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:


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: 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

EBFAS Will Defeat You

No matter how intelligent, creative, or energetic you are.

A case in point: the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer.  The title of Nicholas Carlson’s piece in the New York Times Magazine from a few days ago explains why, “What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs.” (registration may be required) Simplistically, one might observe that Mayer isn’t Jobs and Yahoo isn’t Apple.  For one thing, when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, that brand still had a small, fanatically dedicated corps of loyalists around which he could re-build. Yahoo, on the other hand, gets 700 million pageviews every month, without having much of an idea why and therefore how to make money from them. So it’s a different world. Continue reading

The Wall St. Journal Update on Imperial Class

They don’t call it that, of course, but check out Etihad’s new “Residence” at the front of their A380s:

  • $20,000 one-way London to Abu Dhabi
  • Includes ensuite toilet and shower facilities, with unlimited water
  • Savoy-trained butler, dedicated to your suite, who will contact you before the flight to discuss your particular needs
  • Half of the flights in January are already sold out

As the Journal’s Scott McCartney notes (paywall), they aren’t competing against other airlines’ first class offerings but against private jets, which I speculated would be one of the defining characteristics of Imperial Class (see other posts below):

Airlines around the world are one-upping each other on first-class perks to attract big spenders and lure people away from private jets, which may cost $100,000 to get to New York from the Middle East and require a fuel stop. Continue reading

A quick morning exercise

For those with access to the Wall St. Journal.  Last Friday, Joe Queenan had what was supposed, I guess, to be a light and airy column, but I think it was quite profound. In fact, it may be the best column on business I’ve seen this year, those in this blog excepted, of course.

Here’s the last paragraph of “Cosmetic Change? Joe Queenan Wants Us to Get Real” (paywall):

So here’s my advice to airlines: If you want to make the public happy, try building planes designed to accommodate human beings. Try offering movies that someone has actually heard of. Try brewing coffee someone might want to drink. Try service with a smile.

So your exercise for the day is to interpret this in cheng / chi terms.  To refresh your memory, here are a couple of quotes from Patterns:

Employ cheng and ch’i maneuvers to quickly and unexpectedly hurl strength against weaknesses. (13)

Cheng/ch’i maneuver schemes were employed by early commanders to expose adversary vulnerabilities and weaknesses (a la cheng) for exploitation and decisive stroke (via ch’i). (14)

And there’s always the sixth chapter of Certain to Win. Good luck!

Schwerpunkt: Be Careful What You Wish For

Boyd observed that:

Schwerpunkt acts as a center or axis or harmonizing agent that is used to help shape commitment and convey or carry out intent at all levels from theater to platoon, hence an image around which … initiative of many subordinates is harmonized with superior intent. In this sense Schwerpunkt can be thought of as … a medium to realize superior intent without impeding initiative of many subordinates, hence a medium through which subordinate initiative is implicitly connected to superior intent. Patterns of Conflict, 78.

As you can see, the Schwerpunkt concept is a powerful leadership tool, but be careful that you don’t use it to lead your organization over a cliff. 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.