Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Boyd Cycle Theory in the Context of Non-Cooperative Games: Implications for Libraries

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Boyd Cycle Theory in the Context of Non-Cooperative Games: Implications for Libraries

Article excerpt


The fundamental issue for survival in modern librarianship is adaptation. In the modern information environment the basic criteria that determines the success or failure of a library is the ability of the library staff to effectively adapt their policies and procedures to the needs of the user. On a daily basis we see users with technologies and skills that often exceed that of the library staff. The use of cell phones is a perfect example. This is widely used and accepted technology, but the response of libraries has been, in many cases, to limit the use of cell phones or ban their use completely. Cell phones are a symptom of a deeper problem--the inability of the library to adapt to change. In many cases, as most librarians will attest, libraries are woefully behind the curve.

Librarians have created a vast literature aimed at understanding these technological changes and their implications for libraries. In many cases the solutions for libraries are expressed in terms of the need for organizational restructuring or technological enhancements to increase and enhance the level of service to users. The purpose of this article is to suggest that there is a more fundamental issue: The lack of understanding of the Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop. This lack of knowledge and use of this concept places libraries at perpetual disadvantage compared to other organizations which have made use of the concept. Increased awareness of this cycle would benefit libraries by making them able to adapt to change better and faster to the needs of their users and, more importantly, allow libraries to better articulate their reactions to change. When combined with a basic knowledge of game theory the result for libraries can be more optimal outcomes in a wide range of areas from operational questions to strategic planning.

The OODA Cycle--Theoretical Explanation

The concept of the OODA cycle was first developed in the 1970s for military applications. The originator of the theory, Colonel John Boyd, in an analysis of air-to-air combat outcomes postulated a scenario in which one side in a conflict presented the other with a sudden, unexpected challenge or series of challenges to which the other side could not adjust in a timely manner. As a result, the side with the slower response was defeated, and it was often defeated at a small cost to the victor.

In Boyd's paradigm, victors consistently are able to recycle through the OODA loop or Boyd Cycle, faster and this gave them an advantage over their adversaries. The actions of the opponent, on the other hand, became slower and slower. Since they were going through the OODA loop slower, over time, they fell further behind until the faster side achieved victory. This model, although originally applied to military situations, is also applicable to business and other competitive situations.

Boyd postulated that any conflict could be viewed as a duel wherein each adversary observes (O) his opponent's actions, orients (O) himself to the unfolding situation, decides (D) on the most appropriate response or counter-move, then acts (A). The competitor who moves through this OODA-loop cycle the fastest gains an inestimable advantage by disrupting his enemy's ability to respond effectively. He showed in excruciating detail how these cycles create continuous and unpredictable change, and argued that our tactics, strategy, and supporting weapons' technologies should be based on the idea of shaping and adapting to this change--and doing so faster than one's adversary. (see Figure 1)


The ability to understand the orientation function is the key to success because it allows a competitor to penetrate his opponent's decision cycle. Each of us bases our decisions and actions on observations of the outside world that are filtered through mental models that orient us to the opportunities and threats posed by these observations. …

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