The torch of chaos

Yesterday’s quote on the Page-a-Day calendar of Zen sayings was:

The torch of doubt and chaos is what the sage steers by. Chuang Tzu.

If you Google that quote, you can find lots of references, even a book by that title.  I’m not terribly familiar with Chuang Tzu, a younger contemporary, so the legend goes, of the much better known Lao Tzu. But I know that Boyd was heavily influenced by classical Taoism. The sources for Patterns of Conflict, for example, include Gary Zukav’s The dancing Wu Li masters and Fritjof Capra’s The tao of physics. I might possibly be somewhat to blame — I sent him his copy of Alan Watts’ Tao, the watercourse way (a great beach read, incidentally) — but he had other associates who were much more familiar with Taoism and Zen than I.

His study of these ancient ideas reinforced his natural tendency towards harmony and flow on the inside to produce non-differentiable, that is, abrupt, jerky, and disorienting, change on the outside. These ideas come through explicitly on charts 12 and 117 of Patterns of Conflict and underly practically all the rest of his work, particularly his notion of “operating inside the OODA loop.” Continue reading

The Power of Fingerspitzengefühl

An e-mail appeared a few weeks ago asking an interesting question about Fingerspitzengefühl:

I am particularly interested in the concept of Fingerspitzengefühl, which I interpret as an intuitive understanding of a situation. This concept sounds something like what my wife described to me about her work. She’s a surgeon who talks about being able to “see with her fingertips” during an operation. This sounds a lot like “Fingerspitzengefühl”. What do you think?

I think he’s right. We sometimes regard Fingerspitzengefühl as the simple component of Boyd’s organizational climate, EBFAS (for an explanation, please see my paper and accompanying presentation, “All By Ourselves,” available for free download from the Articles page.) But Boyd certainly did not. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to conclude that it lies at the core of his philosophy — simply put, if you don’t have Fingerspitzengefühl for some capability, then you don’t have the capability in any meaningful sense. Continue reading

A Boyd Potpourri

I’ve had a long, if not particularly distinguished, involvement in sales.  Starting with Fuller Brush over a college summer, then with professional services — beltway bandit stuff — domestic and foreign military aircraft, and public relations.  Along the way, I’ve picked up great respect for people who can sell for a living; sort of consider them the infantry of the business world.

So I was delighted when sales guru Anthony Iannarino asked if I’d do a podcast on John Boyd and applications of his strategies to business.  I’ve known Anthony for a while, and can attest to his knowledge of Boyd, so I hope you enjoy our session: Chet Richards on Strategy, Morale, and Agility in Warfare and Business – Episode #65.

In addition to the books that Anthony recommends at the bottom of his post, I’d also recommend the three papers from my section of the Articles page: “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop,” “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the meaning of life,” and “All By Ourselves.”  These amplify some of the points in Certain to Win and include research that I’ve done since that book was published.

Anthony also includes a link to “LKCE15,” LeanKanban Central Europe 2015 in Munich last November. Click on “Videos.”  LeanKanban is a recent application of some of the ideas that underly lean production and maneuver warfare to the problems of software development. My suspicion is that LeanKanban philosophy, if not the specific techniques, will also improve throughput time, cost, and quality (simultaneously!) in other forms of white collar work. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, check out some of the material on LKCE15 and consider going to LKCE16 in Hamburg this fall.

You can download all of Boyd’s materials (for free) from our Articles page.

Bookends

Unlike Patterns of Conflict, where Boyd went through so many versions that he finally quit numbering them, he only distributed one edition of his paper, “Destruction and Creation,” which carries the date 3 September 1976.

“Destruction and Creation” asks the question:

Actions must be taken over and over again and in many different ways. Decisions must be rendered to monitor and determine the precise nature of the actions needed that will be compatible with the goal. To make these timely decisions implies that we must be able to form mental concepts of observed reality, as we perceive it, and be able to change these concepts as reality itself appears to change. The concepts can then be used as decision models for improving our capacity for independent action. Such a demand for decisions that literally impact our survival causes one to wonder: How do we generate or create the mental concepts to support this decision-making activity?

He gives an answer later in the paper, then spends the next 20 years illustrating his concept for creating and updating mental models (it may not be entirely obvious, but that’s what Patterns, Organic Design, and Strategic Game are).

Somewhere along the way, fairly early, perhaps only a year or two after D&C, he coined the term “OODA loop.”  Originally it was just that, a loop, a circular process of observe, then orient, then decide, then act. I’ve heard him brief it just that way.

But problems soon began to crop up. For one thing, it’s slow. For another, quality of decision and “speed” through the OODA loop can trade-off.  That is, to go faster, you may have to hurry your decision making.  A British writer and officer, Jim Storr, simply pointed out that real organizations don’t behave as if they were cycling through OODA “loops.”

In the last work of his career, The Essence of Winning and Losing, published shortly before he died, Boyd finally produced a sketch of the OODA loop that resolved these problems.  I’ve just posted a revised version of my paper “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop” that looks at what he came up with and why. This version notes that although he rarely wrote “OODA loop” by itself before his last briefing (lots of mentions, though, of “operating inside the OODA loop”), “rarely” doesn’t mean “never.”  There are, as best I can tell, three times in the 320 or so pages that separate “Destruction and Creation” from The Essence of Winning and Losing where Boyd does mention the OODA loop per se.  None of these, though, are accompanied by any description, definition, or explanation, much less a figure or diagram.

And I’ve done some wordsmithing and added an epilogue on the bookends theme.

You can download this edition, as well as all of Boyd’s works and lots of other interesting stuff from the Articles page.

Enjoy!

 

A Beautiful Day in Beaufort

In the South Carolina Lowcountry (impress the locals by spelling “Lowcountry” as all one word. For some reason, “Highcountry” like around Boone, NC, doesn’t seem to work.)

I was never much of a jock in high school — think Leonard Hofstadter or maybe even Howard Wolowitz — so after graduation, I promised myself that if I ever reached retirement, I’d make up for lost time.

TheStartingLine

The start line is the bridge way off in the distance, in the middle of the picture (click for a larger image).

And here I am.  On the beautiful Beaufort River, actually a tidal estuary, that runs past the historic Lowcountry town of Beaufort, SC (you can also impress the locals by pronouncing it “Bee-you-fort,” not “Bow-fort” — that would be the quite similar town in North Carolina.)

To be more precise, in the Beaufort River, competing in the 10th Annual Beaufort River Swim, a 3.2 mi test of courage, commitment, and endurance.  I’m happy to report that I washed ashore at somewhere around the 1 hr 12 minute point.

TheWinnerAnd Me

I’m on the right. The guy on the left, George Moreno, is an old friend, who also won the race today.

I’m also happy to report that neither Mary Lee nor any of her friends and relatives put in an appearance.  I did follow the advice of a former SEAL friend, who suggested staying as deep into the middle of the pack as possible.

Beaufort really is a wonderful little town — think live oaks and lots of Spanish Moss. The exterior scenes of the house in The Big Chill were filmed here. Pat Conroy is buried here, as is his dad, Donald, the Great Santini. Plan a visit to mysterious and romantic Parris Island, which has a great museum, open to the public. If you’re coming down the East Coast, program in a day or two. I can personally recommend the Beaufort Inn.

To all my nerd friends, here is my message:  The wait is over, your time is now, you can do it.

It’s that time of the year

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay

Nothing captures the mood of a place — the heat that penetrates, the dust, the humidity — like the Ode to Billie Joe:

Although Ms. Gentry was born in nearby Chickasaw County, the song has long been associated with Greenwood, where the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha come together to form the Yazoo. It’s where she started school and learned to play a variety of musical instruments. As an aside, “Greenwood” doesn’t appear in the lyrics — the only actual places mentioned are Tupelo and the “Carroll County picture show,” neither of which are in the Delta.

To get to the point, Greenwood is also where my wife, Ginger, was born.  So the song has always had a lot of significance to us.

If you’ve never been to the Mississippi Delta, it’s worth a trip. Home of the Delta Blues, of course, and one of those supernatural places where, to quote Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

What you think you see

Perhaps more accurately, “What you think, you see.”

It’s always worth reminding ourselves that we don’t actually “see” anything.  Photons strike our retinas causing nerve impulses to travel to various parts of the brain.  (There is processing behind the retina, so sometimes no impulses get sent.)

In any case, these impulses get mixed up with all the other activity in our 86 or so billion neurons in the brain, involving in some cases thousands of interconnections, each. The result when it finally hits our prefrontal cortex is an “observation.”

Lots of things can go wrong, a fact for which we need constant reminding. Here’s a good one.

You may have seen this recently floating around the Internet. Go to http://www.psy.ritsumei.ac.jp/~akitaoka/color12e.html and look at the last illusion.  If you have a color picker that will tell you the RGB values for any pixel, you can verify Dr. Kitaoka’s claim. Or just blow the thing up and scroll back and forth.

The same phenomenon happens out in the real world, where the patterns are not static pixels on a page but evolving scenarios often with lots of people.  If you can be fooled by pixels-on-a-page, think about what happens out there. Oh, and the pixels aren’t actively trying to deceive you.

In the OODA “loop” sketch, Boyd tried to capture this with the “implicit guidance and control” feed from orientation back to observation:

Basic OODA Loop No Blue.001

We can mine a little more from this experiment. Once you’ve decided that you see blue and green spirals, it can take a fair amount of effort to convince you otherwise, even though Kitaoka tells you what the RGB values are. You may have noticed this. Now suppose you didn’t know the real colors and just saw the figure cold.

Why do they lie to us?

Asked the late father of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, in one of his last major new books, The Curse of Lono.

The same question was asked back last November by David Anderson at the Lean Kanban Central Europe 2015 conference where he mentioned that the biggest fear of senior managers is that their middle manager are always lying to them (http://www.lkce15.com/videos/ and click on his keynote.)  As luck would have it, it was answered at least in part when a friend of mine sent me Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book, Leadership BS, a couple of months ago. Pfeffer has collected data over the years to show that in the vast majority of organizations, people lie simply because there are incentives to do so and few penalties for getting caught.

So putting all this together, I did a keynote at this week’s Executive Services Planning Summit in San Diego that concluded that one of the defining characteristics of lean/agile/maneuver — basically an organization run “according to Boyd” — is that people don’t lie to each other. In such an organization, the more people trust each other and use the other elements of the EBFAS climate, the better they can employ the lean / maneuver practices specific to their line of work.

Conversely, one characteristic of a “lean” practice is that using it also reinforces the EBFAS / trust climate.  Thus using lean practices over time “matures” an organization, and that maturity will help the organization use those practices more effectively and even develop new ones.

This should be a familiar idea to those who practice lean / maneuver. For example, here’s an observation on trust from the US Marine Corps’ basic doctrinal manual MCDP-1, Warfighting:

We believe that implicit communication—to communicate through mutual understanding, using a minimum of key, well-understood phrases or even anticipating each others’ thoughts—is a faster, more effective way to communicate than through the use of detailed, explicit instructions. We develop this ability through familiarity and trust, which are based on a shared philosophy and shared experience. (page 79)

Note that “shared experience” means using their practices together, just as Boyd recommended on p. 18 of Organic Design and pp. 74-79 of Patterns of Conflict. All of Boyd’s briefings are available from our Articles page, as is Why do they lie to us?

Life of Chuck Myers

Charles E. (Chuck) Myers served as the Director for Air Warfare in the Office of the Secretary of Defense between 1973-78 during which time he launched Project Harvey which later became known as the “stealth” program (see The Five Billion Dollar Misunderstanding by James Stevenson, Naval Institute Press). Chuck had the extraordinary experience of playing an integral role in creation and development of nine front-line military aircraft: the F-14, F-15, A-10, F-16, F-18, EF-111, EA-6B, F-117 and the B-2. While in DDR&E, his projects included Pershing, Tomahawk, Advanced Sparrow and Sidewinder, HARM, IR Maverick, Laser Guided Bombs and AMRAAM.

In 1961, Mr. Myers created Aerocounsel, Inc., a mini-think tank to serve the aerospace community. Since then, he has consulted or worked for 16 aerospace companies, NASA, FAA, GAO, CNA, IDA, OMB, CSIS, DoD, USAF and USN. During the past forty years he has written and lectured about various military missions including air superiority, close air support, fleet air defense and fire support for ground forces. In 1978, he began the effort which led to reactivation of the Iowa Class battleships and much later, a Navy proposal to create a Battle Surveillance Airship to assist in air defense against the “sea skimmer” cruise missile threat. This was coupled with briefings on his Littoral Warfare study which illuminated the need for a dedicated “fire support ship”. During 1985-2000, Aerocounsel, conducted workshops on tactical air support for maneuver warfare. He chaired forums sponsored by COMNAVAIRPAC which led to a novel concept wherein fixed-wing pilots perform as a self-adaptive cooperative element in support of infantry.

Mr. Myers had the unique experience of completing both Army Air Corps and Navy pilot training. He flew low-level attack versions of B-25s with the Fifth Air Force in the Pacific Theater in WWII, separating from the Army Air Force in October 1945. Chuck then served as an USAF reserve pilot while attending Lafayette College, graduating with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1949. He was then commissioned Ensign, USN and trained as a Naval Aviator, graduating in April 1951 and later joining VF-72 to deploy aboard the carrier USS Bon Homme Richard to fly F9F-2 Panther jets in the Korean War.

In 1954, Lt. Myers graduated from Navy Test Pilot School after which he flew as a Navy Test Pilot for nearly two years before resigning to become a civilian engineering test pilot for CONVAIR. His first assignment was to develop a new flight technique for the “Pogo Stick” VTOL Navy fighter. After this project was terminated for engine problems, he joined the CONVAIR fighter-interceptor test team at Edwards AFB, CA. During five years at Edwards, he served as President of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, became Chief Test Pilot on the USAF F-106 program and flew the speed envelope extension necessary for the Air Force to capture the World Speed Record from Russia in 1960 at 1,544 mph. He later flew with the U.S. Army during early experiments using armed helicopters for fire support at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. In December 1999, Chuck was inducted into the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to aeronautical progress during the past 50 years.

RIP Chuck Myers

My long time (40 years) friend and colleague, Chuck Myers, died a little after 8 this morning in Naples, FL. Many of you knew Chuck, and for those who didn’t, I’ll post his obituary later. 

The great ones are passing from the stage.