New version of “Evolutionary Epistemology”

Chuck Spinney has posted a new version, 2.4, of Evolutionary Epistemology, his explanation in briefing slide format of Boyd’s “Destruction and Creation.”  The biggest change is a new page 4. You can download this version from our Articles page.

Robert Coram captured the problems most of us have when trying to understand what Boyd was driving at in D&C:

Because Boyd spent more than four years researching and writing and then distilling his work down to eleven pages, the result has a specific gravity approaching that of uranium.  It is thick and heavy and ponderous, filled with caveats and qualifiers and arcane references that span theories never before connected. To read “Destruction and Creation” is to fully appreciate the term “heavy sledding.” (Boyd, p. 323)

Yet, as Chuck illustrates, everything Boyd wrote in the remaining 20 years of his life — from Patterns of Conflict to The Essence of Winning and Losing — reinforce the main points of D&C. It is the only thing Boyd produced that he never revised.

Evolutionary Epistemology is more than an explanation, however. It stands as a complement to Boyd’s paper, and, by looking at his concepts from other angles, makes the original more approachable. It takes its place alongside Patterns, Strategic Game, Conceptual Spiral, and the rest of the Discourse as another illustration of message of “Destruction and Creation.”

[Note: the link to “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop” on page 43 has been broken. Please download the latest version from our Articles page.]

Coherent, Credible, and Wrong

The best strategist is not the one who knows he must deceive the enemy,
but the one who knows how to do it.

Polish SciFi master Stanislaw Lem (1921 – 2006)

We often think of Soviet doctrine as tanks lined up tread to tread, rolling forward until either they conquer or fall. Mass makes might. While there is a lot of truth to the Soviet, and so presumably Russian, respect for mass, it may surprise you to learn that the Soviets had, and so presumably the Russians have, a well thought-out doctrine of deception called maskirovka. The BBC ran a nice piece on the subject a few days back, “How Russia outfoxes its enemies,” by Lucy Ash.

Boyd had great respect for deception, “an impression of events as they are not,” as he wrote on Patterns chart 115, “Essence of Maneuver Conflict.” A person who is being deceived is not confused. He knows what the situation is. His orientation is coherent; his mental model of the world fits all the facts. It’s just wrong. Boyd’s primary vehicle for using deception was the cheng / chi maneuver, which he borrowed from Sun Tzu and reformulated in more modern terms as the Nebenpunkte / Schwerpunkt concept (see charts 78, 114, and many others). Basically, the deceiver shapes the orientation of the victim to expect (cheng) certain actions to take place. Think all of the stuff the allies did to shape Hitler into expecting the D-Day attack across the Pas de Calais. The deceiver then springs something entirely unexpected, the chi, and tries to exploit the resulting shock and confusion. Continue reading

Playing defense

One of the most powerful ideas in Boyd’s philosophy of conflict is that it doesn’t make any difference how potent adversaries’ weapons might be — or how brilliant their strategy — if they can’t use them.  Why might they not be able to use them?  Some reasons are simple, such as lack of proficiency. In other words, insufficient Fingerspitzengefühl or its organizational counterpart, Einheit. They know what to do but just don’t have the skills to do it.

There’s another possibility, one that Boyd especially liked, and it applies even if they’re well-trained: Get them confused, discombobulated, or better yet, infected with fear, uncertainty, doubt and mistrust.  He suggested many ways to do this, some of which are direct, such as agitprop and fifth columns, and others that fall under the category of “operating inside their OODA loops.” You can read more about this approach in Patterns, particularly around pages 121-125 and pages 46-47 of Strategic Game. Continue reading

Fear of planning

Another post on research into the physiology of orientation.

Planning may start in brain’s amygdala, study says,” reporting on research conducted at Cambridge University.  The amygdala is most commonly associated with emotions like fear and aggression, so its relationship to planning comes as somewhat of a surprise.

Perhaps this neural activity in the amygdala is related to the idea that much of the activity of the frontal lobe — our higher-order thinking apparatus — is justifying and implementing actions that we decided on somewhere else. “The mind follows where the heart leads,” in other words. Perhaps it’s the amygdala and not the heart.

Early in the process, neurons in the amygdala were activated in a pattern that reflected “several trials ahead” whether the monkey would save up towards specific goals, according to the study. “These activity patterns could be used by the frontal lobe to translate goal signals into concrete action plans,” [project lead Fabian] Grabenhorst told AFP by email.

What makes this most interesting from Boyd’s perspective is that this activity is taking place in one of our primary fear centers, and in particular, one activated by ambiguity.  A key thread in Boyd’s approach is to pump up fear, menace, and uncertainty (ambiguity), which juice the amygdala.

This was a small experiment, but it does suggest a physiological basis for Boyd’s contention that one can attack not only an opponent’s plans, as Sun Tzu insisted, but his very ability to plan.

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

Implicit guidance and control

Most discussion of this topic focuses on how orientation controls action when our purpose is to use our existing repertoire rather than to build new repertoire. Think about being in the middle of a fight as compared to being in training. I go into this in some detail in “Boyd’s real OODA ‘loop'” available from the Articles page.

The other IG&C link, the one from orientation to observation, however, plays a critical role in the operation of the OODA “loop” because it controls what we see, that is, what new information comes into the loop. This sets up a feedback loop where we often see what we want to see, not what we need to see. The result is a phenomenon called “incestuous amplification,” where our orientation locks on what we want to believe because, well, we have the data to support it. Chuck Spinney has a nice description on his blog. Continue reading

Fingerspitzengefeuhl for building snowmobiles

That might be Boyd’s philosophy in a nutshell:

Revelation

A loser is someone is someone — individual or group — who cannot build snowmobiles when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change;

A winner is someone — individual or group — who can build snowmobiles, and employ them in an appropriate fashion, when facing uncertainty and unpredictable change.

Does it seem banal?  Insipid?  Perhaps, but as in so much else, the key lies in knowing how to do it. With that in mind, look at this story by Ben Cohen in today’s Wall St. J., “Urban Meyer: The Once and Future King of College Football.” (paywall)  If you have the print edition, it’s on page B7.

How he rose—and then rose again—has a lot to do with Meyer’s ability as college football’s ultimate imitator. The one thing he does better than any coach is incorporate other ideas into his own. “If there’s something he can get from anyone else to help his teams win, he’s going to do that,” former Texas coach Mack Brown said. …

His colleagues say Meyer’s capacity to absorb information sets him apart from more stubborn coaches. “He’s the most astute listener I’ve ever met,” said Ohio State tight ends coach Tim Hinton.

One of the characteristics of Boyd’s approach is that you don’t have to be perfect for it to work. Just be better than everybody else.

It may seem that this approach emphasizes the observation and orientation aspects of the OODA “loop” more than the decide and act. But in keeping with the notion of the OODA loop as an organic whole, consider that the ideas that Urban Meyer is picking up are just that, ideas. Hypotheses, in other words.  Potential parts for his snowmobile. Until he’s tested them on the field and his team can execute them fluidly and intuitively — in other words, subjected them to the learning loop, the “hypothesis” and “test” aspects — he really doesn’t have anything. So it is a complete “loop,” and Meyer appears to be executing it pretty well.

[For all you Buckeye fans out there, this should balance out the post about Oregon that I ran back on Saturday.]

Don’t move, be agile

Matthew Futterman, in “Ducks vs. Buckeyes: Classic Culture Clash,” from yesterday’s Wall St. J. (paywall), pointed out a great example of reorientation:

In 2004, [then-Oregon coach Mike] Bellotti got impatient. The pro-style offense he had inherited from Brooks had stalled. New defensive schemes, such as the zone blitz, where defenses could pressure the passer without becoming vulnerable to a run, had stymied Oregon’s rushing attack. The previous season the team had scored just 356 points, nearly 200 fewer than Pac-12 champion USC, finishing a middling 8-5.

Bellotti studied tapes of lesser football schools, such as Northwestern, Bowling Green and Utah, which played fast, spread its offensive weapons across the field and put the quarterback in motion on nearly every play. After caving to resistance from coaches and enduring a 5-6 season, he pressed ahead, starting to recruit players built to run the fastest, most kinetic offense college football had ever seen. The Ducks went 10-2 in 2005 and Bellotti became a hero across the state.

This is what Boyd called Behendigkeit, or “mental agility,” which is the ability to break out of one pattern of ideas and actions and adopt a new pattern.

Once you’re in a new pattern, then you can be agile within it:

Joel Klatt, the former quarterback at Colorado who now does analysis for Fox Sports, noted that Helfrich recently explained the Oregon philosophy of football in Zen language. “He said our goal is to constantly remain the same and in remaining the same to constantly evolve,” Klatt said.

Shunryu Suzuki, author of one of my favorite books, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, put it this way when describing meditation:

Don’t move! But when I say don’t move, it doesn’t mean you can’t move.

Has Apple caught the Microsoft disease?

My wife keeps getting the following pup-up in Safari on her 2013 iMac running Yosemite:

com.apple.WebKit.Networking.xpc 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

Another candidate for EBFAS?

“EBFAS” was Boyd’s German acronym from the elements of his organizational climate. I’m very glad to learn that we have visitors who aren’t familiar with it. Certain to Win has a chapter on a simplified version, “EFAS,” in Certain to Win, and there’s a description of the complete version in the presentation Boyd’s Big Ideas, which you can download from the Articles page, beginning on chart 66. The simplification, incidentally, was Boyd’s suggestion. Certain to Win is available from Amazon and other online book sellers.

Briefly, the idea is that successful organizations fire up the creativity and initiative of all their members and then harmonize this power to accomplish the purposes of the organization.  In a competitive environment, successful organizations do this better than their competitors.

So my first recommendation to leaders in a turnaround is to get the culture healthy, get the engine firing again.  If you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t have to take long. Dean Lenane tells how he did it in The Turnaround, also available from our Articles page. Continue reading