Patterns of OODA loops

In my brilliant exegesis of Boyd’s Discourse, “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop,” (available through the “Articles” link in the menu bar above), I noted that:

In his presentations on armed conflict—war—Boyd never wrote the term “OODA loop” alone but used the phrase “operating inside opponents’ OODA loops,” which he seemed careful never to define. (p. 9)

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In our backyard this morning

With Tropical Depression Beryl barreling down, at least so we hope. So far, we’ve had virtually no rain, but it looks like the Okefenokee, which has lost more than half its acreage to fire, is getting a good soak.

When the wind is right (wrong?), we get a lot of smoke from the fires down there, more than a hundred miles away.

The heron is standing in a golf cart track, watching the action on the 13th tee.

Patterns: More pieces and parts

As I suggested in an earlier post, if you look at the structure of Patterns of Conflict, its 185 pages naturally split at no. 126, “Synthesis,” with everything that precedes it forming some type of analysis. In “Destruction and Creation,” Boyd described this analytical process:

… suppose we shatter the correspondence of each domain or concept with its constituent elements. In other words, we imagine the existence of the parts but pretend that the domains or concepts they were previously associated with do not exist.  Result: We have many constituents, or particulars, swimming around in a sea of anarchy.

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Back from Vegas

Where our first class in the Kennesaw State University’s Executive MBA for Families in Business program held its first class reunion.

There was a time, of course, when Vegas was a sort of family business. Nowadays, it’s gone corporate. However, there are still some very well known family businesses in the place (left).

We stayed in The Venetian (owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corp.) and in Caesar’s Palace (Caesar’s Entertainment Corp. formerly Harrah’s).

There was a big convention in town, so I sucked up the $339/night price for a room overlooking the parking garage at Caesar’s for Sunday and Monday (ordinarily cheap nights). But on top of that, they wanted, and got, $14.99/day for wireless-only Internet access and asked for, but didn’t get, $25 to use the fitness center for half an hour — I run on the Strip but needed some exercise equipment. There was a Keurig machine in the room — a nice touch for a luxury hotel, I thought, until I saw that they wanted $12 for 4 K-cups. Fortunately a nearby Walgreens had 12-packs for $8.99.

As you can probably tell, I preferred the Venetian, but if you’re in that price range, I would still recommend the grand old lady of the Strip, the Bellagio.

Something about a town where you can step out the main entrance of a 5-star hotel at 4 am to be greeted by a hoard of limos disgorging barely-21s in short skirts and in deep nausea (use your imagination). Nice change from Sun City, but I’m glad to be back with the herons, gators, and noseeums.

The problem with Vegas has always been getting from casino to casino. There are now pedestrian overpasses on the west side from Treasure Island to Mandalay Bay, so walking isn’t as suicidal as it once was. On the east side, there’s still the Monorail ($5/ride or $9/day online), which doesn’t go to the airport, any Strip hotel on the east side north of Harrah’s, or any hotel on the west side at all.

McCarran is still a mess, but it’s getting better. Only about 30 minutes in the security line (Tuesday morning at 10:30 am). The TSA folks were working their butts off, but the airport is what it is. I don’t know who McCarran was, but they must really have hated him/her.

Oh, yes … the class reunion was fantastic.  You always wonder if business students really get things like Boyd’s strategy (our program uses Boyd’s framework as our strategic foundation), but from the results they’re showing since they graduated, I feel good about it.

If you want to learn more (and managers in non-family businesses can attend on a space-available basis), please contact the Cox Family Enterprise Center,

Boyd 2012 is a go

From the organizer:

Boyd and Beyond III is a go for this fall.

Dates are 12 and 13 October, a Friday and Saturday.

We will begin in the Command and Staff building onboard Quantico, same room on the second deck.  I am hoping we can move over to the much nicer Expeditionary Warfare School building on Saturday as we did last time; stand by for more word on that.

For information, please monitor Scott Shipman’s blog, To Be or To Do.

Kudos to Boyd, Vandergriff, and Dempsey

In a speech to the recent Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach, Army GEN Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reached a conclusion that could have come straight out of Boyd:

In the end, said Dempsey, “our best hedge against degraded environments is mission command and adaptive leadership” — the ability of leaders at all levels to think for themselves and find a new way to achieve the objective without waiting for orders. That’s a cultural challenge for the military given a long-established preference for detailed, centralized planning, and modern networks that give top commanders constant computer connectivity to their subordinates only makes micromanagement easier. [From: “Humans, Not Hardware, Will Get Military Through Tough Budget Times: Dempsey,” By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., AOL Defense, Strategy & Policy, May 17, 2012]

“Mission command” is a common translation of Auftragstaktik, and some of you may recall “adaptive leadership” from Don Vandergriff’s book Raising the Bar.

One way to think of it is that Auftragstaktik makes strong use of the implicit guidance and control feed from orientation directly to action. If you become too explicit, you’ll defeat the entire idea.

On the other hand, adaptive leadership requires the ability to rapidly size up the unfolding situation and get the organization going in a way to influence it.  The fact that it is “adaptive” means that you aren’t just using pre-programmed responses but have gray matter engaged. If you think about it, that’s the classic observe-orient-decide-act pattern, employed to quickly come up with and test new actions on the fly (that is, while under fire), as Boyd described in Conceptual Spiral.

Put them together, you have Boyd’s OODA “loop” sketch from The Essence of Winning and Losing.

The concept of mission control + adaptive leadership harmonizes well with Boyd’s idea of leadership: “implies the art of inspiring people to enthusiastically take action toward the achievement of uncommon goals.” [Organic Design, 37]

Van Creveld redux

If you don’t usually peruse The National out of Abu Dhabi, you might have missed this story about the creation of a “private navy” to counter piracy along the shipping corridor between the Red and Arabian Seas:

Private navy planned to counter pirate raids

Can you believe that it’s been 21 years since Martin van Creveld published The Transformation of War? My.

Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down (204)

Much of the day-to-day burden of defending society against the threat of low-intensity conflict will be transferred to the booming security business (207 — remember, this was 1991!)

He made several predictions about the future of the state, none of them encouraging. Here are a couple:

Any community able and, more importantly, willing to exert itself to protect its members will be able to call on those members’ loyalty (198)

Armies will be replaced by police-like security forces on the one hand and bands of ruffians on the other, not that the difference is always clear even today (225).

Perhaps most discouraging:

America’s current (1991) economic decline must be halted; or else one day the crime that is rampant in the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., may develop into low-intensity conflict by coalescing along racial, religious, social, and political lines, and run completely out of control (196).


As in “bill of material.” The parts list.

In Chart 141, Boyd presents his synthesis, outlining a solution to the problems mentioned on chart 2:

  • To make manifest the nature of moral-mental-physical conflict
  • To discern a pattern for successful operations
  • To help generalize tactics and strategy
  • To find a basis for grand strategy
  • To unveil the character of conflict, survival, and conquest

The idea is to look around in other areas (“domains”), including previous solutions, pick out concepts, and then recombine them to create a new model of reality, a “snowmobile.”  The idea wasn’t new to Boyd, of course. Taiichi Ohno, for example, wrote that the backbone of the Toyota Production System came from power looms and American supermarkets.

This illustrates one of the subtleties of this approach: How many auto industry execs had walked through American supermarkets and taken home nothing but groceries?

As Boyd put it in “Destruction and Creation”:

It is important to note that the crucial or key step that permits this creative induction is the separation of the particulars from their previous domains by the destructive deduction. Without this unstructuring, the creation of a new structure cannot proceed—since the bits and pieces are still tied together as meaning within unchallenged domains or concepts.

Somehow, Ohno was able to pick out a crucial concept from supermarkets, as Boyd would say, to “shatter the American supermarket” domain, in such a way that the concept of pull/JIT stood revealed.

There’s no sign that Boyd ever tried to shatter the supermarket domain or would have found anything useful there, even if he had.

With that in mind, you might look back over the analytical section of Patterns, roughly pages 2 – 125, and watch as Boyd shatters domains and picks out pieces. Not that any of these pieces will go into any of your snowmobiles, although they might, but it’s the process that’s instructive.

We’ll do more in another post, but for now, look at chart 13. Here are a few of the pieces he finds when he shatters Sun Tzu:

  • Harmony and trust
  • Justice and well being
  • Inscrutability and enigma
  • Deception and subversion
  • Rapidity and fluidity
  • Dispersion and concentration
  • Surprise and shock

He puts these into a parts bin labeled “key asymmetries.” By the way, even as he was picking out pieces, he was starting to play with them, to see how they could be made to fit together. So it wasn’t “deception” and “subversion” but “deception and subversion.” Another point: In each pair, the two elements seem similar and even appear to reinforce each other. Except “dispersion and concentration,” which seem like opposites. Did it just turn out this way?

Precious little in Boyd, though, can be laid to chance.

Ben Franklin – 4th Generation Warrior

What artillery and air power are in Third Generation war, cash is in the Fourth Generation: your most useful supporting arm. [FMFM-1A, Fourth Generation Warfare, 12 August 2009, p. 68.]

It’s an old idea:

In England, the rotten-borough system flourished, and the nabobs outbid all other purchasers. Franklin deplored the American war for a peculiar reason: “Why did they [the Continental Congress] not let me go on? If they had given me a fourth of the money they have spent on the war, we should have had our independence without spending a drop of blood. I would have bought all the Parliament, the whole government of Britain.” [Will and Arial Durant, Rousseau and Revolution, p. 733.]

All the 4GW manuals are available at DNIPOGO,

Chart 141, part 2

As a synthesis of all that comes before it, chart 141 will repay a little more study. Like, if you’re at the snowmobile dealer’s, you might want to do more than just admire the paint scheme.

The first thing that might strike you is: What is it with all these levels? There are six, and “grand tactics” has three bullets all to itself. Does it have to be this complicated? Rather than accepting Boyd’s scheme or (God forbid!) trying to memorize it, you might think about this question. If you’re not into large-scale combat on land, then you should ponder whether the notion of “levels” even makes sense for you.

On the next chart, Boyd suggests that for armed conflict,  you’ll need at least two levels, a constructive ideal, represented by the top two, and some concept for compelling opponents to accede to your wishes (the bottom four).  So one thing you might start with is asking if such a scheme makes any sense for other forms of conflict, such as business.

My guess is that because Patterns is primarily concerned with armed conflict on land, Boyd started with the levels that are familiar to practitioners of that art: tactical, operational, and strategic. Roughly these are:

tactical — fighting the battle
operational — what you do between battles; maneuver
strategic — overall concept for the campaign; what you’re trying to accomplish with the battles you do fight

First thing he did is rename the operational level to “grand tactics.”

Next, remember back on chart 2, which I mentioned in an earlier post, one of his purposes was to “help generalize tactics and strategy.” He doesn’t say anything about “grand tactics” or “strategic aim.” In fact, when he briefed chart 2, he would always caution against becoming rigid or dogmatic in your definitions of “tactics” and “strategy.” He’d tell the audience, “strategy” is what you’re trying to accomplish, while “tactics” is how you’re going to do it. If you look at chart 141 again, each level can be thought of as tactics to the more strategic level above it. Put another way, for each level except tactics, the level just below it answers the “how?” question.

This is really interesting. If you are familiar with lean production or the Toyota Production System, you may remember something called the “five whys.” As one of the system’s creators, Taiichi Ohno (Toyota Production System, 1988, p. 17), illustrated it:

1. The machine stopped.
2. There was an overload and a fuse blew.
Why was there an overload?
3. The bearing was not lubricated properly
4. The lubrication pump wasn’t working right
5. The shaft of the pump was worn out.
6. There was no strainer attached and metal scrap got in.

As Ohno pointed out, if you didn’t go through this process and get to the root cause, you’d replace the fuse and sometime, probably in the near future, you’d have the same problem (and stop production again).

In “The Five Whys,” we’re asking “what caused it?”  If you start at the top of chart 141, you are, essentially, asking, “what are we going to do to make this happen?” or equivalently, “what’s going to cause it?” The distinction is inconsequential. Both produce the insight that leads off IOHAI.

If you start at the top level and ask “How?” five times, you get … six levels.

I’m reasonably sure that Boyd was not aware of the “five whys” when he created chart 141. I have a version of Patterns dated September 1981 that contains this chart with the same six levels (although the definitions did change some in the intervening five years), but as far as I know, Boyd didn’t encounter the five whys concept until he started reading about the TPS in the mid-1980s.

Coincidence? Probably. From his study of Sun Tzu, though, Boyd was familiar with the philosophical infrastructure that underlies both maneuver and moral conflict as well as the Toyota Way (of which the production system is a component). So perhaps five “hows?” just intuitively seemed right to him. This suggests that if your field isn’t armed conflict, you’re still going to want some structure inspired by the five whys/hows.

There’s more we can milk out of chart 141, but this should get you started.