Anger is an energy, so Mr Lydon would have us believe and whilst anger and hate are close, the rewards from harvesting anger are great. Love, indifference, anger and hate cycle in a loop where at twelve o’clock hate turns into love, which dilutes into indifference, concentrates into anger, sterilises into hate before it turns into love and we start the whole fucking thing again.

I opened this blog with a reference to a loop for a very specific purpose, to talk about historical military strategy. As historical military strategy isn’t normally a subject I associate closely with, mainly because they’re all fucking hired killers, I have to ease you, and myself into it. If I were to launch straight into a tirade about how Boyd was the most influential hate monger ever, I’d end up like him. If I can point out how the most complete understanding of the human condition, the dynamics of the personal/interpersonal and id/ego, came from this same mind, I may be able to capture your attention whilst it’s receptive.


Colonel John R Boyd (notice only a colonel’s rank) flew the first generation of jet fighter in the Korean war. He never fired his guns and never made a kill. Yet he was America’s, and by extension the world’s, greatest warrior. Have you seen the Tom Cruise film Top Gun? Cruise’s character wants to be Boyd, but Maverick(pphhht)’s not strong enough, is too much of a wimp, so he ends up with the girl. Boyd taught, wrote the book and for all intents and purposes was the US Air Force Weapons School, where Top Guns is. He literally wrote the book for them, their tactics manual, the Energy Maneuverability Theory, A Discourse on Winning and Losing, Destruction and Creation. These are now standard military strategy texts across the globe and at their core is what’s at the core of this blog post. OODA, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act


When Boyd was flying sorties during Korea as a wingman, he observed each engagement with relative detachment. When the other pilots were celebrating their 10 to 1 kill (actually closer to 2:1 but still) ratio over the commie bastards, congratulating themselves on their superiority, Boyd orientated himself differently. He decided that maybe there was another reason for their success. Accepting the enemy had equal advantages, he acted. He grafted both plane’s data and noticed two irregularities, one a chance design flaw, the other a design advance. The American F-86 was equal to or inferior to the communist MiG15’s weapons, acceleration, speed and a host of other attributes. But, the F-86 pilot had significantly better visibility, due to a cockpit with more glass. The American plane also had advanced hydraulic controls allowing quicker transition between maneuvers.

These two observations, oriented as they were by reams of technical data, led Boyd to decide on a course of action that would change his and your life forever. Boyd’s insight into human interaction our Jungian collective unconscious , his OODA loop, begins with his observation about observation whilst observing. His observation was that because of the visibility advantage, the American’s had a better chance of seeing the MiG-15’s before the MiG’s pilot saw them. A better chance of orienting themselves into a position where their decisions would allow the actions necessary to get inside their opponents loop, and with faster OODA cycles, win. From the initial observation the win was inevitable, the compulsion for the MiG’s pilot to make a self-deleterious action almost an absolute. The German word is Zugzwang: a compulsion to move, when any move will worsen a position.

With the loop cycling, events gathered pace. Boyd took to studying seriously this idea, he went to college, read, listened and worked his idea. He also stole a couple of million dollars worth of computer  time for the necessary processing. Yup, stole millions of dollars worth of computer time from the US military, remember I said Colonel Boyd. This was a man who, when court martialed for breaking one of the USAF’s shiny new prototype planes, successfully turned defense into prosecution, demanding to be lauded for saving a lesser pilots life, ” I knew what I was doing when I broke it”. Irascible only hints at the reason Boyd didn’t succeed at the highly politicised Pentagon. Cartoon-like screaming at superior officers through teeth clenched around a burning cigar, leaning so far into his opponent’s personal space he burnt holes in their uniforms.

This is how we win. We get inside our opponents OODA loop by cycling our’s faster. To prove his point Boyd went on to win  every one of his simulated dogfights at the USAFWS against the best….of the best. From a position of disadvantage he’d inexorably and inevitably grind his opponent down and wrench victory, within 10 seconds. His “40 Second Boyd” nickname, tells you almost all you need to know about him.

As a way of winning war, this is impressive. Only Sun Tzu’s “Art of War “ is as essential. Fuck Clausewitz, because. What elevates the OODA Loop is it’s applicability. The theory’s simplicity encouraged it’s adoption outside of the military, business and sports quickly realised it’s potential. Boyd even spoke of his empathy with basketballer Michael Jordan when MJ described the supreme confidence of being in The Zone: “The basket appears to be six feet across.  [How can I miss a basket that large?]  The nine other players on the court seem to be moving in slow motion!”

I first came across the concept as a kid playing a Mirrorsoft combat flight simulator, forgot the game but remembered the advice. Some years later Hugh Laurie’s description in “The Gun Seller” brought it up again and eventually I got to Google OODA. Now I recognise the cycle’s ubiquity, I see loops everywhere. From the peer reviewed scientific method to the set up for a joke’s punchline. The same pattern of observe, orient, decide and act, played out in a myriad settings with dizzying levels of complexity. All drama, all art, all human interaction can be reduced to a series of loops and cycles, if you want to. The mathematics of Bach, Hitchcock’s reveals, or every god-damn soap opera ever.


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