The OODA Loop and Your Character

I’ve been reading about the OODA loop this week. Have you heard about it? I guess it was first articulated by airman and theorist John Boyd. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It describes how humans respond and behave to changes, especially in conflict/trauma. Training and preparation can help you move through the observe and orient stages and arrive at decide and act more quickly.

Although I didn’t know the specific terms, I sort of discovered this on my own. As confessed in earlier posts, I am an INTP. Practically this means I think a lot. Typically, my goal is to take in as much information as possible before coming to a decision and acting. This sounds like bad news in a crisis and I confess I have a tendency to freeze up and be indecisive.

When I was in seventh grade I developed a new habit: screaming when I was startled. I didn’t like this habit. My brother didn’t like it either. He told me once that he thought I was better than all the other girls who did that. I decided I needed to break this habit. I realized that if I always pretended that someone was about to scare me, I wouldn’t scream when it happened. I would be prepared. Granted, I couldn’t be completely prepared every second of every day…but the process of seriously thinking it out was developing my “situational awareness” (although I didn’t know to call it that). The first couple times things startled me, I was ready. I was able to form new habits and a new mindset for how to react when startled.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing my “orientation” skills. Instead of just impulsively letting out a scream, I was more swift to adopt any new, startling, circumstances into my mind frame. I started to do something similar in a lot of areas in my life. Because I am such a heavy thinker, if I can think things out ahead of time it helps me arrive at “decide” and “act” a lot sooner.

That is why I love trainings: CPR, First Aid, Lifeguarding, Wilderness Advanced First Aid, even customer service training. They teach you to prepare for scenarios and often give you the words to say and the steps to take.

How does all this relate to writing and character development?

Well, I was reading online this one woman’s defense of why ISTP’s make the best action heroes. ISTP’s are similar to INTP’s, but they prefer action. They are good observers and good thinkers, but that “S” means they live more in the world of senses than inside their own brain. They are good at making decisions and reacting to the world around them.

I grant that those are good qualities for an action hero. But I don’t think that you should eliminate other personality types. After all, isn’t it more interesting when the personality type that “shouldn’t” be a hero becomes one? Here’s my plug for the INTP: they are good at seeing patterns and detecting flaws in the system. They just need some training ahead of time to help get them past the big “double O” of observe and orient. If they get stuck there they might be useless. (In middle school my sister and I decided to light toilet paper on fire in order to reach the floating candle down in a vase. Of course it turned into a blaze. I was frozen, stuck in the observe and orient phase, debating what to do. My sister promptly snatched it and threw it in the sink!)

In fact, it would be fun to play around with characters who struggle in different areas of this “loop.” Some people will skip observe and orient and just decide and act, often having to deal with the consequences of not thinking things through.

I think it’s an interesting model. I’m not saying it’s flawless…but it helps us understand how people respond and behave.

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