A bit of the old ultra-violence

Of the roughly 36,000 words that Boyd left behind, only about a tenth are in the form of a paper, that is, a linear stream of text. What if Boyd had expanded his textual output by 100,000 words and written a sci-fi novel along the lines of Starship Troopers? (Some of you believe that his one paper, “Destruction and Creation,” (1976) is written in an alien tongue but that doesn’t count). One of Scottish author Charles Stross’s characters does use the OODA loop, and quite appropriately, in the The Apocalypse Codex, as I described back in 2016, and so it might be a candidate for a “What if John Boyd …?” novel.

Here’s another. New author Ian Michael is serializing his novel, Ultra-Violence, on Sundays at the Fabius Maximus site. I think you’ll find lots of operating inside the OODA loop, cheng / chi, penetration along multiple thrusts, and even some moral conflict. So far, I haven’t stumbled across an explicit reference to the OODA loop, yet — although there’s plenty of messing with peoples’ orientations — but he’s only on chapter 4.

Check it out.

Here’s an obscure tip — there is a character named “Alex.” If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it.

Creating agile leaders

All forms of mission-oriented leadership, from maneuver warfare to the Toyota Production System, share a common foundation: Fire up the creativity and initiative of all members of the organization and harmonize their efforts to accomplish the objectives of the organization. Such an orientation allows them to create and exploit fleeting opportunities before their opponents can understand what is going on.

As Don Vandergriff quotes one of the principal architects of the German blitzkrieg:

The principle thing now is to increase the responsibilities of the individual man, particularly his independence of action, and thereby to increase the efficiency of the entire army. . . .The limitations imposed by exterior circumstances cause us to give the mind more freedom of activity, with the profitable result of increasing the ability of the individual.

HANS VON SEECKT, Commander of the German Army, 1920 -1926

This approach is often called Auftragstaktik, and it is hard to find any military organization that doesn’t claim to be using it.

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Sunday morning at the SNWR

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, near our house in Sun City Hilton Head.
With everything going on the world, thought you all might enjoy a few pictures of nature:

Along the 4-mile driving trail. The refuge sits along the northeast bank of the Savannah River just outside downtown Savannah. I’m a sucker for Spanish moss.
A moorhen and a couple of snowy egrets
An anhinga takes flight (it’s not actually caught in the branches)

Magic and illusion: Foundation for leadership

Aspiring leaders typically concentrate on history and case studies, creating theories of success and failure in their disciplines.  This is fine but won’t produce great practitioners in either war or business. As the German General Hermann Balck once told Boyd, “The training of the infantryman can never be too many sided.”  Miyamoto Musashi in 1645 wrote that samurai (much less top-level commanders) should study the arts and sciences and master fields other than their own. And this was just to keep them from getting hacked to bits. And then there’s Steve Jobs with his famous calligraphy course and Zen training. Continue reading

Business Agility Podcast Today

Assuming that Hurricane Dorian cooperates,  I’ll be broadcasting from Hilton Head at noon today EDT/GMT-4, Thursday, September 5th.

You can register here: http://catalyzingbusinessagility.com/community/#CR

Right now, 3:45 am, the hurricane is ambling about 60 miles/100 km offshore as a Category 3 moving northward at about 7 mph.  We could still lose power, so don’t be too surprised if the podcast is delayed.

So far, we’ve been extremely lucky in this area.  Unfortunately words can’t describe what’s happened to the Bahamas. Please consider donating to hurricane relief at, for example https://www.redcross.org/  Words also don’t exist to describe the scammers out there who will try to exploit the situation, so be careful and only visit legitimate sites to make contributions — e.g., not over the phone or responding to emails.

Epistemology Evolves

Chuck Spinney has made a tweak to Evolutionary Epistemology, his look into Boyd’s process of destruction and creation.  If you’ve ever been put off by the density of Boyd’s paper, start here (download from our Articles page).

In particular, he added one more slide, Boyd’s “Revelation.” He explained: “As you know the Revelation was produced by Boyd at the completion of all his efforts … it is a great slide to end my brief.”

revelation

I agree. But on first reading, it may seem obvious, even trite. There’s more here, though, than meets the eye. You might try treating it like a Zen koan: What does he mean by “loser”? Somebody who loses all the time? Fifty-one percent? Only the decisive battle? Someone who quits? Does this apply to other forms of conflict, like business, where not every product or service is going to be successful? Would it be more accurate to describe a winner as someone — individual or group — who can build better snowmobiles than the competition? Seems reasonable, but it’s not what Boyd wrote. That, of course doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

And what about that term “appropriate?” According to the “Revelation,” losers can’t build snowmobiles at all, but winners not only have to build them but also employ them “appropriately.” Again, it seems obvious that to succeed, you have to use the thing you built, and why would you employ it inappropriately? Is Boyd driving at anything profound, or even useful, here?

Every word in the “Revelation” was pondered and debated, including many of the topics raised above, in those legendary phone calls Coram describes. What you see is what came out.


While we’re on the subject of winners and losers, you might compare the “Revelation” to The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996).

 

Not John Boyd

But a good video, nonetheless.

Here’s Prof. Daniel Bonevac giving an introductory lecture on the OODA loop:

Professor Bonevac is a member of, and was formerly chair of, the Philosophy Department at the University of Texas. I don’t know when this lecture was given, but the video was posted in April of this year. One of the interesting things about it is that Professor Bonevac is teaching a class on Organizational Ethics.

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From dirt to ink

INK, The Years of Journalism Before the Days of Bloggers, by Robert Coram, Five Bridges Press, Atlanta, GA, 2019. Soft cover, 265 pages.

Cover of INKThis is the second of Robert Coram’s memoirs, beginning where Gully Dirt ends, with his escape from his hard-scrabble southwest Georgia home.  The opening paragraph sets the stage:

I was twenty-four, had flunked out of college, served three sentences in a military stockade–which, if you want to get technical, can be called a federal penitentiary–been tossed out of the U.S. Air Force, served a year on probation for letting a patient escape from a mental institution, then come to Atlanta, where I had been fired from my first three jobs.

One stupid mistake after another.

You may remember the opening of the 1990 movie, Goodfellas, where the narrator, Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), explains that “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.” All Robert Coram ever wanted to be was a reporter. In the South in the 1950s, the pinnacles of journalism were the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, different papers, with different staffs, but with the same owner and sharing spaces in the same building.  It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that in the days after WW II and before the rise of television and then social media, everybody in the South who counted, whether they looked to the past or hoped for change, read one of these two papers every day. By comparison, all other southern newspapers were local.

If you paid your dues, worked your way up from obits in small-town newspapers, learned to boil down a mountain of facts into 250 words and dictate them into a telephone as the clocked ticked towards that evening’s deadline, and did this long enough and were extremely lucky, you might aspire someday to work for one of the Atlanta papers.

Now, at the age of 24, despite one stupid mistake after another, Robert Coram is being handed this opportunity. What he does with it is the subject of INK.

I don’t want to spoil any of the book, but you’ll find a surprisingly lot of John Boyd in Robert Coram and perhaps even something of yourself:  We’ve all done stupid things and survived. The opening quote is from Jean Renoir, “The only things that are important in life are the things you remember,” but it could have easily been Nietzsche’s famous dictum, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

[Note: I have known Robert Coram for some 20 years–we both lived for many years in the northeast corner of Atlanta–and for about half that time, I worked for his wife, Jeannine Addams, in her public relations firm. Jeannine is still my agent, although they are now divorced. His mention in Boyd that I was working on a book applying Boyd’s principles to business is responsible for the lion’s share of whatever success I’ve had with that book.]