Boyd for Business & Innovation — Final Report

Chuck Spinney explaining some obtuse point about the OODA loop

Chuck Spinney explaining some obtuse point about the OODA loop

After my presentation, retired Marine Colonel Mike Wyly joined us from Maine via Skype to relate how the Marine Corps adopted the doctrine of maneuver warfare. Mike gave us a blow-by-blow description of a process in which he played a major role. Successful doctrinal changes by large organizations are rare: If you are the CEO of an organization considering such a change, you could do a lot worse than spending some time with Mike. His paper, “Thinking Like Marines,” is conveniently available on the Articles page. Following Mike, Sean Bone, co-founder of Adaptive Leader, demonstrated tactical decision games (TDGs) they use for training leaders in mental agility and timely decision-making under conditions of stress and uncertainty. This is real-world, practical stuff that I’m sure will be a great help to many of the participants.

Finally, for a successful implementation of Boyd’s ideas in business, Dean Lenane, then-CEO of CRH North America, described how he and his small team built CRH from no presence in the US market to a major player in their industry, explicitly using the principles of Boyd’s Discourse. Absolutely fascinating. Dean has written a thinly disguised novelization of one episode in this adventure, The Turnaround, which you can (and should!) also download from the Articles page.

My impression

Me, probably listening to Chuck

Me, probably listening to Chuck

We had the usual theory briefs. I wanted not only to review basic concepts like the OODA loop and operating inside the OODA loop but reaffirm ideas that Boyd thought were important but which don’t get the attention they deserve. Chief among these are grand strategy, which focuses on building organizations and alliances and attracting people to your cause. Do this well and the need for coercive, kinematic methods goes down or away completely. The other is Behendigkeit, mental agility, the ability to see and break out of deep patterns, ruts in our thinking. To do this, we need to evolve new mental models to deal with changing reality. The question of how we evolve these models was, as Chuck Spinney pointed out, what got Boyd started on all this with “Destruction and Creation,” in 1976 and how he ended with Conceptual Spiral and The Essence of Winning and Losing shortly before he died 20 years later.

Boyd called this process “building snowmobiles,” and concluded that when the situation is dangerous and also ambiguous, the side that is the best at building and using snowmobiles will win. Call it “creativity under fire,” or because it involves not only building but intuitively using snowmobiles, “improvisation under fire.” The kicker, though, is that we’re not just talking the commander or CEO but the entire organization, which requires an organizational climate that enables both operating inside the OODA loop for classic zero-sum conflict and also grand strategy. A full but awkward synopsis might be “Stoke up creativity and initiative throughout your organization and focus them to accomplish the purposes of the organization.” Under fire. Maybe you can think of something snappier.

To quote University of Georgia coach Mark Richt, “If it were easy, a lot more people would be doing it.” As Chuck showed, the evil force of “incestuous amplification” is the main reason it’s not easy.

Now what? We need to move on. A review of Boyd’s ideas and advances in the theory, such as extensions for businesses, should be included in future Boyd conferences. My guess, though, is that not more than 25% of the time should be devoted to these subjects. The rest should be interchanges of experiences and ideas between people trying these concepts in their own organizations. “Dispatches from the front,” in other words. What works and what doesn’t and what else could we try? How, for example, do you spot the insidious presence of incestuous amplification in your organization (because it’s surely there)? Also, are you creating something analogous to FMFM 1, Warfighting? The theoreticians can chime in with ideas every now and then, but their basic job will be to observe.

I’ve been to a bunch of these conferences starting with the first one, at Mike Wyly’s place in Maine a few months after Boyd’s death. Along the way, we’ve had more in Maine, eight (+/-) in Quantico, and at least three international conferences, including Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Bergen, Norway, but this was one of the best. Congratulations and many thanks again to Hans Norden and to Asst. Dean Clark Jordan and all the folks at the Rady School of Management. Hope you can make it in 2015.

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