John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the meaning of life

The paper I presented at Boyd and Beyond III. Also, “People, Ideas, and Things in that Order: Some Observations,” by Greg Wilcox.

Download both from the Articles page (link in the menu bar, above).

8 thoughts on “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the meaning of life

  1. Chet,

    Your talk was one of the most inspiring and fascinating I’ve seen in a long time. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to hear you in person, and to meet Ginger.

    What you called “imagination,” I’ve labeled curiosity—two sides of the same coin.

    Very best regards and hope you can join us next year!


  2. Chet and others, perhaps a video of this presentation is in order? I know I would love to listen to such a presentation, and youtube would be a great way to get it out there. That’s if someone filmed the event? By the way, I read the paper and it was fantastic. Pure building snowmobiles…

  3. Chet,

    On page 21 of your paper, you mention that any distinction between orientation and the entire OODA loop is arbitrary. In a sense, couldn’t another OODA loop be recursively embedded in the orientation sphere? If you were able to embed the OODA loop of an adversary in your orientation stage and still iterate more quickly, you’d be able to predict what they would do and plan accordingly. I guess the danger of thinking this way (if you aren’t careful) is a battle of wits a la Vizzini in the Princess Bride. Mike Rother comes close to what I’m describing on slide 20 of his description of PDCA ( Mike is an excellent thinker/teacher of Toyota-like thinking, if you haven’t already read anything on The Toyota Kata. His book is good, and the free handbook is excellent IMHO. ( He seems to have come to some Boyd-like conclusions, conclusions that don’t necessarily seem routed in the Toyota Production System.

    Another question: Both this article and and Osinga’s “Science, Strategy and War” explain a lot of the context of Boyd’s thinking and how he worked/thought. Is anyone aware of other books or papers like this (including those about other thinkers)? Coram and Hammond’s books are both good, but they didn’t seem to explain the context to the same level, like what Boyd was reading when he was working on “Conceptual Spiral” for example.

    Thanks for posting all of this.

    • Dane,

      Thanks! What you’re suggesting is a model of the analyses/synthesis box because everything else is more-or-less fixed or out of our immediate control. There are many models for this process, including Klein’s RPD. By the way, not all of them iterate (Toyota is adamant about this). You are certainly right that any model of orientation should take the opponent’s learning, that is, OODA loop, into account. A big problem there is that often we don’t know much about opponents’ OODA loops.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have a good list. I do remember the Cleary translation of Sun Tzu (1988), which has an extensive introduction. He also read Shingeo’s Non-stock Production and Ohno’s Toyota Production System, as well as all the stuff I sent him on the International Motor Vehicle Program at MIT.


  4. I always remember Boyd talking about continuously looking at everything from every possible point of view and everything in OODA-loop happening continuously and concurrently. That gets corrupted in trying for a step-by-step sequential representation … its my periodic reference to Flatlanders book … not just the difference between 2D and 3D … but difference between 2D and 4D operation where not have view of everything in space but also in time.

    In the 70s, I once shipped a major operating system resource manager product … and late in the review, I was told that the state of the art was manual tuning knobs. Since I spent several years making tuning automatic … I felt it was a disgrace … but I put the tuning knobs as directed, I fully documented them, and also shipped the source. The “wheeler scheduler” was even taught in computer science classes. However, there was a embedded joke, I had given the dynamic adaptive code more degrees of freedom than the manual tuning knobs. Nobody stopped to wonder even though the code clearly showed it (i.e. the dynamic code could compensate for every possibly manual setting).

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