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.
Why?
2. There was an overload and a fuse blew.
Why was there an overload?
3. The bearing was not lubricated properly
Why?
4. The lubrication pump wasn’t working right
Why?
5. The shaft of the pump was worn out.
Why?
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.

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