Surprise! Selling is important

“People in business are clueless about selling, and snobbish too. They view it as a grubby activity, though it is vital to revenue.”

This is the subheading to an article in today’s Wall St. J. (subscription required)

I mean, WTF? People who read the WSJ need to be reminded that selling is “vital to revenue”?

Talk about orientation lock. I guess that so many companies today fall into a couple of categories (occasionally, both):  They are either public with a focus on creative bean counting, or they are still controlled by the founders and harbor a “better mousetrap” mindset. Neither of these see sales as anything other than an unfortunate cost.

You can easily spot such companies. When they decide it’s time for shrinking down, they cut the sales staff by the same percentage as other departments because “everybody has to do their fair share”.

Probably the most stressful position I ever held was in a professional services company (read: beltway bandit) in the DC area. But I will say this for it: It was a boot camp in selling — how to do it and how to train people to do it. I even learned to do it a little myself (a claim that would astonish my former bosses).

In the company right after that one, I watched an incompetent sales campaign blow a $350 million sale. One of the managers of the effort explained that it was no big deal: We’re the only ones making XYZs. Well, 20 years later, they’re still waiting. One of the lessons I learned back in sales boot camp was that you are never essential.  Customers always have something else to spend money on.

In Boyd’s framework, the emphasis is on keeping the initiative, never assuming that your opponent will take any particular action. In business, selling is a large part of taking the initiative. You’re not assuming that your better mousetrap will sell itself because potential customers can always get a free cat from the pound or just decide to live with the little rodents. Instead, you take the initiative and try to direct the money flow in your direction.

Why this isn’t a part of the orientation of everybody in business is beyond me.

The WSJ article is a review of a book, The Art of the Sale by Delves Broughton. One point the book makes is that if you can sell, you can achieve Boyd’s classic injunction, to increase your capacity for independent action. And you don’t have to be H. Ross Perot, who famously left IBM because he was routinely making quota by around the first of February.  I’ve been independent for the last 13 years, and believe me, if I can do it, so can you. Although a stretch in sales boot camp might not be a bad idea.

Agiity and deception

Fighting for Honor
The history of African martial arts traditions in the Atlantic world
by T.J. Desch Obi
University of South Carolina Press, 2008
346 pages, including 124 pages of notes and bibliography

Reviewed by Chet Richards

Kum yali, kum buba tambe! (He is tricky, so I will win by being tricky, too!)

As a southerner of European ancestry, I had long wondered how slave owners kept control over their victims. On many plantations, slaves vastly outnumbered owners and overseers, and because of the hard nature of their work, many slaves were in much better physical conditions than their owners. Why didn’t the slaves revolt or simply leave?

It turns out that many did. Most Americans are familiar with the Underground Railroad and may even recall the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831), the Fugitive Slave Acts (1793 and 1850) and the Dred Scott Decision (1857). But there are a couple of other ways slaves used to preserve their honor and sometimes even their freedom. One of these was “maroonage,” where they would abandon their plantations and settle in the swamps, rugged hills and dense forests of the South. It has been estimated, for example, that the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina may have harbored maroon communities totaling perhaps 2,000 escaped slaves.

The other was simply to resist. As T. J. Obi meticulously documents in this study, Africans and their descendents brought with them an arsenal of well developed martial arts styles. These provided the basis for preserving honor withing the slave communities and even, on occasion, to resist vicious beatings by overseers.

There were two keys to making this work: deception, because an unarmed defender had to close with his attacker, and agility, to avoid weapons and complete the attack. Obi includes these under the label “tricknology.”

When fighting a white oppressor, the ideal was to strike a butting-style head blow and finish the fight before it even developed. … As such butts had to be delivered at close range to be effective, a fighter had to use trickery to close the distance under some innocuous disguise.  (p. 109)

Readers familiar with Boyd will immediately recognize the concept of “operating inside the OODA loop.”

The book itself is quite academic and heavily footnoted, reflecting its origins in doctoral research. That said, however, it’s not a heavy read and is packed with interesting tidbits. Did you know that maroon communities survive to this day in the mountains of Jamaica, where they won their freedom by successful resistance some 50 years before the official abolition of slavery in that colony? And slave societies developed all manner of methods to conceal their existence from their owners. In one area, for example, the message “weevils in the wheat” meant that overseers had discovered that a meeting was planned and so it was being postponed.

Perhaps the most fascinating conclusion of the book is that African martial arts techniques still survive in the Americas. Perhaps the best known example is the Brazilian capoiera, but Dr. Obi’s research on site in the low country of the Carolinas documents their existence in the Gullah communities and their descendents into the 21st century.

[You want agility? Check out this YouTube video of a capoiera demo. The kicks and sweeps from inverted positions are typical of Angolan fighting styles.]

Boyd’s Really Real OODA Loop

Minor revisions to Boyds Real OODA Loop, dated 13 April 2012 – reflecting some comments and my recent editing of Destruction and Creation.

One way to look at things: D&C describes a cyclical process for creating a system of concepts that we can then use as decision models. So the circular loop is, in a sense, built into it. Patterns of Conflict, as elaborated upon in Organic Design, says that when employing these decision models in an operation or engagement with a thinking opponent, it is best to use the implicit guidance and control link as much as possible (“emphasize implicit over explicit …” Organic Design, 22). The OODA “loop” from The Essence of Winning and Losing, incorporates both of these concepts.

The new edit of D&C is available from the Articles link above and the other briefings  can be downloaded from

America’s First Metropolis?

This could rate near the top of the Greatest Wonders You’ve Never Heard Of category. Suppose that here in the United States, in Louisiana, there were the remains of a city older than Troy. We’re not talking about a few mud huts around a campfire but a city of several thousand souls built on more than 7 miles of raised structures and adjacent to a mound containing some 27 million cubic feet of packed earth.

That mound, known as “Bird Mound” for the agreed interpretation of its shape as seen from above, once stood some 100 feet tall. It was apparently built in one spectacular three-month effort. A quick calculation suggests this would require a  worker population of 2,000 – 3,000 people that would have to be fed and managed for this period. Even at its remaining 72 feet, it is the second largest mound surviving in the US, next only to the somewhat later Monks Mound in Illinois.

What really makes Poverty Point interesting is that the 7 miles of living structures are laid out in a precise geometrical pattern of 6 concentric semi circular ridges, each roughly 6 feet high. Obviously this indicates a high degree of planning and social organization — people didn’t just say “I’ll build my hut over there, by that stream.”

And every one of the 27 million cubic feet of earth for the Bird Mound was carried to the site manually in hand-woven baskets. To make it even more intriguing, there is no sign of agriculture. This 400 acre site was apparently built by hunter-gatherers. Think about that in terms of surplus calories.

Enormous kudos to the State of Louisiana for maintaining it in superb condition. Poverty Point is a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status.

How to get there: It’s about 15 miles off I-20  between Vicksburg and Monroe, about an hour and a half from the Jackson airport. Directions and other information on their web site.

More ideas for an expedition off the beaten path in my next post.