The Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop

Dr. Jamie Schwandt
18 min readMay 17, 2018

Summary: The Critical Thinker’s OODA Loop is a high-speed decision making and feedback process using simple rules to upgrade your critical thinking skills for a sharper mind.

As humans, we typically operate on cognitive autopilot. We rarely stop and reflect on how we interpret information and create mental models which replicate our perception of reality.

However, what do we do when our mental models fail to match reality?

Instead of changing our mental models, we simply ignore reality and operate throughout the day on implicit assumptions. These are hidden assumptions and not conscious choices. Our mental models allow us a simple way to cope with reality, yet we fail to confront reality when it is different than our mental model. Essentially, we have unknowingly created a ready-made default mechanism.[1]

So, what can we do?

We must first take time to reflect. By simply understanding how you interpret and perceive information differently than everyone else is a great first step. However, to truly upgrade your critical thinking skills, you must examine how thoughts arise in your mind and how they got there. Critical thinking is about asking yourself how you make choices. We can choose to believe something we hear or see; however, why do we choose to believe something we hear or see?

As a Red Team Member in the U.S. Army, I will explain how I upgrade my critical thinking skills using Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop as a framework for critical thinking. I will then demonstrate practical ways to upgrade your critical thinking skills for a sharper mind using tools and techniques from the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) Center for Applied Critical Thinking (also known as the Red Team school) and The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook (also known as The Red Team Handbook).

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking can be explained in a number of ways. Let’s quickly examine a few definitions.

  • “Critical thinking is a process, the goal of which is to make reasonable decisions about what to believe and what to do.” — Robert Enis
  • “Critical thinking means developing an ever better worldview and using it well…
Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Dr. Schwandt (Ed.D.) is an American author, L6S master black belt, and red teamer.