be more important that being aware of where you're at?