The essence of Boyd’s contribution was research into the decision cycles of fighter pilots reacting in “dogfight” engagement environments. Boyd, using his experience as a fighter pilot created a model that applied to unpredictable competitive behavior. In a dogfight environment the range of variables, the speed by which decisions must be made, and the critical impact of alternative choices makes it an ideal model for competitive environments.
This model is called a Boyd Cycle, a mental process known variously as the Decision Cycle, or OODA Loop. Boyd pioneered the concept in his lecture “The Patterns of Conflict(5).” The book Warfighting(6), from The United States Marine Corps, contains the following description of Boyd Cycles:
“Boyd identified a four-step mental process: observation, orientation, decision, and action. Boyd theorized that each party to a conflict first observes the situation. On the basis of the orientation, he makes a decision. And, finally, he implements the decision - he acts. Because the action has created a new situation, the process begins anew. Boyd argued that the party that consistently completes the cycle faster gains an advantage that increases with each cycle. His enemy’s reactions become increasingly slower by comparison and therefore less effective until, finally, he is overcome by events.”
5. Patterns of Conflict. John Boyd. Available at www.belisarius.com
6. Warfighting The U.S. Marine Corps Book of Strategy. Curency Doubleday. New York. 1989.