John Boyd, I Presume?

John BoydAbout 2 or 3 years ago, I started listening to the Hardcore History podcast which I HIGHLY recommend.  Anyway, he did an awesome series on World War I which is something I never really studied that much as I’m far more intersted in eye-to-eye death battles, lols.

Anyway, after getting into Hardcore History, I told a friend of mine about it and he passed a book about World War II to me that was translated from German and talked about the details of the initial offensive on France in excruciatingly interesting detail including lots of info about tank specs(cannon types, crew sizes, armor thickness, size and range, etc).

In the book, he goes into detail explaining why the blitzkrieg tactics were possible and why it only worked on that offensive BEFORE it was an actual official military doctrine.  It talks in even more detail about the fact that the structure of the German military allowed for decisions to take place much lower in ranks without needing approval from the higher ups in as was necessary in the French and British armies and this meant they had a much faster operational tempo and that’s what led to the blitzkrieg.  It was a result of the force structure and not the other way around.

The author also mentions that the seeds of this force structure were set at the end of WWI with German storm trooper tactics.  Very briefly those tactics were basically about small units trying to advance against enemy positions probing for weaknesses as they advanced and exploiting any vulnerabilities they found.  The unit commanders had to be in charge of this because it was so fluid that there wasn’t enough time to communicate back to the higher tier commanders.

This very organic style of warfare was implemented throughout a large enough part of the German WWII army that they could have an effect on the overall tempo of the operation against the French.

In any case, that same friend, then suggested I read a biography of John Boyd an air force fighter pilot and military strategist who created and worked to proliferate his concept of the O-O-D-A loop.

Here it is:

Now you don’t need to spend too much time looking at that.  I’ll just cover some of the basics as I see them.


Observe means that you need to take in your environment and collect information

Orient means that you use that information to figure out your current situation

Decide means that you then choose a course of action

Act means that you execute that decision

The key thing to understand is that it’s a loop so that after you act, you go back to observing and run through it again and the faster you can do this the more control over the overall engagement you’ll have.

I can think of a great example from when I took martial arts…

During my red sash test, I was sparring with my fellow test taker and he was a very experienced boxer.  He noticed that every time, he threw a jab, I would duck my head with my hands down (observe), then he realized that I was open at that point and he could easily get me with a kick (orient) which he then decided to do (decide) and then he executed that (act) by jabbing and waiting for me to duck my head with my hands down and WHAM!  His foot came up and and knocked me “the fuck out!”

So, I read this quite a long time ago, and looked into the O-O-D-A loop a bit, but didn’t see much practical application for it.  But then, that damn loop popped up again in my more recent reading.  I’ve been preparing for the story telling seminar since the end of last year and step one of preparing for any seminar I do is to pull ALL the resources I can think of that are related.  Usually what happens though is that I gradually end up pulling weirder and more disconnected material and then somehow find a way that it all fits together.

This time is no different…I started with Joseph Campbell’s PBS special The Power of Myth (where else would you start, right?), moved on to various TED talks that I’d watched and noted and somehow ended up finding some connection to a series of articles I read a few years ago on called The Gervais Principle.

In the previous blog post I mentioned this and his discussion of psychopaths/sociopaths.  And this time due to some of the things that I learned while putting together the Relationship Seminar, I thought it was worth pursuing his line of thought more deeply so I read his book, Be Slightly Evil, which was an incredibly interesting read.  In it, he talks about dealing with conflict and John Boyd makes a small appearance in that book.

He also alludes to his other book, Tempo, which is (supposed to be) focused on conflict and tactics.  And in that book, he talks about another book called, Certain to Win, which I just finished reading yesterday.  Certain to Win is about applying Boyd’s concepts and the O-O-D-A loop to business.

 But as I was reading it, I started to see a lot of applications in dating…now bear with me because people already think that the world of dating is perilous enough without bringing military tactics into it, but, oh well.  What can you do?

In season 1 of True Detectives, Marty was constantly counsels Rust to follow where the evidence takes you, not where you want it to go and I try to do the same.  So here we go…

My linking the two also has a lot to do with a recent dating(?) experience I’ve been embroiled in in various ways over the past 6 months or so, and the experience of the dating world in Taiwan in general which is far more conflict ridden than what I’ve experienced in Japan, Korea, and China though it’s possible that Hong Kong may have a somewhat similar dynamic.

I see several ways where Boyd’s principles apply to dating and actually to human interaction in general…

The O-O-D-A loop in a conversation works as the two people (in this example) talk.  Each is saying and doing things and the other person is reacting and responding to it.  Now, this could be collaborative, but in most dating situations, and many business situations, it’s not just idle chatter, but purposeful chatter where each participant has particular goals in mind as they are interacting.

 Like with most negotiations, it’s not purely adversarial.  It’s largely cooperative, but there is an adversarial element to it.
In my explanation, I’ll stick with dating because that’s more my bag (baby!).  And I’ll start with the initial approach as I teach it.

Before I get into it, I want to point out that the seeds of the O-O-D-A loop (from now on, I’m going to call it The Loop for short because I’m tired of finding the hyphen key) was developed originally from Boyd’s experience as a fighter pilot.  He got the nickname “40-second Boyd” not from his wife (as far as we know, lols) but for his standing bet that he could defeat any other fighter pilot in under 40-seconds no matter what relative position he started out in.

I think most people while they wouldn’t want to think of dating as a jet fighter dog fight can easily see the parallels.  Things are moving very quickly, there is a lot going on and you may not catch everything but you can’t dwell on it because you need to move forward or risk really looking slow and dull so you don’t get “shot down”.

In the earliest days of the world of pickup, the movie Top Gun was iconic enough that in a certain respect rolling out The Loop kind of makes a lot of sense.  Anyway I’m  not going to justify this any further and would rather just get to the important part about discussing how this all works…

As a girl recently said to me when I threw an unexpected question out at her over coffee, “Are we really doing this?”  “Yes, ma’am, we are.”


Before making an approach, every guy should assess the situation he’s going into.  Is she alone, is she with friends, is she waiting for someone, is she on the phone?  How many people is she with? How many guys and how many girls?  Is she having a serious conversation or is she relaxed and casual?

How is she facing, relative to you and how are all the other people positioned?  Is there another guy checking out the same opportunity you are?  What is she wearing—is she dressed casually, is she wearing work clothes, is she wearing gym cloths or something else?  Is she dressed for the location and venue or does her outfit seem out of place?  There are millions of valuable details that you could collect to help you assess the situation that you’re about to walk into.

In the criminal world, this is called “casing the target,” among law enforcement, it’s called, surveillance.


This is where you combine what you’re seeing in front of you with your previous experience, and accumulated knowledge to figure out what’s going on.  It’s where you take the information about what she’s wearing, who she’s with, her body language, her clothing, etc to get your best understanding of the situation.

Let’s assume that you’re in a major city like Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, or Shanghai for example and your at a downtown bar in the business area of the city around 7pm.

You spot two women in their mid-20s sitting together at the bar, one wearing a business suit and the other wearing work out clothes.

Just from this information you could come up with a few different possibilities.  For example, you might think that the girl in the business suit is an insurance salesman and the girl in the work out clothes is a prospect she’s doing a sales call with.

Or maybe the girl in the workout clothes is a personal trainer trying to sign up the office worker as a client or trying to sell her on Amway or Nuskin.

While both of these are possible, and it’s also possible that they are co-workers and the workout girl finished sooner, it’s more likely that these are two friends meeting up after work, but the friend in the workout clothes finishes work earlier and could go to the gym before coming out to meet her friend for a drink.

If you observed that they were sitting at the bar with people sitting on both sides of them, you might come up with several options for approaching them.  Maybe it would be better to wait until there is a free seat next to them, or until one of the friends goes to the bathroom.  Alternatively maybe there is space along the bar between them and the next seats over where you could position yourself.

If you observed that they’re talking very enthusiastically versus if they’re very casually checking their phones with brief exchanges, you might conclude that whatever they are more or less open to the opportunity of talking to someone else.


If you’re experienced with approaching women, you might already know how you’ve approached in similar situations in the past and then you could decide whether you want to approach, and exactly how you would do it.

Using what you Observe to Orient, you then use your past experience go through all the possible ways you could start the interaction and Decide which you think has the highest probability of success.

You could also run through the possible things you could say to start the conversation and maybe what you will follow up with depending on how you think they will respond.

When you’re new at this and you don’t have as much experience you wont make as good decisions and it will take you longer to Decide.  But once you have a lot more reference experience you don’t need to Decide because it’s “implicit” in the situation, much like how when you get ready for bed, you don’t need to Decide to brush your teeth.

In The Loop diagram, you’ll see that in the line running directly from Orient to Act that’s labeled, “implicit guidance and control”

Also note how under Decide it says, hypothesis, in parenthesis.  This means that you have a hypothesis about your situation as in our example where you think that they are friends out for a drink based on how you used what you Observe to Orient.

You Decide based on the hypothesis you built based on your past experience and that’s why there is an element of probability that I mentioned when considering the various possible ways you could Orient according to what you Observe.

Once you Decide, it’s time to…


The key thing to understand about this part is that it feeds directly back into the Observe stage.  Because when you Act, there will be a response.  In this case, to approach, you’ll need to start walking in their direction.

Putting It All Together

As you walk towards them, they may notice you.  If they notice you, you then have to Decide if you’re going to engage them at that point, or if you’re going to wait until you get closer.  So, you see, you’re already going through another Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle.

So, one of them may look up at you from her phone as you get closer to them attempting to take a space next to one of them.  When she looks up, you may Observe exactly how she looks at you.  In the Orient stage, you’ll Decide if she’s just looking up randomly, and happens to see you, or if she is acknowledging you, or even if she is hostile to your presence.

If she’s acknowledging you, you may Decide to approach her directly.  If you think she’s hostile then you may Decide to approach the bar and check out the menu to give you more time to Observe and Orient.

Also, if you Decide to open after she acknowledges you, you are operating under the hypothesis that she will be receptive.  That’s the hypothesis that causes you to make that decision.  When you Act, you “test” that hypothesis and then you Observe the results of that “test” and the Orient accordingly.

This recursive element of The Loop is one of the most powerful aspects of it because it includes the effect your actions have on the results you get, which means that you can gradually shape the interaction as you cycle through The Loop.

In my training I often say that “pickup is a continuous testing process” because you never really know the situation until you Act and Observe the “feedback” and the “unfolding interaction with the environment”.

As a simpler example, I was at the club a few weeks ago at a railing looking over the dance floor.  I turned around and saw a girl who looked like she was looking in my direction and had just finished taking a picture (Observe).

I wasn’t sure if she was taking a picture of me, or if she was taking a picture of the club and I happened to be in it, or what (Orient).  So, I posed a bit (Decision and Act) when she went to take another and I got no reaction from her (Observe).  So then, I assumed that she was taking a picture of what was beyond me (Orient).

I wanted to know what so I turned around to see if there was anything unusual (Decide and Act).  And I noticed at table of guys and girls (Observe) and I looked at her face again and noticed that she looked angry (Observe) and thought that she saw some guy, maybe her boyfriend with another girl, (Orient) and kept watching to see what would happen (Decide, Act, Observe, Orient…) and in the end I did see her and some guy having an argument right in the middle of the club.

The Loop is so useful for troubleshooting your life because you can always look back at each part and start to figure out where you made mistakes in the past and figure out how to make better moves in the future.

Did you fail to Observe information that could have helped you Orient better?  Did you Observe the right information but then you Oriented badly?  Did you Orient well, but you made the wrong Decision?  When you made your Decision did you fail to Act properly or too slowly, or sloppily?

Typically with guys that aren’t good with women, they may not Observe well enough to notice the women that they could be engaging with.  If they do Observe them, they frequently fail to Orient well and don’t see the positive signals that allow them to have build a hypothesis that says that they have a chance with a girl, so they Decide not to do anything and then they Act by not trying and then they Observe that nothing happens and then Orient to think they don’t have a chance and it continues like that ceaselessly.

When you break down The Loop you can take each of the stages and the pieces of each stage to find The Loops that work in your favor and discard the old Loops that are keeping you where you are.

In another article, I’ll talk about how your Loop interacts with a girl’s Loop during the process, because that’s where it really gets interesting.

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