Boyd in Bavaria

More accurately, me in Bavaria talking about Boyd, strategy, and leadership.

If you happen to be anywhere near Munich in mid-November, I’ll be doing a keynote and presenting an all-day tutorial on Boyd’s concepts of leadership and strategy at Lean Kanban Central Europe 2015:

Here’s the link to the tutorial: If you’ve never had the opportunity to hear Patterns of Conflict, this will be an opportunity to come up to speed. I’ll be discussing roughly 100 of its charts, plus charts from all the other sections of the Discourse on Winning and Losing.  We’ll also have case studies and opportunities for roundtable discussions.

Hope to see you there!

We don’t occupy Libya so ISIS fills the vacuum

And we were expecting what?

There is strain of neocon thought that says that the Third World is filled with people yearning to establish tolerant, secular democracies.  This may well be true, but it’s the second half of the neocon proposition that gets us into trouble: If we just help them get rid of the “Big Men” (Thomas P.M. Barnett’s memorable description) who currently oppress them, the process will proceed more-or-less automatically.

The New Yorker has an update on our latest experiment, “ISIS Rises in Libya,” by Jon Lee Anderson.

Wary of appearing to be occupiers, the NATO powers that had helped liberate the country stood by as it fell apart.

Last week, David Cameron’s special envoy for Libya, Jonathan Powell, acknowledged that the West bore some responsibility for Libya’s collapse. “We made a mistake leaving Libya so soon after Qaddafi’s downfall,” he told me. “We thought they didn’t need any Paul Bremers”—a reference to the American official who controversially ran Iraq after the U.S. military invasion—“but in fact they did need help.”

Continue reading

Better the devil you know?

Mr. [William] McCants [director of the Project on U.S. Relations With the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution in Washington} said this was an underlying theme in his forthcoming book, “The ISIS Apocalypse,” to be published in September. “You’d like to say that treating people well and good governance go hand in hand,” he said, “but it’s not the case.” “ISIS Transforming Into Functioning State That Uses Terror as Tool,” Tim Arango, New York Times, 21 July 2015 (registration required)

This statement is almost correct, and well within what one might say but then like to edit later for clarity. A more accurate way to put it might be:  “You’d like to say that treating people well — as we would define “well” here in the West — and good governance go hand in hand, but it’s not the case.” Continue reading

Amazing what you can find on Google

Like an essay by an Israeli general that originally appeared in Hebrew in an Israeli defense journal in September 1949 (that would be coming up on 66 years ago).

Boyd extracted a paragraph from it as Chart 99 of Patterns of Conflict. Chuck Spinney, some 35 years after Boyd incorporated it, got worried about the source and after a few minutes, found the original.  We have now added a citation to that slide.

Chuck made the following observation:

If you think about it, this is Israel’s strategy — as well as its grand strategy — to this day: Divide up its opponents. This becomes clear in the use of settlements and Israeli-only roads to carve up and control the West Bank and in its failing effort to isolate Iran. Of course, strategy is destructive and these ideas work to destroy your adversary, but grand strategy should be constructive, it should end the conflict on favorable terms that do not also sow seeds for future conflict. Applying concepts from strategy, such as these from Gen. Yadin, to shape a grand strategy is a prescription for perpetual conflict and destruction (ultimately your own)!

Chuck, incidentally, is echoing Boyd’s observation that strategy is destructive while grand strategy should be constructive, which Boyd put on Chart 142 of Patterns. The notion that grand strategy should “end the conflict on favorable terms, while ensuring that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict” is from Chart 139.

Chuck has a nice treatment of grand strategy on his Blaster blog, and all of Boyd’s briefings, including the newly revised Patterns of Conflict, can be downloaded from our Articles page.

An addendum to Dean’s piece

Dean has told me that his line,

Everyone expected a close match. During the first game Fischer blundered and lost. Fischer then went on to “take measures which allowed him to keep his own orientation intact, while taking active measures to destroy that of the opponent”.

contains an exact quote from Certain to Win, page 30.  I am most flattered.

However, he did mention that his middle initial is usually rendered as “M.” Personally, I thought “A.” flowed better.

Incidentally, if you haven’t downloaded The Turnaround from the Articles page, give yourself a middle-of-the-week present and do it now.

On OODA Loops, Fast and Slow

Boyd is often identified with the ability to operate more quickly than an opponent.  For example:

The ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables one to fold adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep-up with what’s going on. He will become disoriented or confused. Strategic Game, 44.

This is sometimes interpreted to mean that in a conflict, one should simply go berserk — run around like a chicken with its head cut off (I’ve never actually seen this, but you get the idea).  That might be a useful tactic, but there are other times when you might choose to operate at a much slower tempo.

Dean Lenane, CEO of Fischer Dynamics Europe in Wuppertal, Germany, and author of The Turnaround (available on our Articles page) explores this idea in the following article.

The Long Slow OODA Loop

Dean M. Lenane

We generally associate maneuver warfare and the application of the OODA loop as being part and parcel of a high tempo approach to winning in conflict situations. Indeed, part of the Boydian imperative for knowledge and training is preoccupied with creating the ability to do the right thing without having to think about it. We generally want to have ourselves so attuned to the environment that we can respond smarter and quicker than the opposition. This is one of the basic essences of the Colonel’s method. Continue reading

Does it make any difference what you call it?

Yes, because what you call it affects how you think about it.

Here’s just one example, from a recent article in The American Conservative:

During wartime who dares question almost any Pentagon cost “to defend America?”

From “12 Reasons America Doesn’t Win Its Wars,” by John Basil Utley.

Sun Tzu suggested, in the opening lines of The Art of War, that

War is a matter of vital importance to the state, the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.

Griffith trans., p. 63.

It follows, then, that if what you’re looking at isn’t a matter of survival of the state, it isn’t war. Can you, with a straight face, claim that the United States is engaged with an existential enemy outside of its own boarders?  Continue reading

Tremblay’s Thesis Wins Major Award

From Chuck Spinney’s Blaster.

The “Blaster” is Chuck’s collection of commentaries on articles and events, which he began in the late-1990s. Numbers 155- 549 (July 1998 – January 2006) are archived on the DNIPOGOsite,

He is posting later comments on his own blog at

You can download Maj. Trembley’s thesis from our Articles page.  A link to Maj. Trembley’s after action report, referenced by Spinney at the end of his post, is here.

Note:  I have NO connection with any site claiming to be “Defense and the National Interest,” other than DNIPOGO. Please use appropriate caution when visiting any other site claiming to be “Defense and the National Interest.”


09 JUNE 2015

Long time readers of the Blaster are familiar with strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd (new readers will find a variety of references to them at this link).   I am pleased to announce that Marine Major PJ Tremblay’s thesis, Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop, has won the  “The Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award for 2015. This award is endowed by Colonel and Mrs. F. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret), and presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart to the Marine infantry officer at Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity and originality.

In my opinion, Major Tremblay has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of analyses and writings aimed at fleshing out and evolving Colonel Boyd’s ideas.  Tremblay’s thesis was written in partial completion of a masters degree, and I think it  provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of Boyd’s OODA Loop as a frame of reference for examining the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay goes further, however: He introduces general frame of reference for incorporating Colonel Boyd’s ideas more effectively into the Marine Corps education system, from junior to senior ranks and from the tactical to the strategic level of combat.

Tremblay actually used Boyd’s ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan.

Why do we keep losing?

Referring to such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. We send in military forces, they engage in combat — successfully the vast majority of the time — but fail to accomplish our political goals. In the process, we lose thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars.

Fabius Maximus has a new post on this subject, “Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.” His argument is that foreign forces rarely win other people’s insurgencies. So we need to quit trying.

Another way to say this is that we’re asking our military forces to do things that military forces can’t do.  Military forces forces engage with and defeat the enemy, as I was taught in ROTC many years ago. After that, what?