Mission Command 201

Mission Command: The Who, What, Where, When and Why, An Anthology
by Donald Vandergriff (Author, Editor),‎ Stephen Webber (Editor
August 2017

I like good anthologies, and this is a very good one. Good anthologies can do several things, among them:

  • Provide discrete bins of thought that you can mine for nuggets — parts for your snowmobiles.
  • Let you look at a concept, in this case, “mission command,” from alternative viewpoints. Sometimes this can lead to an “Aha!” moment.
  • Expand your orientation — are you really doing all you could to engage the hippocampus? Be honest, now.

Cover of Mission CommandDon and Steve have done a great job of collecting essays that take you far beyond “What is Mission Command?”  In fact, when you get through, you may find that you know less about the concept than you thought. For example, people sometimes equate mission command with the German term Auftragstaktik.  But Auftrag doesn’t mean “mission.” It’s more like the English “contract.” When Boyd’s talking about “the German concept of ‘mission,'” he notes on Patterns of Conflict, slide 76:

The German concept of mission can be thought of as a contract, hence an agreement, between superior and subordinate. The subordinate agrees to make his actions serve his superior’s intent in terms of what is to be accomplished, while the superior agrees to give his subordinate wide freedom to exercise his imagination and initiative in terms of how intent is to be realized.

As part of this concept, the subordinate is given the right to challenge or question the feasibility of mission if he feels his superior’s ideas on what can be achieved are not in accord with the existing situation or if he feels his superior has not given him adequate resources to carry it out. Likewise, the superior has every right to expect his subordinate to carry out the mission contract when agreement is reached on what can be achieved consistent with the existing situation and resources provided.

So there’s obviously a lot more to the concept than simply “Tell people what to do and let them decide how.”   Don’s and Steve’s anthology will help you broaden your understanding and, perhaps, improve your use of the underlying philosophy in your own organization.

All the chapters are good, but I’d like to draw your attention to a couple that you might find especially broadening.

Quo vadis, mission command?

First, Grant Martin’s chapter on “Type II” mission command for situations where “the commander’s intent is ambiguous or weakly connected to the political purpose of the operation. … What should be added is how to conduct mission command when the purpose of the operation is unclear, where the scope is unbounded, and where cause and effect are not linear.”  Most business applications, in other words.  He proposes a new definition

In non-linear causality  situations, however, leaders must both assist and be assisted by their subordinates to best appreciate the context of the situation and during execution must learn and constantly adjust the appreciation of the context based on that learning. Of note: The learning must go both ways.

Boyd, didn’t like the term “command & control,” suggesting instead “leadership & appreciation.” Where does this leave mission “command”? If Martin’s idea intrigues you, you might explore other possibilities for expanding the concept. Boyd used the term “organic,” which has some of the bottom-up flavor suggested by Martin (there’s an example in chapter 5 of Certain to Win). Another idea is not to issue orders, even mission orders, at all, a possibility explored by David Marquet in Turn the Ship Around!**

The requisite physical energy***

Daniel Markert and Scott Sonnon introduce subjects that you don’t often find in leadership texts in their chapter, “Operationally fit for mission command.” For those of you not up on your neurophysiology, this one may be a little challenging. Just accept that the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, and their kin are regions within the brain (or you could Google them and find out where). Markert and Sonnon address a major but often overlooked issue in leadership, that leaders inhabit human bodies:

The rapid onset of the fatigue reflex elevates stress arousal and degrades cognitive function with negative effects on shared understanding, risk awareness, creativity, and decisiveness.

They explain why this is true and what you can do about it. Recall that Boyd suggested that “Without a common outlook, superiors cannot give subordinates freedom of action and maintain coherency of ongoing action” (Patterns 74), so this is important stuff, and Markert’s and Sonnon’s chapter may start you down a productive path.

Explore, enjoy, learn, question.

Preview / buy Mission Command at Amazon

 


*This idea is implicit in Boyd’s EBFAS climate. Stephen Bungay develops it in detail in The Art of Action, where he, essentially, equates Auftragstaktik with Boyd’s entire EBFAS climate. Mini review in  an earlier post.

**Also covered in my presentation, All by Ourselves, available on the Articles page and in the mini review mentioned above.

***Observation by Gen Hermann Balck, Patterns, p. 118.

Dispatches from the front

In this case, automotive engineering.

Dean Lenane gave a major presentation at the recent European Manufacturing Strategies Summit in Berlin and has kindly agreed to post it on our Articles page (link above).  Look for “Organizing for Success with lessons from The master – John Boyd, OR, People, ideas, technology…IN THAT ORDER.”

In addition to being a keen student of Boyd’s ideas, Dean has had the wherewithal to put them into practice. As CEO of CRH North America, he grew the company from $20 M annual revenue to more than $350 M in a span of seven years. He documented some of this experience in The Turnaround, also on the Articles page. Now, as Managing Director, Europe, for Fisher Dynamics, he is continuing to experiment. I think you’ll find  his presentation innovative, exciting (if you’re into this sort of thing), and useful.

One thing I might point out is Dean’s concept of “providing coherent strategy” beginning on slide 69. You may recall that the objectives Boyd set on p. 2 of Patterns of Conflict were:

Mission

Focus and direction

• To make manifest the nature of moral-mental-physical conflict
• To discern a pattern for successful operations
• To help generalize tactics and strategy
• To find a basis for grand strategy

[“Focus and direction” was Boyd’s translation of Schwerpunkt.]

In order to  do this, he needed to harmonize grand strategy, strategy, and tactics so that success at one level wasn’t undone by failure at another — the “win the battles but lose the war” phenomenon.  It took him a while to get there, but Boyd finally gave an answer on slide 141.

Dean’s concept of “coherent strategy” serves the same function for manufacturing, and I would suggest for all commercial enterprises. To give one example, he insists:

This requires that a solid understanding of how things work at a tactical level be possessed by those making the strategic decisions.

By implication, a large staff structure of persons without actual front line experience and management by a mandarin class of professional managers without actual detailed knowledge of the specific business and products is anathema to a fast maneuver approach as these will slow down the decision loop. Slide 76.

Compare to Boyd’s slide 176:

– In accepting this idea we must admit that increased unit complexity (with magnified mental and physical task loadings) does not enhance the spontaneous synthetic/creative operation. Rather, it constrains the opportunity for these timely actions/counteractions.

Or put another way

– Complexity (technical, organizational, operational, etc.) causes commanders and subordinates alike to be captured by their own internal dynamics or interactions—hence they cannot adapt to rapidly changing external (or even internal) circumstances.

I think you’ll find what Dean has developed over the last 15 or so years to be an important addition to the expansion of Boyd’s ideas beyond their original domain of war and another instance of the Conceptual Spiral in action.

Good luck.

Fit for success

Fit for Purpose: How modern businesses find, satisfy, and keep customers
David J Anderson and Alexei Zheglov
To be released by Amazon on November 29, 2017

Fit for PurposeWhen I first read the title “Fit for Purpose,” it seemed a little passive. Something like “meets specs,” which is necessary but suggests that somebody else is driving the market. I don’t know Alexei personally, but David is the founder and chairman of Lean Kanban, Inc., which provides training and consulting in “Lean Kanban” and related management tools based on a philosophy similar to Boyd’s. I’ve spoken at several of their events and keynoted Lean Kanban Central Europe 2015. (The charts and a related paper are available from the Articles page, link above).

But when I got deeper into Anderson & Zheglov’s book, it became clear that although their methods would certainly help developers meet specs, “purpose” could be something much more active and powerful.

Developers, whether of software, cars, or airplanes, occasionally forget that the real purpose of their efforts is to produce something that will delight their customers so much that they come back for more, and tell their friends, family, and colleagues. So David and Alexei subtitled their book not “Better ways to develop widgets,” or some such, but “How modern businesses find, satisfy, and keep customers.” As they insist, the only “purpose” that counts is the customer’s:

Before you can evaluate whether your products or services are fit-for-purpose, you need to be able to identify your customer’s purpose.

Continue reading

New edition of “Boyd’s Big Ideas”

Now playing on our Articles page.

This one is based on a version that I presented last year to the Weapons & Field Training cadre at the Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

Cover of Big Ideas 11-2017

Don’t let the title fool you.

Between 1976 and 1996, Boyd produced nearly 350 slides comprising six briefings. Most of these went through many, many revisions. And then there’s the roughly 3,900 word paper, “Destruction and Creation.” All of these, incidentally, are available on the Articles page.

What I’ve tried to do here is sort some of this into a few categories that reflect distinctions that Boyd actually used. The idea is to make Boyd’s body of work accessible to people who didn’t have the opportunity to hear Boyd himself deliver it.  The fact is that Boyd never intended for his briefings to stand alone and for years he wouldn’t give out copies to people who hadn’t heard them.

The danger is that people will glom onto the categories I’ve selected, and this will limit their own thinking and use of Boyd’s Discourse. Try to avoid this, and, as I almost entitled this presentation, be your own guru.

Good luck!

More After Boyd

More stuff to read after you’ve OD’d on Boyd’s Discourse.

  • One reader suggested Nicholas Taleb, particularly Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile
  • Another recommended Reality is not what it seems, by Carlo Rovelli and The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman

Please add your suggestions in the Comments.

If you’d like more on how the IDF operates, here are two by Martin van Creveld:

Command in War

  • Command in War (also one of Boyd’s favorites; the quote on Organic Design chart 29 starts on p. 199).
  • The Olive and the Sword, a Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force

The important thing is not to take any of these as gospel (same applies to Boyd’s briefings, too) but as sources of ideas. For example a previous post mentioned four elements of the IDF culture:

  • Complete the mission
  • Perform every action to perfection
  • Follow through at any cost
  • Be “ruthlessly candid” in debriefings

On page 196 of Command, van Creveld cites:

  • Individual daring
  • Maintenance of aim
  • Improvisation
  • Resourcefulness

Are these different translations of the same concepts? Complementary? Contradictory? Would any apply to you? How would you build them in your organization? How could you demonstrate that your program is working, i.e., that you’re having a positive effect on organizational performance?

How Boyd used Gödel, Heisenberg, and the Second Law

Those of you who have taken on “Destruction and Creation” (available, along with all of Boyd’s works, from the Articles tab) have probably puzzled over how, and why, Boyd dragged in three concepts not ordinarily associated with strategy:

  • Gödel’s Theorem
  • The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Most people just shrug them off as analogies: We see something in domain B, strategy for example, that seems like something in domain A, say, particle physics.  I worked with Boyd on “Destruction and Creation,” and I’m reasonably sure that this is not how he’s using these concepts.

I’ve added a short paper to the Articles page that gives my explanation.  While you’re there, you might also check out Chuck Spinney’s take on “Destruction and Creation,” Evolutionary Epistemology, particularly charts 33-35, where he discusses Boyd’s use of the three concepts.

A side of tachboulah, please

The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War
Steven Pressfield
New York: Penguin 2014
398 pages

CoverLionsGateIn my last post, I suggested a few things to read once you’ve become satiated with Boyd himself (don’t worry, it happens). A reader kindly recommended Steven Pressfield’s study of the Six Day War, told from the viewpoints of Israeli participants ranging from 19-year-old troopers to Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. I highly recommend it as a source book for illustrating the major points of Boyd’s work.

I will admit to being a huge fan of Pressfield, beginning with The Gates of Fire. I suspect that regardless of your position on the various players in the Levant, past or present, you’ll find The Lion’s Gate to be a page-turner.

Continue reading

After Boyd

I get asked from time to time what to read after finishing Boyd’s Discourse (All of Boyd’s briefings are available from the Articles tab at the top of this page).  If you look at the Sources section of Patterns of Conflict, or the “Disciplines or activities to be examined” page from Strategic Game:

Strategic_Game12

the answer would appear to be “most anything.”

Let me toss out a few suggestions from the last few years; please add your favorites in the comments. Continue reading

AI update: Siri

Some of you have taken me to task for my comments about Siri.  Note that I wasn’t criticizing Siri’s current performance. Instead, I was pointing out how hard it can be to regain the magic once you’ve disappointed your customer. Product developers often get focused on the chi, the “Pursuit of Wow!” as Tom Peters once called it, but if the thing doesn’t work, i.e., no cheng, you don’t need to worry yourself about the chi. If the bathroom’s not clean, who cares what brand of chocolate is on the pillow?

IMG_2888So Sunday morning I take iPhone in hand and say, “Hey Siri, what time does Kay Hills open?”  She comes right back with “Cahill’s Market on May River Road opens at 9 am,” provides a map, and offers to give directions. Cahills is a favorite breakfast / lunch, and sometimes dinner spot here in the Hilton Head area.  If you go, be sure and ask for coffee in the rooster or pig cups, designed by my wife, Ginger.

Did I mention that these things are starting to get scary? Not the cups, they’re pretty cool.