Strategy subsumes culture

So writes Venkatesh Rao, author of Tempo, in a great new post on his Tempo Blog.

One tidbit to get you hooked: He joins John Boyd into a trio including Mahan and Clausewitz. At first, this may seem like strange bedfellows, but Boyd did cite Clausewitz often in Patterns of  Conflict, second only to Sun Tzu.

I’m somewhat hampered in commenting on Venkatesh’s post because it’s difficult to know what “culture” means in Boyd’s scheme of things. Other than in phrases like “cultural heritage” and “respect our culture,” Boyd doesn’t use the term.

On the other hand, he did talk about qualities that organizations need in order to be successful. In addition to the four German words from Certain to Win plus Behendigkeit (agility) there’s IOHAI from chart 144 of Patterns of Conflict. And “common implicit orientation” / “common outlook” from Patterns and Organic Design.

These qualities don’t just come from anywhere. So one might argue that any demarcation between culture and strategy is somewhat arbitrary. In other words, the duty of a commander is not only to create brilliant strategies:

 In the Clausewitz-Mahan-Boyd tradition, strategy is about human insight operating on chaotic shared mental models, seeking special, unfair advantages to exploit. The resources you have available, and the strengths and weaknesses of those resources (people and culture included), naturally get accommodated in this model. (Rao)

But also to create the platform that makes them possible.

Anyway, read the post and see what you think.

Industrial blitzkrieg

Milliken.  Wonderful article in today’s Wall St. J. about how the old line textile manufacturer, Milliken & Co., in Spartenburg SC has used the principles of lean / maneuver warfare to thrive against global competition. OK, they don’t call it “maneuver warfare”, but read the article and see what you think (subscription to the WSJ required).  This is no coincidence: the late Roger Milliken was a keen student of Tom Peters, who was influenced by John Boyd.

The basic idea, which applies to any form of human conflict, is to get everybody in the organization to use their creativity and initiative to achieve the goals of the organization. Boyd’s FESA climate is designed to do just that. But it takes a lot of effort to build the culture where this climate can operate. For example: “A common outlook possessed by “a body of officers” represents a unifying theme that can be used to simultaneously encourage subordinate initiative yet realize superior intent.” (Patterns, 74)

Apparently, Milliken has gone through this process over the years and built an effective climate. As Boyd insisted in Conceptual Spiral, the driving force must be the creation and exploitation of novelty — before competitors can understand what you’re doing and before customers get tired and go somewhere else.

Not all their ideas work, of course. Roger Milliken was an ardent protectionist for many years and spent a lot of money trying to erect and maintain barriers to foreign competition. Fortunately, though, he didn’t bet the company on this version of the Maginot Line.