A turning point in history

On August 31, 1975, John Richard Boyd retired after twenty-four years in the Air Force. He was forty-eight years old. … He was a natural leader, but he did not have the sort of management skills the Air Force looked for when they promoted colonels. Robert Coram, Boyd, the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War, p. 312.

Had Boyd been promoted and stayed in the Air Force, few of us would ever have heard of him.

Dr. Linda P. Beckerman

I just found out that Linda Beckerman died last September 18.

Linda was a close colleague when we were both at Lockheed Martin in Marietta, GA.  She was one of the most creative people I have ever known, in the “How in the world did you think of that???” category. Let me give one example:

One day, the president of the company told our boss that he wanted the mail system fixed. This may not sound like much, but in a large organization like Lockheed, spread out over a number of buildings, mail was the lifeblood of the company. A few facts about the case:

  • This was well before the Internet, and our internal e-mail system was slow and cumbersome. Attachments were problematic at best.
  • It typically took between 3 days and never for physical mail to go between departments. Probably the origin of the term “snail mail.” At the IBM building downtown, employees on different floors were known to send company mail via FEDEX, that is, through Memphis.
  • We were a union shop, so it was an offense even for staffers to walk down the hall with company mail

What she did, which I thought was brilliant, was not design a better mail system, but come up with a process that got the unionized employees in the mail room to create (evolve might be better) a new system.  How good was it? When 100% of our mail was routinely delivered the same day it was collected, we quit measuring. To better appreciate this, one of the first things I had been warned about in my company orientation session some five years earlier was the pitfalls of company mail.

You can read all about Linda’s solution in the paper we wrote.

Linda is probably best known on the Internet for a paper she wrote on the nature of war, “The Non-linear dynamics of war.” After leaving Lockheed Martin in 1989, Linda moved to Orlando, where she was, among other things, a game designer, dog walker, and ultimately head of a systems engineering effort for SAIC.

She was unique; she will be missed.

The truth about cyberconflict

Part 4 of Marcus Ranum’s series on cyberwar is now up on the Fabius Maximus site:

Parsing Cyberwar – Part 4: The Best Defense is A Good Defense

Let me rephrase some of his points:

1. Cyberwar is not war in the Sun Tzu/Clausewitz sense. As Ranum notes:

The big scenarios of cyberwar — “putting a country back to the pre-industrial era” — are overblown and ridiculous; generally they appeal to those who don’t really understand data networking or system administration. There are plenty of examples of successful attacks against individual point targets, but the big scenario does not follow logically as a consequence of a lot of small ones

2. As in other areas of group-on-group conflict, Einheit is critical:

At this point, we can be sure that anyone who builds a gas centrifuge cascade is going to be a little bit more careful about their software than usual; perhaps they won’t rely on the lowest bidder to configure it. And that, in a nutshell, is the whole problem. Cyberwar forces organizations to re-examine their trust-boundaries: who do they get to do what, and how can they tell whether their service providers and supply chains are tamper-proof? For a government like the US’, that seems eager to outsource practically everything, that appears to be the opening of a gigantic and very nasty can of worms.

3. Because of the nature of software, operating inside the OODA loop is critical. If you play offense in this field, you have to do what you’re going to do and then move on before your intrusion is discovered, analyzed, and the details of your attack disseminated to the world:

Since it has been revealed to the community and dissected at length, Stuxnet has done more to justify improvements in security systems than anything else; in that sense it was self-defeating. It is a stone thrown by people who live in a glass house, that will  serve to encourage more stone-throwing.

Ranum appears to be making the point that defense is the stronger form of this conflict. At the level of the individual company or home user, this may well be true (This is why I say that “On the internet, the best defense is a strong defense.”) But as with real war, the situation is more complex. For one thing, attackers often can succeed in their initial attack. And cyber conflict, as Ranum notes, needs to be considered within the larger arena of state-vs-state competition, where hacking and malware are only one tool.

Interesting series — suggest you check it out.

Back to agility

Finally, after the Tour de France, Wimbledon, and the Olympics.

Interesting series in the Wall St. Journal that illustrate Boyd’s General Theory of Agility (subscription required).

How Japan Lost Its Electronics Crown

Japan’s Dimwitted Smartphones

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that we’re talking about a country and culture that had a strong influence on Boyd’s concept. The CEO of Canon, for example, once said that the trait he prized most was a “mind that does not stick.”

More details later, but for now, consider that if it can happen to these guys, it can happen to anyone.


Make your competitors into great copiers

Copyrights and patents grant exclusive rights to those who create new products, works of art, or other things deemed to be especially beneficial to society. So what could be wrong with that? People who bring new creation to society should benefit.

But here’s the problem. As the new book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation hints at, the data do not show that industries with strong copyright and patent protection are any more innovative than those without such barriers, which suggests that the concept of patents and copyrights may not be the engine of creativity and innovation that its advocates (esp. such groups as the MPAA and RIAA) promise.

The book, excerpted in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal, gives examples showing that industries such as fashion and pro sports, which do not enjoy the protections granted the publishing and recording industries, are beehives of innovation. If you stop to think about it, they have to be. When any innovation can be quickly and legally copied, only those who get really good at coming up with and successfully employing new ideas will thrive. As Boyd said, the key to surviving on your own terms is to be the best at building and employing snowmobiles.

You can easily see this under our current system, where Apple is in great danger of morphing from an innovative powerhouse to a company whose business is suing people. As I mentioned in Certain to Win, this is the Maginot Line principle applied to commercial competition. Like the famous Line, the better it works (and it worked great), the deader you are. Companies would be better served to follow Tom Peters’ advice to spin off their innovations into separate companies that would license them to all competitors. For one thing, this would be a wonderful device to stunt your competition’s ability to innovate. If your invention is really clever, you might consider making it open source.

A Helluva Game!

Like most Americans, I don’t know enough about soccer to make an informed judgment about the just-concluded women’s semifinal match between USA and Canada, but just from watching the intensity of play and the sportsmanship (at one point, a Canadian player who was walking by helped Abby Wambach to her feet), that was a match for the ages.

Congratulations to both teams, and I’m sorry they weren’t playing for the gold.

In a tactical sense, these multi-dimensional interactions suggest a spontaneous, synthetic/ creative, and flowing action/counteraction operation, rather than a step-by-step, analytical/ logical, and discrete move/countermove game. Patterns 176

I’ll be cheering for Canada in the bronze medal round (I like the French, too, but they didn’t play the US), although I don’t suppose there’s any chance we could naturalize Christine Sinclair in time for Japan on Thursday????