Always question the obvious

It’s common wisdom that among the virtues needed to succeed in business, and for that matter, any competitive enterprise, are passion and a sense of urgency.

Both of these, though, have drawbacks. They lock orientation, sort of like painting over your windshield and stomping on the accelerator. “Urgency” is particularly pernicious because it becomes a corporate loyalty test: Just execute the plan, act now, don’t think, and for God’s sake, don’t question. Continue reading

Orientation — not what it seems

Once, while musing on the essence of things, Boyd noted that:

Orientation is the Schwerpunkt. It shapes the way we interact with the environment—hence orientation shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act. In this sense, Orientation shapes the character of present observation-orientation-decision-action loops—while these present loops shape the character of future orientation. Implication: We need to create mental images, views, or impressions, hence patterns that match with activity of world, and we need to deny adversary the possibility of uncovering or discerning patterns that match our activity, or other aspects of reality in the world. Organic Design, 16

In other words, conflict is a game of dueling orientations, where we try to maintain a more accurate model of unfolding circumstances than the other players’. We don’t leave this to chance:  ” … and we need to deny adversary the possibility of uncovering or discerning patterns that match our activity, or other aspects of reality in the world.” Boyd suggested many ways to do this, including camouflage, concealment, security, deception, and most powerful of all, ambiguity particularly by operating inside adversary’s OODA loops. Continue reading

Precision in shoe boxes

Here’s the box for my wife’s latest pair of Tevas:

TEVA_Box

This is the complete box, seen from the inside, including the lid and reinforcements for the sides. No glue and no tape. Completely recyclable.

It’s still amazing to me how someone can think of things like this, not to mention manufacture them. What’s coming next — fractals?

Mind the gaps!

Like those between private jets and fractional ownership or between fractional ownership and Imperial Class.

One of the strengths of the free enterprise system is that if somebody imagines a gap, or even the possibility of creating one, and if that someone can get funding, then said someone will give it a try. That’s what we’re seeing now in the commercial aviation business.

The old model is broken. The four legacy majors — American, Delta, United, and Southwest — are moving upmarket as fast as they can, with the logical conclusion that in the near future, they’ll ditch coach entirely. So instead of coach, business, and first, the new model will be business/first, and a new ultra premium class that I’ve called “Imperial.” At least two airlines are well along in this process. Watch the commercials for Dubai’s Emirates, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFbryriZ3is and http://www.emirates.com/english/about/advertising/advertising.aspx. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad now goes them a little better, or should I say closer to Imperial Class, with “The Residence”: http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2014/08/12/etihad-launches-planes-with-full-suites.html Continue reading

Tactics of the Islamic State

In a post on the situation in Iraq today, Pat Lang has suggested that “This has Guderian, Patton, Manstein, et al., written all over it.”

True. Boyd did a nice summary of these tactics:

Message: By exploiting superior leadership, intelligence, communications, and mobility as well as by playing upon adversary’s fears and doubts via propaganda and terror, forces of The Islamic State operated inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops.

Result: Outnumbered IS fighters created impressions of terrifying strength—by seeming to come out of nowhere yet be everywhere.

Hence: Subversive propaganda, clever stratagems, fast breaking maneuvers, and calculated terror not only created vulnerabilities and weaknesses but also played upon moral factors that drain away resolve, produce panic, and bring about collapse.  Patterns of Conflict, chart 28.

OK, I did make a few insignificant changes to bring it up to date.

Coffee Culture

I tweeted this a few days ago, but it’s such a nice article that it’s worth reposting here.

The Future of Iced Coffee, by Alex Madrigal on Atlantic.com. “Somehow, (Blue Bottle CEO James) Freeman had scaled perfection.”

Not an easy job. As you read the article, be on the lookout for Schwerpunkt (Patterns 78)/ unifying vision (Patterns 143), which are common among entrepreneurs.

Even more interesting, at least to me, the author draws his own conclusions about why the Blue Bottle culture works:

But everywhere I looked, the most important component of scaling was the ideas of the people working with Blue Bottle.

Pure Boyd, although I’d be surprised to find out that Freeman had ever heard of the good colonel. Remember, one way to characterize Boyd’s philosophy is “Pump up the creativity and initiative of everybody in the organization and focus it to accomplish the objectives of the organization.”

The Discourse elaborates on this philosophy and provides examples, and you may find a few more parts for your snowmobiles in the article.

Oh, and watch out for the poodles! I know you already do, but could you show me how?

Strange goings-on in the airline industry

The four big carriers reported 2Q results last week. Here are a few thoughts:

  • They all made money. As the WSJ reported (paywall), “Those announcements came as American, United and Southwest reported record-setting second-quarter results, building on Delta’s solid performance a day earlier.”
  • How did they do this? Again, the Journal:

Airlines are prospering as mergers have reduced competition, making it easier to keep prices high and raise billions from extra fees. They used bankruptcy to squeeze costs from employees and suppliers such as the smaller carriers that operate regional flights.

  • Competition is definitely down. The four legacies now control 82% of domestic capacity.
  • Another way they make money is by shrinking themselves down to those routes and those aircraft where they can make a profit. This means fewer flights to fewer destinations, at least domestically.
  • If they aren’t investing in new capacity, what are they doing with their money? Well, customer service may be in the pits, but shareholder service is great. All four are buying back shares, and three of the four — all except United — are paying dividends.
  • And finally, virtually all the profit made by the four majors came from fees. In other words, the price of the ticket covers just the cost of the seat.* Profit has to come from something else. This raises the interesting question, so beloved of MBA professors, of what business are they actually in?

Continue reading

No, Johnny, no!

As Business Intelligence reports, John Chambers, long-time CEO of Cisco, recently told attendees at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen:

On the one hand, he hints that Cisco might carry more fat on its payroll than it should, but that he “doesn’t have the heart” to implement some kind of brutal, competitive HR practice, like a stack ranking performance review, where employees are rated against each other and the bottom percent are let go.

“A well-run organizations turns over 10% of their organizations, including senior leadership. I don’t have the heart to do that.

Arrrgh!  Either Einheit is important or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then a “stack ranking performance review” is a wonderful way to kill it. Deming pointed this out in Out of the Crisis and it’s embodied in his 14 points. He was right then, and he’s still right.

Stick with your instincts, John.

Centers of gravity — Do they still matter?

Decisively defeating al-Qa‘ida will involve neutralizing its CoG, but this will require the use of diplomatic and informational initiatives more than military action.  LTC Antulio J. Echevarria II, USA (ret.)1/

This most perceptive statement, written before our invasion of Iraq, raises the issue of whether the center of gravity concept offers anything for the types of conflicts we find ourselves engaged in today.

At least twice in the last week or so, I’ve seen “centers of gravity” in articles about US defense policy:

Zen Pundit on American Spartan

Mark Safranski has posted his review of American Spartan, Ann Scott Tyson’s story of US Army Special Forces Major Jim Gant in Afghanistan. Read it.

Here’s my review of Mark’s review.

As Mark notes, the strategy of supporting local insurgents goes way back, and it can be highly successful — the United States wouldn’t be here if the French hadn’t taken this approach. But it’s also true, as he notes, that if you create a monster to fight a monster, you have, in fact, created a monster. You’d think we might have learned this from our first Afghan adventure. So I certainly agree with Mark when he says that “It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered,” but “eyes wide open” is easier after the fact. Even a mechanical system of three or more parts can become complex and therefore unpredictable. So we have, at the very least, the US forces, the various tribes and militias, and the government. You see where I’m going with this, and that’s before we consider that the players are hardly mechanical parts whose behavior can be predicted over any length of time. Continue reading