An Ode to the OODA Loop: Thriving in the Digital World

There’s nothing more practical than a simple model. Don’t get me wrong — we live in a complex world, but the way we survive and prosper in a complex world is by applying simple models that work.

One simple model is the OODA Loop. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The model was developed by USAF Colonel John Boyd, a fighter pilot, as a conceptual model when engaging an enemy aircraft. (I won’t bother cutting-and-pasting text here, you can go to the link above.)

What I really like about the OODA Loop model is its simplicity. A pair of eyes in the sky, applying OODA Loop, is better than a thousand sensors connected to the network.

As I mentioned at the outset, I really like simple models. We thrive in our complex world because we have a collection of simple models that we can apply in the moment, and over time, we no longer give a second thought to the models that we apply.

I’ve been pondering the OODA Loop and how it might apply in the domain that I inhabit: identification and authentication, a.k.a. “identity management”. This is what I cooked up — the VEAA Loop.

I will explain each of the bubbles:

Verify — the process of confirming a fact. It doesn’t matter what the fact is, it could be the fact that my child or pet is vaccinated, that I was actually born, or I am a member in good standing at the local public library.

Establish — the process of recording the fact. Again, it doesn’t matter what the fact is. Rather that is recorded in some reasonably indelible form for others to see. A stone table could suffice, an electronic database would be better, and, well, for blockchain, we won’t go there yet.

Authentication — the process of confirming a recorded fact. First of all, this is authentication very different than verify. When you state a fact to a larger community, most don’t care whether it’s consistent with the truth ‘out there’, but rather with the truth that has been agreed to by society and recorded somewhere. I can say that it’s my birthday today, but I will only get a free dessert if I can prove it to the server (i.e., produce my drivers’ license).

Authorize — the process of granting access, a right, or benefit. This is where the real rubber hits the road. In order for the server to authorize dessert for me, the three preceding bubbles should have occurred: Verify, Establish, and Authentication.

Now here’s the big and fundamental difference between the OODA Loop and VEAA Loop. The OODA Loop occurs in real-time — when a fighter pilot is engaging an enemy aircraft — all of the action is occuring in the here and now. In contrast, the VEAA Loop occurs over an extended period of time — days, years, maybe even decades. Furthermore, the VEEA Loop, unlike the sole fighter pilot engaged in combat, has many actors involved. While the server of my dessert may be involved in the authentication and authorization, the verification and establishment were carried out by very distant actors, in most cases, a government authority.

In my next instalment, I will be exploring the temporal aspect of the VEAA loop, uncovering the unexamined presumptions we make as we conduct our daily lives.

You may be wondering why this all matters? It might not to you, but I feel that it is important to understand what is really going on as we make the transition from the physical-based world to the digital world. Assumptions that we’ve held for hundreds, if not thousands of years, might be breaking down when held under a digital light. Regardless, I believe, there are simple models that lie underneath. That’s what I am looking for so we can thrive in this digital world.

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