This happened when I was 19. I have never talked about it before..
4am – early morning. I was walking back home with a friend after a night out. The area was quiet. We were walking on the street lane, not on the side walk. We felt that walking in the middle of the street was safe since this wasn’t a busy street, it was dark and we could see headlights from afar. There was also no one around us.
All of a sudden my friend and I heard quickly approaching steps far behind us. We both turned back to have a look. We saw three shadows quickly approaching. Whoever they were they were walking on the street too – just like us and in a straight line directly behind us.
We kept composure and the frequency of our stride remained normal. The steps we were hearing were becoming more and more well pronounced. We looked back again. The three shadows have already closed half the distance and were quickly approaching. We had about 10 seconds or so to decide what to do.
My friend sensed danger and said: “This doesn’t look good! Let’s run!”. I also sensed danger but deep inside I refused to imagine a scenario in which an attack with the purpose of mugging could happen to me. So, I replied: “No. Just walk and pretend that we don’t see them”.
I’m sure at this point you have a general idea of what happened next.
This is what I remember from the following moments. The steps were right behind us and it was too late to run. I turned my head to look back and I in a split second I saw a baseball bat hitting my friend in the hip and then I heard a thump. Then numbness in my head.
Next thing I remember I was on the ground. Quickly becoming conscious again I gained focus. My friend was frantically fighting two of the attackers. He was bent forward, the back of his shirt over his head, pulled up by one of his attackers, his fists swinging violently in all directions. The third attacker standing a few steps away looking as confused as I was. I managed to quickly get up, leap to where my friend was and get in the brawl not really thinking-or knowing- what I was doing – only trying to swing and kick as fast as I could in the direction of the two attackers.
What seemed minutes but in reality was just seconds later the two attackers with the bats started running in the direction they arrived from, quickly joined by the third attacker who until that moment stood confused on the side.
At this moment I started gaining perspective of what had just happened. I felt something warm coming down in a streak over my face and over my lips, then flying out of there almost in spray form due to my fast and deep breeding in and out. It was blood that was coming down my forehead ending up in my mouth and down my shirt. I realized that the thump I’d heard seconds ago was the echo of my scull receiving a baseball bat strike.
The only reason that I was still alive was the fact that the second before the thugs attacked I turned my head sideways trying to find out what was going on behind us. By turning my head sideways the strike, which was intended for the top center of my head, actually fell at the hairline of my forehead, coming down in a slanted motion removing the skin and causing swelling in the bone at the spot of the impact.
My brave buddy ended up with a big bump on the side of his hip.
The rest of it doesn’t matter much. We both didn’t tell anybody about the incident. Our parents didn’t find out either.
To this day – more than 20 years later I still have this bump high on my forehead at the front hairline. It will be there for the rest of my life. It’s only noticeable when I ware a buzz cut hairstyle.
The details of this story are not that important. What’s more important is why I decided to talk about it now after so many years. The reason is only one – I just now realized why in that day, at that time, in that very minute I made a conscious decision to ignore the clear warning signs that the situation was dangerous and instead decided to trust that my own imagined, safe scenario will play out…
The OODA Loop
I learned about the OODA loop exactly two days ago at the Defensive Pistol 1 class that I attended. I’d never heard of it before that day. I came back home and went online to see what I can find out about it. The results of my findings follow..
The OODA loop is a 4-step decision making process, devised by USAF Colonel John Boyd. OODA stands for:
- Observe – collect data from the environment by employing the senses
- Orient – form a mental perspective of the most current situation, based on the most current data gathered
- Decide – decide on a course of action based on the most current mental perspective of the situation
- Act – act out the decided course of action
This is a very simplified representation of the OODA loop.
A lot has been written about the OODA loop by much smarter individuals than me over the years. I won’t even make an attempt to try to explain it here for you. This is not the intent of this article.
The OODA loop is very complex in the way it applies to every-day life and I do not have the knowledge, capacity and time to even touch on all of its aspects. I most highly recommend that you read up and study it as much on it as you can. A great writing on the OODA loop can be found here.
The OODA loop is such a powerful concept! It’s an entire philosophy. It has the potential to change how you interact with the world from now until the rest of your life. It applies to all areas of life, including business. Most importantly, it may end up saving your life and/or the life of others.
I wish I had known and understood it when what I described above happened to me..
Too shallow and too slow..
See, everyone of us goes trough his or her own OODA loops in all kinds of different situations that require decision making. We do this by constantly comparing the new reality of the world around us (the situation and how it has changed) to mental models that we have in our minds of possible similar situations.
The loop goes on constantly (or at least it should–in all reasoning individuals) as the situation changes constantly. Continuously changing situation requires constant observation, orientation, decision making and acting on that decision (the decision step can be skipped in certain situations thus going directly to acting).
There are two ways (as I see it) things can go wrong in the OODA looping, causing arrival at the wrong decisions or causing “resetting” and no decisions made at all.
1. Too few mental models
When the situation around us is changing we continuously compare the new situation to already existing in our head mental models of similar situations. A problem arises in a situation where we can’t find a corresponding model to the newly presented situation. And, when we can’t we try to force an old mental model to a new reality. We suffer from “the man with the hammer” syndrome!
Pay attention now! This is exactly why I almost had my head open by thugs with baseball bats – I did not have a mental model that said, “People get mugged in the dark all the time — and this looks exactly like what it’s going to be!!” Instead, my outdated mental model said, “It’s just people walking on the street and they happen to be behind you.. It happens all the time – day and night. After all that’s what people do – they walk. And, they choose where to walk, not you.”
Well, we both know what happened that day when I had to force-employ the old mental model. The sad part isn’t what it happened – this happens to people all the time all around us, and for many it ends far worse. The sad part is that it took me more than 20 years to figure out why it happened the way it happened – why I made the decision not to run that night.
The OODA loop gave me the answer. After observing the situation I did not have the mental model that most closely corresponded to the dangerous situation and instead I used the only mental model I had at the time. In terms of the OODA loop I got the second step “Orient” totally wrong, and Orient happens to be the most crucial step in the entire 4-step decision-making process.
Too few mental models! As they say in the article I recommended above the only solution to such a problem is – “Build a robust toolbox of mental models!” In other words, have multiple scenarios for all kinds of possible situations. How? By investing your time in sciences, by reading a lot, philosophizing, training different defense and fine motor skills, role playing. And, by constantly being in Condition: Yellow when you are in an unknown territory, in an unfamiliar situation with unknown players.
2. Faster tempo = faster OODA looping
This is where conflicts of all sizes – from individual conflicts to wars between countries and continents are won or lost.
Tempo is the term used by John Boyd to describe the speed with which an OODA loop is completed. Most generally speaking, if you can complete your OODA loop faster than your opponent and start the cycle again you are in much better position to win the conflict.
Here is how it works: Let’s pick 1 second as the time you need complete all four steps of the loop in a particular situation. The last step is “Act” which means when you execute that last step you change the environment by creating a new situation.
Let’s now assume that your adversary can only complete step 1 (“Observe”) successfully for that same time. By the time he reaches step 2 (“Orient”) the situation has changed, which causes him to go back to step 1 again – to observe the new situation.. and on and on. Basically, you “reset” your opponent’s loop by making him/her go back to the very beginning each time you complete your loop. Thus your adversary never reaches step 3 and 4 and fails to act.
In a real-life situation this could mean that you gain valuable moments — while your adversary is stuck in Observe-Orient — which will allow you to resolve the conflict in your favor.
Here is a simple representation of OODA loop resetting:
Colonel John Boyd made the point that it’s not as simple as just having a faster tempo, but also varying the tempo with which you complete your loop. This causes additional confusion in your opponent and messes up his “Orient” step completely (he continuously fails to match mental models to a continuously changing environment). This confusion in your adversary is best described by him having an “uhhhh” moment.
The great potential of the OODA loop to create competitive advantage by resetting the opponent’s loop was the main reason why the OODA loop was taught in my Defensive pistol 1 class the other day. At the time I only gained a faint idea of what that advantage was and how it could work for me in a bad situation. But I knew that there was a lot more to it than that – and I’m glad that I spent the time to learn more about it.
For me I know that knowing how the decision-making process works in our heads has the potential to give me great advantage in all kinds of situations in all areas of life. I know that from now on I will be constantly vigilant and aware of situations and how those around me observe and try to match already existing mental models to the most current situation. With enough learning and training I should be able to exploit this process to my advantage.
And, to have an advantage I must have a much much larger “mental models toolbox” than my current one. This will allow me to be able to complete a decision-making process faster than an adversary.
The poor mental models toolbox was what got me in trouble that day when I was attacked 20+ years ago. Now I know how to prevent that in the future. I know what I have to do, and I have already began doing it! How about you?
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