New Edition of Boyd’s Discourse

Grant Hammond, a long-time associate of Boyd’s and the author of The Mind of War, John Boyd and American Security (Smithsonian Press, 2001), has published a new edition of Boyd’s Discourse on Winning and Losing. You can download it from Air University via a link on the Articles page.

Grant has included a new Introduction, along with an Afterword, index and an Appendix. You can access further information on some of the concepts via QR codes sprinkled throughout the text.

This is a major effort and makes a significant contribution to understanding John’s work.  I strongly encourage all readers to download it.

If you’d prefer a hard copy, you can order one free of charge from Air University Press:

By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to Boyd’s last briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing, Grant includes the material from it in the Appendix.


Boyd for policing

Several years ago, I posted Major PJ Trembley’s Master’s Thesis on the Articles page.  I had forgotten that at the time, Lt. Fred Leland of the Walpole, MA, Police Department, and owner of Law Enforcement & Security Consulting, Inc., had written an introduction calling attention to Maj Trembley’s paper for law enforcement professionals.

Boyd felt that his philosophy reflected deeper principles that manifest themselves in all forms of conflict, not just war — hence “Patterns of Conflict.”  As the author of a book on how these principles operate in business, I obviously agree.  Perhaps by examining their applications to law enforcement, which should not be thought of as conflict, per se, but which can have elements of it, we can develop a more profound understanding of these fundamental concepts.

Fred has kindly granted me permission to repost his introduction; I apologize for the slight delay.

Major PJ Tremblay just gave permission to share his brilliant paper called “Shaping and Adapting – Unlocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop.pdf” with police and those who visit our website. This paper explains the actual complex nature of the Boyd Cycle verses its often oversimplified and misunderstood OODA Loop.

The paper is thoroughly researched and discusses numerous factors crucial in making sound decisions. Feedback loops are discussed as well as the difference between direct outside observations and indirect causal loops as the difference between “top down” processing and “bottom up” processing of perception. While “top down” processing refers to a person’s expectations of what is likely to occur based on previous experiences and inherent mobilization of selective mechanisms that influence focus and attention, the “bottom up” processing are the actual observations sensed.

The Major goes on to explain what I believe is an important concept for police to understand called incestuous amplification. Incestuous amplification occurs when one’s preconceptions misshape the observations that one is sensing. These misshapen observations then blur the true connection between the individual and the environment because the brain begins to synthesize cues and preconceived responses. This has huge implications on how we train and prepare officers for dynamic encounters. You must read this piece.

Fred writes on this and a myriad of other topics on his blog,

Happy Birthday, Alice

Sun Tzu was a great fan of intelligence and spies in particular — check out Chapter 13 if you need a refresher —  because it’s much easier to operate inside opponents’ OODA loops if you already know what they’re going to do. As luck would have it, today is the birthday of Louise de Bettignies, AKA Alice Dubois, one of the greatest intelligence operatives of all time.

To explain why, a little historical perspective might prove useful. Although the German Schlieffen Plan failed to hook around Paris and end World War I in 1914, it left the Germans occupying a fair portion of northeastern France for the next 4 years. From January to September, 1915, this area provided the theater of operations for de Bettignies, whose network alerted the British to German plans and tactical movements  and almost took out the Kaiser himself. Among other feats of derring-do.

There are several bios of her, but historical fiction might be a good place to start. To this end, Kate Quinn has written a most readable — “page turner” wouldn’t be too strong — story of her operation, The Alice Network. I recommend it highly.

Happy Birthday, Louise.

Creating mission-oriented leaders

Don’t you want your organization to run better? Of course you do: Get rid of the office politics, cliques, backstabbing, passive aggression — morale goes up, blood pressure goes down, objectives are routinely exceeded, competitors / opponents get trounced. Hence, the size of modern CEO offices, which need to be that big to hold all the books on how to actually do it.

Among the many approaches, “agility” proposes to use time to shape the competitive environment, and, if necessary, react to changes before they become fatal. Nestled within the agile approaches, there is a school that insists the best way to do this is to fire up creativity and initiative throughout the organization and harmonize them to accomplish the objectives of the organization. Note that “throughout” includes everybody from new hires to the aforementioned CEO.

Boyd’s philosophy is obviously in this category. He proposed an organizational climate, often known by the acronym EBFAS,* whose purpose was to produce organizations that could shape, reorient to, and exploit rapidly changing situations.  Boyd regarded conflict as characterized by deception, surprise, ambiguity, stress and threat, which can lead to fear, mistrust, and a breakdown of cohesion. “Reorient to” is a way of saying that you understand such situations better than your opponents. “Rapidly” implies that given time, your opponents will figure these things out; don’t give them the time.

The “E” in EBFAS stands for Einheit, for which Boyd adopted the English “mutual trust.” It is fundamental, so organizational cultures that focus on building mutual trust are sometimes called “trust based.”  Of the other letters, perhaps the best known is “A” for another German word, Auftragstaktik, often translated as “mission command.”  It has become something of a sub-genre in management literature.**

Last month, I featured an article by Don Vandergriff on Auftragstaktik, where he described the origins of the concept and why high performing organizations use it.

Don has now followed up with a well-documented piece on how to train people for Auftragstaktik .  He describes an emerging methodology within the Army, Adaptive Leader Soldier Training and Education (ALSTE), and an implementation, the Army Reconnaissance Course, that have proven to develop leaders who can excel under the philosophy of mission command. These programs reflect initiatives Don has been working on for years and documented as far back as Raising the Bar (2006).

*I’ve done several posts on EBFAS — please use the search feature in the right column if you’re interested.

**For an in-depth look at Auftragstaktik, I can recommend Stephen Bungay’s The Art of Action and Don’s recent book on Mission Command.

Deep foundation for Auftragstaktik

Don Vandergriff has a nice piece at Small Wars Journal on how Auftragstaktik developed and why.  He makes what to me is an extremely important but generally overlooked point that mission orders, which is how most people explain the term, are not what defines Auftragstaktik but represent evidence that the underlying culture is alive and working.

As a culture, Auftragstaktik implies that those who can influence the organization — top leaders, board members, large shareholders, influential members of Congress, etc. — have given careful thought to and so evolved practices for selecting, training, retaining, and promoting people who embody the philosophy and separating those who do not.

If this happens, what we call “mission orders” (or something, perhaps, even better) will be the natural outcome.


Boyd’s personal papers, II

I’ve just posted the second part of the accession list for Boyd’s personal papers. You can find it under “John R. Boyd” on the Articles page (tab above).

I don’t have the first part. If any one does and would be so kind as to send me a PDF, I’d be happy to post it, too. In the meantime, the first part consists primarily of works on history and military topics.  Many of these, and virtually all of the ones he actually used, are included in the Sources section at the end of Patterns of Conflict.

Mobile Warfare for Africa

Before there was ISIS, before 9/11, and before Syria, Libya, Niger, etc., there was the Border War in Southern Africa (1966 – 1989).

Mobile Warfare For Africa

I’m very excited about this book. Unlike so many recent manuals on counterinsurgency warfare, this one was not written by the losers (to quote an observation by Martin van Creveld).  Drawing on their own experiences, tempered by the events of the intervening three decades, two of its participants have written a nearly 400 page examination of this conflict, which presaged many of our experiences in the Middle East. What we could have learned …

It is a weighty tome, though, so it will be a while before I can post a complete review.  In the meantime, from what I’ve seen skimming the volume and its accompanying atlas, and carefully reading the first three chapters, I can recommend it to readers of this blog. And there’s even an OODA loop.


Busy day in Savannah Harbor

As we were passing over the Talmadge Bridge from South Carolina this morning, Hapag-Lloyd’s Osaka Express was motoring serenely into port.

The ship has just passed by downtown, where a popular pastime is sitting in riverside cafes craning up at these beasts. The Osaka Express is not particularly gigantic for a modern container ship, but it is longer than three football fields.

Practitioner’s notebook, May 2018

Proponents of speed, such as “going through OODA loops faster,” can site some evidence from Boyd. Perhaps the chart that makes the strongest case is this one, from Strategic Game of ? and ? which Boyd began briefing in 1987:


Seems pretty clear: If you want to discombobulate your opponents, then just “operate at a faster tempo or rhythm.”

There are a couple of problems with this approach, though. First is that Boyd doesn’t say “Operate …”  He wrote “The ability to operate …”  At the risk of undue scholasticism, this is big deal. Boyd, like a poet, agonized over every word in these briefings. It wasn’t unusual for the phone to ring and it would be John, wanting to try out several new phrasings for some line you might dimly recall.

In other words, if he meant “Operating at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables …” that’s what he would have written. So, what’s the difference between “operating” and “the ability to operate”? How can an ability to do something, as contrasted with actually doing it, produce these effects?

Another point to ponder is what, exactly, does it mean to “operate at a faster tempo or rhythm” than an adversary?

Your answers are important. Your actions will flow from your orientation, and your answers will not only reveal something of your orientation, but grappling with these questions may also help shape it.

Boyd in South Africa?

As far as I know, Boyd never made it to South Africa, but a recent book describes how the ideas of maneuver warfare were used by its forces in their highly irregular “border war” (1966 – 1990).  I have not read the book, but here is a recommendation by a colleague who is familiar with some of its primary participants.

If any of you would like to write a review, please contact me.

Maneuver Warfare in Southern Africa
Book recommendation by Morgan Norval*

Speaking of maneuver war, I want to direct your attention to a recent book titled, Mobile Warfare For Africa: On The Successful Conduct Of Wars In Africa And Beyond–Lessons Learned From The South African Border War by Roland De Vries, Camille Burger and Willem Steenkamp. The book explores Lind’s 4th Generation War concept, Boyd’s OODA loop, and utilizing the indirect approach. In fact the book is basically a text on mobile/maneuver war based on its very successful use by the old South African Defense Force. The book also has over a dozen case studies on the subject. The book also comes with a separate atlas which provides maps, illustrations and photos–including three of mine–to help understand the concepts advocated by the book. Continue reading