OODA: Magic, Mental Models, & Fake Orgasms

Even though they can be seen as pure entertainment, I can't stand magicians or haunted houses. They manipulate and put all their effort into masking reality. They can't be trusted. 

(Yeah yeah. I need to lighten-up.)

US Air Force Colonel John Boyd is well-known for his OODA "loop." I internally cringe most every time I add "loop" after OODA, as only is bastardized four (4)-phase version is truly a cyclical loop. Boyd's original slide is a tad more beefy than that:

Boyd's complete, unperverted OODA contains often forgotten about forward-feeding (right-pointing) pathways and feedback (left-pointing) pathways. These pathways don't necessarily cycle or progress in the sequential Observe-Orient-Decide-Act order like those abbreviated models you may have seen in business blogs. 

We are continually recalling, refining, and creating decisions. Our brain picks apart our environment and situation...and builds options and new ideas for us to put into play. We make better sense of what's happening around us. 

But it's also possible that we are losing our sense of reality. If we aren't careful, we may be becoming more detached from our environment and situation! We might be inadvertently holding onto or building false mental models that further pervert our perceptions. 

In the ORIENT section or phase of OODA, we house our mental models - the constructs of our experiences, education, training, reading, and stories. These mental models are representations of how we connect and relate information, data, nodes, imagery, clues, and stimuli. Tiny bits cluster into patterns that our brain uses for intuitive shortcuts - in order to keep our heads from exploding from trying to analytically process every bit of data that surrounds us. 

But for these mental models to be correct (or as correct as possible), they need to be continually refined. The reason you might have more confidence in the gray-haired surgeon over the one (1) who looks like he graduated medical school last week has to do with the perceived experience of the doctor. The older doctor's decades of experiences and trials have given her a "drawer full of cards" on which to draw or reference when confronted with a similar situation. 

[See what I did there? How many of you imagined an older gray-haired male surgeon when I began this story? If so, you should raise your hand and shout, "I'm biased and sexist!"] 

Duration, exposure, and variety helps in building a catalog of mental models that are continually refined at the subconscious level. But duration alone cannot be the factor in good decision-making or accuracy of these heuristics or schema. 

What if you're exposed to the wrong things? What if you've been surrounded by lies, myths, or fake news? What if you're exposed to only a narrow subset of reality? Will your mental models be sufficiently accurate when you find yourself in a slightly different situation? 

To keep our mental models accurate, we need to challenge what we think and why we think it. This is where Double-Loop Learning or Double-Loop Thinking comes in:

In most every way, this above visual representation is merely a subset within Boyd's OODA -- selecting specific pathways and slightly altering the looping of them. OODA most definitely already addresses the concepts of Double-Loop Learning/Thinking. 

This Double-Loop Learning/Thinking is meant to explain how we grow our mental models into more accurate representations of reality -- through experience, feedback, reflection, critical thinking, and retrospection.

But what if the feedback is false? What if she's faking that orgasm? 

The fake orgasm only benefits in the short-term. She's trying to either finish this up, or avoid uncomfortable conversation...or simply make him feel better about himself and his performance. In the short-term, seems like relatively low consequences or side effects. But I semi-jokingly ask: What's it do for the guy's mental model? What impact does this have on how he views his sense of reality? How might this impact his romantic endeavors in the future...especially if the feedback continues to be false? What will it do for his over-confidence or arrogance? The woman benefits very little from faking - and will likely suffer from it in any follow-up intimacy. I'll argue "faking it" does more harm than good. (No seriously. I'll argue! haha)

The magician, unlike the woman faking the orgasm, deviously and purposefully acts for his/her benefit. Magicians understand how people hold certain mental models, expectations, and gaps in attention (also called sensory blindness). They exploit their audience's models (however accurate they are!) to swap out a variable or two (2) without notice. The perception of the audience becomes disjointed with reality. 


You got Single-Loop duped while the magician was operating with more accurate information than you. He played you. 

I don't trust magicians. I'm not convinced they can turn off that exploitative mindset where they seek to pull one (1) over on their audiences. They're manipulative, masterful at deception, and all-around deceitful. (Sure, you can try to change my mind!) 

So what happens when your mental models are out of whack with reality? It's called Orientation Asymmetry. Here's a representation, with reality in dotted white circles and mental models in solid light blue: 

from Chad Cote

Orientation Asymmetry is when there is a mismatch between one's orientation and reality. This can happen at the individual level as well as the group level. The better we can align or harmonize our orientation (or mental modeling) with reality, the better off we are in making accurate, informed, sensible decisions. We can also discuss "group think" here, where cognitive biases are shared, especially by groups or teams with low diversity (....as well as any of the other reasons why individuals might conform to group decisions). 

So let's return to Boyd's original OODA:

The Implicit Guidance & Control forward-feeding (right-pointing) pathway is auto-pilot towards action It bypasses the synthesis/hypothesis/prediction/comparison aspects of Decide (and the feedback pathways from Decide). It's when we subconsciously make decisions. It's when we have that fingerspitzengefuhl - or intuitive or primal fingertip feeling for a situation. Now I'm not suggesting that we are always right. 

If we are conditioned, programmed, or brainwashed with inaccurate mental models, we are subject to blindness. We call this Incestuous Amplification. Our inaccuracies cause us to see what we expect to see, not what is actually around us. In turn, we continue to make poor decisions and continue to see what we expect to see. 

Incestuous Amplification is denoted on OODA by the back-feeding (left-pointing) pathway of IG&C - moving from Orient back to Observe. The gap between perception and reality becomes amplified by feeding on its own falsehoods. This is a downward cycle to almost certain failure. Only luck can save you at this point.

So why discuss these rather obscure aspects of OODA? I've long believed that some of the most misunderstood and ignored aspects of OODA are these of:
  • Orientation Asymmetry,
  • Implicit Guidance & Control,
  • Incestuous Amplification.
Rarely are Double-Loop Learning/Thinking and mental models discussed within the complete OODA slide or framework. Rather, they are seen as something outside or different from OODA. 

And if I've taught you nothing else, remember these two (2) things:
  1. Magicians are creepy.
  2. Faking orgasms does womanhood a disservice. 
They both give illusions that are simply not true. 


I've added an OODA resources & links post to my website. Hopefully, the resources within will give you a better understanding of John Boyd's study, language, and theory. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


Popular posts from this blog

Presentation Hack: Your Last Slide(s)

Presentation Hack: "For those of you who don't know me..."

The Generalist versus The Specialist