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 “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?

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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

Alternatives to EBFAS?

Boyd’s organizational climate stokes up creativity and initiative throughout the organization and harmonizes them to accomplish the purposes of the organization. Examples run throughout his work:

Without a common outlook superiors cannot give subordinates freedom-of-action and maintain coherency of ongoing action. Patterns 74

… exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and reduce time, hence gain both quickness and security. Patterns 79, repeated on Organic Design 18

How do we generate harmony/initiative so that we can exploit variety/rapidity? Organic Design 9

A similar implicit orientation for commanders and subordinates alike will allow them to diminish their friction and reduce time, thereby permit them to exploit variety/rapidity while maintaining harmony/initiative Organic Design 23

The EBFAS climate is designed to do just this: With a basis of Einheit, intuitive skill, and mental agility, it employs the Schwerpunkt concept to focus the efforts of the entire team and the Auftragstaktik device to assign missions to individuals.

Sounds awfully militaristic. Are there alternatives? Continue reading

Fingerspitzengefuhl: How long does it take?

Although Fingerspitzengefühl is one of the core concepts of Boyd’s organizational climate, the others being Einheit, Schwerpunkt, Auftragstaktik, and Behendigkeit (as I’m sure you’re aware …) Boyd only uses the term once in the Discourse on Winning and Losing;

We can’t just look at our own personal experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experiences and the strategic world we live in.

if we can do this

We will be able to surface new repertoires and (hopefully) develop a Fingerspitzengefühl for folding our adversaries back inside themselves, morally-mentally-physically—so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s happening—without suffering the same fate ourselves. Strategic Game, 45

[When I'm discussing this, I omit the "a" before Fingerspitzengefühl because I think it reads better. Some day in the future, wars will be fought over this point, complete with burnings at the stake. So choose your side carefully.] Continue reading

Diseases of Orientation, II

In this case, the danger of an inward focus, particularly in groups. As Boyd explained, this something you want to do to your competition. No reason to do their jobs for them. Let’s start with this quote from Strategic Game, which I also used last week:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. (emphasis added) SG 47

What does it look like from the inside? It can be hard to detect because for most people trapped in such an environment, inside is their world, it is what’s really going on. Continue reading

Irregular warfare

As Boyd would say, “Why would you fight any other way?”

Here’s a quote from a review in today’s WSJ [paywall]:

[Charles] Lee was awarded the honorary rank of major general in the Polish army and observed the Russians campaigning against the Ottoman Turks and Polish rebels, witnessing how small bands of irregular fighters could seriously disrupt and impede unwieldy regular forces. Combined with what he had already seen of frontier warfare in America, this experience did much to convince him of the superiority of guerrilla tactics over conventional ones.  “Book Review: ‘Renegade Revolutionary’ by Phillip Papas & ‘Charles Lee’ by Dominick Mazzagetti” by Stephen Brumwell.

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Diseases of orientation

In Boyd’s grand scheme of things, Orientation drives action. The easiest and most reliable way to defeat opponents is to mess with their orientations so that the resulting actions are ineffective, late, or missing altogether.

It’s an ancient idea, all the way back to Sun Tzu (“All warfare is based upon deception.”), and that’s just what we have in writing. We can be sure the idea itself dates way before Sun Tzu.

In any case, a few thousand years later, Boyd added the idea of operating inside the OODA loop:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. Strategic Game, 47

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