This Boyd Stuff Works!

Starting in around 2000, Dean Lenane, the CEO of a German-owned auto-systems supplier, CRH of North America, began applying Boyd’s concepts. The results were spectacular. As he told me once,

I asked my staff to read 4 books: Certain to Win, Boyd by Robert Coram, Maneuver Warfare Handbook by Bill Lind and Warfighting by the USMC. Although my people were sometimes puzzled by this curriculum, I was able to get most of what we were trying to get across stuffed into the assembled noggins.

Between 2000 and 2010, CRH North America went from no presence whatsoever to the largest supplier in its market sector in the NAFTA region. If anyone thinks this is easy, then I suggest they try it.

A couple of years ago, Dean began writing the story of how he did it. You can download the result, The Turnaround, from our Articles page. Last year, he put the essence of his experience in to a briefing slide show that I first saw out in San Diego in February and which he polished and gave at the 2014 Boyd and Beyond Conference back in October. With his kind permission, I’ve also uploaded the October edition to our Articles page.

RIP Southwest??

I hope not.  Under former CEO Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines shone like a beacon through the gloom of top-down cultures managing to next quarter’s bottom line. Although it often produced the best numbers in the industry, Southwest maintained its focus on people — customers as well as members of its organization. As one imitator after another bit the dust, Kelleher would proclaim that “They can copy the details, like fly just one type of airplane, but they can’t copy the culture!”

Well, the latest quality-related numbers aren’t looking too good.  In the Wall St. Journal‘s annual ranking of US airlines, (paywall) Southwest landed at the bottom for mishandled luggage (“On average, at least one passenger ends up missing a bag from every Southwest flight.”), and near the bottom for involuntarily bumped passengers and for on-time arrivals. The once-proud Southwest ranked 5th out of eight overall and scored at the top in only one area, two hour tarmac delays. Ironically, the airline was just fined $1.6 million (WSJ – paywall), the largest such civil penalty ever, for repeated violations of the rule allowing passengers to deplane after a 3-hour delay. Southwest says that it has made substantial investments in the interim to fix the problem. Continue reading

Has Apple caught the Microsoft disease?

My wife keeps getting the following pup-up in Safari on her 2013 iMac running Yosemite: want to sign using key “Apple ID Authentication (date, time) in your keychain

I used to get messages like this all the time from Windows, but it doesn’t seem like something that an operating system billing itself as “It Just Works” should be doing. Turns out that it’s not an obscure problem either, as you can tell from the discussion on Apple’s support site that began about 14 months ago. Here’s a solution:

For some people, it seems that there is a confusion in the keychain between the right certificate and a wrong one, and then Safari tries to sign using the wrong certificate. I my case, after suppressing that unwelcomed certificate, the signing process starts to work as it should… at least for some time. Be careful not to suppress any system or root certificates, which will cause an access problem to their related web sites. The one shown on the top of this discussion is located in “my certificates” in the login or session keychain.

I’ll pass that along to my wife, asking her to be sure “not to suppress any system or root certificates.” Continue reading

Be a cult

Visualize a cult. You probably see:

  • An ideology that seems incredible — even silly — to outsiders but that cult members will defend to their deaths. Data that contradict the ideology will either be interpreted to fit (that is, be explained away), or, if this should prove impossible, will either be ignored or denied.
  • A leader whose pronouncements reveal and interpret the ideology to cult members and whose every utterance, therefore, must be embraced and every command fulfilled, regardless of the cost or outcome.

Why in the world, you ask yourself, would sane human beings belong to cults, much less fashion their organizations in such a way? Cults, like all closed systems, generate entropy/disorder that mounts up inside until it makes them vulnerable to competitors or causes them to rip apart. On the other hand, there’s something successful about this model because down through history, there doesn’t appear to have been any shortage of them.

An article in this month’s The Atlantic, “Turning customers into cultists,” suggests an explanation. Many cults offer their members two things often missing in their lives, identity and community. Prophets and esoteric dogma are means for achieving these, but are not in themselves strictly necessary. As a study of the Unification Church (the “Moonies”) concluded, “The cult inculcated new members through simple techniques: weekend retreats, deep conversations, shared meals, and, most seductive, an environment of love and support.”

Even the Peoples Temple (Jim Jones), Branch Davidians (David Koresh), and Heaven’s Gate (Marshall Applewhite), whose members did demonstrate their loyalty with their lives, provided this strong sense of identity and community.

Descriptions like these should remind you of Einheit, the foundation of Boyd’s organizational climate. Literally translated, it means “one-ness.” Boyd used “mutual trust,” and other connotations include harmony, common outlook, and cohesion. Its importance in military operations cannot be overstated. Einheit is what moves people to climb out of trenches and march in straight lines towards certain death, as 19,000 British soldiers did on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916.

Discussions of cultism in business inevitably lead to Apple (Disclosure: I’m writing this on my 2008 MacBook, which still works so well that I can’t convince my wife I need to replace it). From a business standpoint, though, it would be a mistake to regard the company itself, Apple, Inc., as a cult, the late Steve Jobs and its famously secretive culture notwithstanding.  Success in business requires attracting millions of customers, that is, people who are not and never will become members of the company itself.

So the genius of Apple was to recognize that the concept of “member of the cult” needed to be broadened to include not only employees of the company but its customers as well.  There’s even a website, The Cult of Mac” (“Breaking news for Apple fans.”) The Atlantic article gives insight into how this was done. In Boyd’s terminology, we might say that they achieved a high degree of Einheit with all those Apple fanboys and fangirls.

As I suggested in chapter 6 of Certain to Win, one way to do this is to play the cheng / chi game: Give them what they want and expect — good performance, reliability, beautiful design, etc. — but then throw in something they don’t, like an intuitive operating systems (with free upgrades), a well-integrated ecosystem, responsive customer service, etc.  Even an Apple decal for your car. And perhaps most important, the feeling that you’ve become a member of a family of similarly enlightened beings.

The challenge for Apple will be to preserve this cult-like relationship with its customers. As a company grows and so loses the advantages of exclusivity, the benefits of being identified as a cult member become diluted. An Apple tag line from years ago was “Think different” (to which an industry commentator once appended “so long as you think like Steve.”) But there’s increasingly less cachet to thinking different if everybody else is thinking the exact same way.  My guess, unfortunately, is that over time Apple will shift its focus to market share and financial results and become just another company.


What’s luck got to do with it?

One of the things that used to drive Boyd nuts was trusting to “luck”: Once you’ve run through your bag of tricks, you give up and “trust to luck.” We’ve done all we can. It’s out of our hands now.

Boyd would insist that you never do this, that you keep on building snowmobiles and learning from the results right up until the end. Keep your team from “coming unglued,” as he would put it. This is not luck but lots of clear thinking, hard work, and leadership before and during the conflict.

A little of this flavor comes from a recent interview in The Guardian by Peter Thiel, of “monopoly is good” (WSJ — paywall) fame. I had never thought of “luck” as being an atheistic god, but he may have a point:

What I do think is that as a society we attribute too much to luck. Luck is like an atheistic word for God: we ascribe things to it that we don’t understand or don’t want to understand. As a venture capitalist, I think one of the most toxic things to do is to treat the people I’m investing in as lottery tickets where I say: “Well I don’t know if your business is going to work. It might, it might not.” I think that’s a horrible way to treat people. The anti-lottery ticket approach is to try to achieve a high level of conviction, to ask: “Is this a business that I have enough confidence in that I would consider joining it myself?”

In other words, Fingerspitzengefühl as an antidote to “luck.” I think this is an interpretation that Boyd would have liked.

“Uncertainty” is reality; it’s the climate of all competition, and like climate, it affects all competitors. So as Richards’ Third Law states:

If you lost because of luck, you were a loser going in.

It would be like a general blaming his debacle on rain.

Uncertainty is really nasty stuff, so you don’t want to leave it to chance. The essence of Boyd’s approach to tactics is that you don’t have to wait on acts of God — you can create the climate of uncertainty yourself, you can build your own Fog of War Machine.

A tip on grand strategy

Boyd insisted that one of the primary functions of grand strategy was to “attract the uncommitted to your cause.” If we take the prudent path and assume that all our current and potential customers are uncommitted, then as far as business goes, strategy and grand strategy are the same thing. One of the many ways that business isn’t war.

People buy from you for many reasons, and one of these is because they want to. People refuse to go anywhere near you for many reasons, and one of these is they don’t like you. So we get fanboys on the one hand and boycotts on the other.

Why, then, do some businesses alienate their own customers, giving them, as it were, reasons not to like them? How do you win that one? Here’s a neat example, “The perils of shaming bad tippers,” by Mario Castillo on LinkedIn. I think behavior like this may often result from an internal focus, maybe tough guy politics within the organization.

Of course, if you’re a monopoly, as Peter Thiel lauds over at the Wall St. J. (paywall), treat your customers any way you damn well please.


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:


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, and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad now goes them a little better, or should I say closer to Imperial Class, with “The Residence”: Continue reading