Interaction and Isolation

The “strategic game,” as Boyd called it.  It can be played on three levels — physical, mental, and moral — but victory at the moral level level usually trumps the other two.  There are few exceptions in war and practically none in business and politics.

Picture this:  You’re a grossly overweight state governor.  Fiscal times are the worst since the Great Depression.  Plus you’ve just given $800 million away to your richest constitutents.  How, then, do you take on a much larger group of citizens making an average of less than $70,000 per year?

No problem.

As Boyd would advise, you need to lay out a strategy that focuses on the moral level of conflict, that is, you want to get the majority of consitituents to identify with you and your cause not because you’re a brilliant orator and can win them over by logic (although that can work, too), but simply because they identify with you and feel you’re cause is right.

Boyd lays this out in Strategic Game, charts 46-57 and particularly charts 47-49 and 56.

With all that in mind, read “How Chris Christie Did His Homework.”  By the way, I’m not in the least interested in who’s “right” or “wrong” in this case but in who played the moral card the smartest (or, to put it another way, how the largest and most powerful union in New Jersey made every mistake in the book.)

There are strong lessons in this for business because business has a large moral component.

[All of Boyd’s materials are available at]

The Pentagon Labyrinth

This pamphlet aims to help both newcomers and seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense.  Intended for readers who are frustrated with the superficial nature of the debate on national security, this handbook takes advantage of the insights of ten unique professionals, each with decades of experience in the armed services, the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, the intelligence community, military history, journalism and other disciplines.  The short but provocative essays will help you to:

  • identify the decay – moral, mental and physical – in America’s defenses,
  • understand the various “tribes” that run bureaucratic life in the Pentagon,
  • appreciate what too many defense journalists are not doing, but should,
  • conduct first rate national security oversight instead of second rate theater,
  • separate careerists from ethical professionals in senior military and civilian ranks,
  • learn to critique strategies, distinguishing the useful from the agenda-driven,
  • recognize the pervasive influence of money in defense decision-making,
  • unravel the budget games the Pentagon and Congress love to play,
  • understand how to sort good weapons from bad – and avoid high cost failures, and
  • reform the failed defense procurement system without changing a single law.

The handbook ends with lists of contacts, readings and Web sites carefully selected to facilitate further understanding of the above, and more.

Download the whole book in .pdf format (2.4 MB).

I wrote Essay 6:  Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight:  A Primer for Assessing Defense  Strategy in the post-Iraq World.

Welcome to Conceptual Spiral

I’ve put together a short introduction to Conceptual Spiral, Boyd’s last major briefing.  So few people, even those who can quote from Patterns of Conflict, ever take the time to look into CS that I thought perhaps a few introductory remarks might help ease folks into it.

Boyd considered CS to be one of his major pieces, in some ways the fulfillment of everything he had done up until then, so it will repay the effort needed to master it.

[YouTube has several videos of Boyd delivering and commenting on Conceptual Spiral.]

Bookends of the Discourse

Here are the last two elements of John Boyd’s Discourse on Winning and Losing, the Abstract and Revelation.

When he was giving out copies of the Discourse, the “Green Book,” the order was:

  1. Abstract
  2. Patterns of Conflict
  3. Organic Design for Command and Control
  4. Strategic Game of ? and ?
  5. Destruction and Creation
  6. Revelation

In 1992, he completed his last major briefing, Conceptual Spiral, and then, in 1996, his last work of any length, The Essence of Winning and Losing.  He placed Conceptual Spiral right after the Abstract, but as far as I know didn’t include Essence in any last copies of the Discourse that he may have distributed.  Boyd died on March 9, 1997.

The logical position for Essence would be just before the Revelation because it assumes familiarity with the concept of “operating inside OODA ‘loops,'”  which is treated in detail in Patterns, Organic Design, and Strategic Game.

I wouldn’t put too much emphasis, though, on a canonical ordering.  Most people start with Patterns of Conflict and never get beyond it.  But there is a richness in considering the topic of winning and losing from a larger perspective, that of accomplishing our objectives — achieving happiness, in other words — in a world that appears to be conspiring against us.  There’s nothing to be lost by starting on the battlefields of Patterns and then exploring one’s way to wherever one’s fancy carries.

All of Boyd’s work is (or very soon will be) available at

Boyd’s Conceptual Spiral

This was Boyd’s last major briefing (164 KB PDF), carrying the date “July / August 1992.”  In it, he addresses the question of how we generate the new actions and ideas we need in order to thrive and grow in an uncertain, competitive, and sometimes downright dangerous world.

For his answer, he returns to the themes he laid out in his 1975 paper, “Destruction and Creation,” and weaves in material from all of his other briefings.

One thing to note as you’re going through it — the emphasis John places on performing analyses, arriving at a synthesis, and then testing our synthesis in the external universe.  In a conflict situation, we may go through this conceptual spiral quite rapidly, but we are always thinking, we are always mindful, and we always have our senses and our gray matter engaged.