Does YOUR Thinking Lead to Action?

The whole point of thinking is, eventually, acting. Smart acting.

In his Kindle Single  A Spy’s Guide To Thinking, former CIA case officer John Braddock explained a time-vetted and very powerful four-step thinking process. Some folks know this as OODA; he calls it DADA. Call it what you want; it still works.

What is the OODA Loop?

The OODA Loop is a military combat term from Colonel John Boyd. The idea is that you should keep your orientation more closely attached to reality than your opponent. Then his plane will fall out of the sky instead of your’s. The OODA loop allows you to control the situation and respond more quickly to changes. Quick thinking can mean the difference between life and death.

OODA= Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

Observe: This is the act of sensing yourself and the world around you. Braddock modernized this step to “Data” because it is the “gathering data” stage. Data can include any kind of sensory input.

What do I see?

Orient: This step gives meaning to data observations; Braddock updates the name of this step to “Analyze.” Hence, DADA. I’m not impressed with the improvement. OODA Loop is just fine for me, and it has a better ring to it. But Braddock’s words help illuminate meaning and make the loop more actionable. That’s why I brought it up. Sue me.

What does it mean?

Decide: The decision step is a review of alternative courses of action. Smart people and organizations can imagine alternatives and their corresponding results; this leads to better decisions.

What are my options?

Act: There is a time for action. The purpose of thinking is to act. Action is the only way to test your decision. Results will start the loop afresh.

I chose THIS option!

Broddick sums it up: “That’s the chain of thinking: D-A-D-A. Getting data leads to analysis. Analysis leads to a decision. A decision leads to an action. Simple. That’s how thinking works.”

OODA Loop on the Government Level

Intelligence agencies take care of Observe and Orient. Spies collect “data” by going to foreign countries looking for secrets. Analysts sift through all the data to find the gems that might be relevant or important and then interpret the meaning. A key to analysis is comparing new data with old. The confusing part is that new data can be wrong, and old data was once new data; everything can be wrong or partially wrong.

Decision-makers are the ones who choose which secrets are worth risking the lives of spies over. These are Congress, the President, the Cabinet, the Generals. Action is taken by soldiers, spies, and diplomats. They follow the lead of decision-makers, who are informed by analysts, who got their raw data from observations made by spies. Are you seeing the “loop?”

Zero-Sum, Positive-Sum, Negative Sum

“Every interaction is a kind of game,” Braddock explained. “Some games have winners and losers. Some games have only winners. Some have only losers.”

  1. Zero-sum
  2. Positive-sum
  3. Negative-sum

Zero-sum games are the games of politics and government. Somebody gains and somebody loses. The winner gets something from somebody else. This is the story of history, more or less.

Positive-sum games are the cooperative games of free exchange and the games of your everyday life (unless you live a terrible life!). Both parties gain in a positive-sum game. This is trade. By definition, trade is beneficial, because both parties voluntarily gave up what they had to get what the other person had. Voluntary is the key word.

Negative-sum games are the worst. These are games where every side loses. Nobody wins. These can be pointless wars or lousy marriages, for instance. Of course, if you are on the losing end of a zero-sum game, that is just as bad as a negative-sum game.

The good life is spent playing positive-sum games all day long.


“Thinking is cheap. Action is expensive.” Most of your resources, including time, will be spent on action. That is because actions are irreversible and require commitment. You can change your mind on a thought and it doesn’t really matter; but you cannot undue an insult, a rape, a misfire in a gunfight, or any other action. The wrong action can kill you.

Cost goes up as you move from data to analysis to decision to action. Spend plenty of time on the cheaper levels and keep the sequence in mind. Move swiftly toward action once you’ve laid out your options. And only participate in positive-sum games.


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