People who know more about Boyd than the OODA loop often associate him with agility. I’ve heard him described as the High Priest of Agility, much as his predecessor, the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz is sometimes called the Mahdi of Mass.
This post starts an occasional series on agility within Boyd’s framework. I was prodded into action by an article by Mike Doheny, Venu Nagali, and Florian Weig, “Agile Operations for Volatile Times,” which you may have seen in the McKinsey Quarterly. I don’t know about you, but I find it a little depressing that nearly a generation after The Machine that Changed the World, we are still reading articles touting agility. Tells you something about the state of the art.
Here’s the key sentence:
Notably, these companies aren’t just spotting and mitigating supply chain risks. They are also seeking ways to use volatility to gain advantages over rivals.
What they’re suggesting is that “agility” has something to do with how you “use volatility to gain advantages over rivals.” I couldn’t agree more, leading to the question of how agility fits into Boyd’s framework, which certainly concerns itself with gaining—and exploiting—advantages over rivals.
Oddly, though, mentions of agility are rare indeed in Boyd’s works. If you search Patterns of Conflict, for example, “agility” occurs precisely once, as an item in a list attributed to the German general, Hermann Balck: By example, leaders (at all levels) must demonstrate requisite physical energy, mental agility, and moral authority to inspire subordinates to enthusiastically cooperate and take initiative within superior’s intent. (chart 118) That’s it. Interesting that he singles out mental agility. Even more interesting that the title of this page is “Observations related to Moral Conflict.”
The situation is even more sparse for “Destruction and Creation,” Organic Design, Strategic Game, Conceptual Spiral, and The Essence of Winning and Losing. Not a mention anywhere.
So how is Boyd associated with agility? That’s what we’re going to explore in this series. It turns out that agility does indeed play a central role: You’ll have a hard time understanding his strategy, much less applying it in your own organization, without a deep understanding of his concept of agility. But Boyd did not throw around the term loosely … when he used it at all.