“I can tell you the license-plate numbers of all six cars outside,” Jason Bourne tells Marie in The Bourne Identity.
“I can tell you that our waitresses left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215 pounds and knows how to handle himself.
“I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside. And at this altitude I can run flat out for a half-mile before my hands start shaking, now why would I know that?”
Although it’s sensationalized in typical Hollyweird fashion, Jason Bourne is the poster boy for the one skill to rule them all… situational awareness.
His mental map adapts to the circumstances. He is in the Now. He would probably approve of the super spy technique laid out in this article below.
So, if you want to be like Bourne in any capacity, one effective technique to get you close is called the OODA Loop.
The OODA Loop
John Boyd, an Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist, developed a system of internal adaptation he called the OODA Loop.
It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.
This process can apply to every facet of your life — from business to domestic issues to dangerous situations.
Boyd was no intellectual slouch. His OODA Loop was deeply scientific and philosophical.
He shows, with the help of three popular principles, that the Universe is fundamentally ambiguous and uncertain. Both your inner world and your outer existences are constantly in flux.
To gain power over circumstances, one must embrace the ambiguity. And revel in its chameleon-like nature.
The OODA Loop, then, is a way to “hack” that uncertainty and use it to your advantage, giving you an asymmetrical edge.
The three principles he used to create the OODA Loop, for context, include…
A] Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems:
Any and all models of reality are incomplete and inconsistent. The map is never the territory. Only through consistent Observation and Orientation can we get close enough to reality to act effectively.
Only through constantly updating our mental maps can we gain power.
But, wait, there’s an inherent limit to what you can measure, as pointed out by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
B] Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle:
Simply put, this principle shows the more you measure one variable of any given thing, the more uncertain the other variables become.
Without getting woo-woo: Everything is connected.
You can never have complete and total knowledge of any given object or subject, because your observation of it, your efforts to pin it down, has a subtle effect on its “web” of connections.
And the more you narrow down on a specific attribute, the less certain you can be about those things surrounding that attribute.
Another way of looking at it is, the more specialized you are in one particular field, the more ignorant you are in everything else.
Point blank: There is an inherent limitation in our ability to understand reality. But the more models you hold in your mental arsenal, the more “tools” you have to communicate with reality.
C] The Second Law of Thermodynamics:
This principle states that closed systems, cut off from their environment, increase in entropy and disorder and break down.
Applied practically: Individuals that don’t communicate with the external world, that never update their maps based on new information, will only likely become more confused and frustrated and not be able to act effectively.
“Taken together,” said Boyd, “these three notions support the idea that any inward-oriented and continued effort to improve the match concept with observed reality will only increase the degree of mismatch.”
Most people, when trying to solve a complex problem, reach inward for their current map of reality without taking stock of any external shifts. Then, they use that outdated map to come up with a solution in a brand new landscape. It’s like using a map of the Amazon to navigate through the Gobi desert.
It’s the classic “man with the hammer syndrome.”
How do you resolve this? Boyd suggests constant adaptation through the OODA Loop:
“We gotta’ get an image or picture in our head, which we call orientation. Then we have to make a decision as to what we’re going to do, and then implement the decision….Then we look at the [resulting] action, plus our observation, and we drag in new data, new orientation, new decision, new action, ad infinitum…”
Boyd’s whole theory rests on constant vigilance. You must always break apart preconceptions about reality and verify them with reality. If you are frustrated, if you cannot act effectively in the world, your mental models are not in line with “what is.” And “what is” is never the same in each moment.
Power of The Now
Thus, it’s important to stay open, mindful, and observant of the only place “what is” exists… of the now… of the current moment.
Gun fighting expert Jeff Cooper, in his book Principles of Personal Defense, created a color code system as a tool to gauge your mindset.
You never want to be “in the white,” completely oblivious of your surroundings. That is the realm of the smartphone zombies. Those who can’t unglue their eyeballs long enough not to strut right into the city fountain.
The base, yellow, is observant and perceptive, unless something triggers your antenna and deserves further probe. If so, you move slowly toward orange, orienting yourself and then, red, deciding and acting.
Make it a Game
Next time you’re out in public with another person, make a game out of situational awareness.
Observe people. Tell stories about them based on your observations. Verify, if you have the cajones.
Scan the room and close your eyes. Have your partner ask you questions about specific details. You’ll likely be wrong, but you’ll train your mind to be more attentive with each attempt.
And, finally, understand the interconnectedness… the Tao… of all things. That nothing ever happens in isolation. That chaos always has a calm way of telling you it’s coming.
That ambiguity is a fundamental attribute of the Universe, and those who embrace it and revel in it, and are willing to destroy old stories to create anew, gain power.
“… the key to success,” author Grant Hammond writes in The Essential Boyd, “to progress, to successful, creative adaptation is to find and revel in the mismatches. Without the mismatches, the ‘disconnects,’ as the military says, there would be no spur to find a solution, to make improvements, to interact with our environment creatively. To do so effectively, we must destroy before we can create. Boyd’s essay on ‘Destruction and Creation’ is a description of what we do as we grow, learn and do. Without this process, closely linked to analysis and synthesis, how we think, and our ability to adapt creatively, we could not survive and prosper. It is a simple statement of a complex process.
“It is a state of mind, a learning of the oneness of things, an appreciation for fundamental insights known in Eastern philosophy and religion as simply the Way [or Tao]. For Boyd, the Way is not an end but a process, a journey…The connections, the insights that flow from examining the world in different ways, from different perspectives, from routinely examining the opposite proposition, were what were important. The key is mental agility.”
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Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today