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.


Then there was only Southwest

One of the last two airlines that focused first on customers gave up the ghost yesterday. JetBlue announced that it will start charging for checked bags in 2015 and will be cutting passenger leg room by roughly 5% beginning in 2016. In explaining these moves, airline execs pointed to the need to satisfy the interests of the financial community:

JetBlue said its new steps and improvements in other projects would increase annual operating income by about $450 million by 2017, including $200 million from the new fare classes and $100 million annually from the new seats. … While the discount carrier has earned plaudits from customers, its financial performance has lagged behind rivals. Analysts have pressed the carrier for bag fees and tighter seating, saying it gave fliers too much for too little. … [JetBlue CEO Robin] Hayes said in an interview that the changes will improve investors’ returns without scaring away customers. “We’re very proud of our customer-first model, but we need it to deliver a similar level of return as other models,” he said. “JetBlue to add bag fees, reduce legroom,” WSJ, 11/20/14 (paywall) Continue reading

OODA loops in football

Whenever the subject of OODA loops in football comes up, people usually think of a running back shifting direction to confuse tacklers, or a quick-thinking quarterback picking up a blitz, or the coach adjusting tactics to take advantages of defenders’ weaknesses.  These are all good, but they are really examples of “operating inside the OODA loop,” rather than of the “loop” itself.

Those of you with access to today’s Wall St. J. should go check out Kevin Clark’s article, “The Green Bay Packers’ New Workout Plan.”  (paywall)  There you’ll find a good example of the other piece of the OODA “loop,” the actual loop part that goes through the cycle of observe, orient, decide, act, then observe again (and so on).  “Operating inside the OODA loop,” on the other hand, mainly involves the implicit guidance and control link from orientation to action. As I explain in Boyd’s “Real OODA Loop,” both of these processes are working all the time, but depending on what you’re doing, one or the other will take precedence. and it’s worth always keeping in mind that the ability to use implicit guidance and control is not magic but (like real magic) comes from repeated O-to-O-to-D-to-A learning loops.

Anyway, you can download “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop,” as well as all of Boyd’s briefings and lots of other stuff from our Articles page.

Returning to the NFL, here’s what caught my attention:

“Chip [Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles] is doing what Chip always does: He reads the information. He gets the feedback from every player, from all the data he gets, all the different sports science things we do,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. “He adjusts daily, weekly. We’re always moving the target to make sure that the players are at the optimal spot on Sunday.” (Emphasis added)

Does it guarantee victory? Of course not — the Eagles have lost three games this season — but Kelly’s team is on top of the NFC East, so it might be reasonable to think that he’s getting the most out of the players he has. And by the way, of the 32 teams in the NFL, only two have better records than the Eagles (Cards at 9-1 and Pats at 8-2).