In this case, the danger of an inward focus, particularly in groups. As Boyd explained, this something you want to do to your competition. No reason to do their jobs for them. Let’s start with this quote from Strategic Game, which I also used last week:
Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. (emphasis added) SG 47
What does it look like from the inside? It can be hard to detect because for most people trapped in such an environment, inside is their world, it is what’s really going on.
Here’s an example from Google:
[Note the internal focus (emphasis added):] Working at a large, successful company lets you keep your isolation. If you choose, you can just ignore all the inconvenient facts about the world. You can make decisions based on whatever input you choose. The success or failure of your project in the market is not really that important; what’s important is whether it gets canceled or not, a decision which is at the whim of your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, who, as your only link to the unpleasantly unpredictable outside world, seems to choose projects quasi-randomly, and certainly without regard to the quality of your contribution.
It’s a setup that makes it very easy to describe all your successes (project not canceled) in terms of your team’s greatness, and all your failures (project canceled) in terms of other people’s capriciousness. End users and profitability, for example, rarely enter into it. This project isn’t supposed to be profitable; we benefit whenever people spend more time online. This project doesn’t need to be profitable; we can use it to get more user data. Users are unhappy, but that’s just because they’re change averse. And so on. Jay Yarow writing at Business Insider, “A Google Employee Says Google Employees Are Too Confident, And Too Isolated From The Real World.”
So what’s wrong with this? The danger is that if and when Google runs into potentially life-threatening competition, little peccadilloes like these turn destructive. As Boyd had suggested a few charts earlier in Strategic Game:
• The ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary enables one to fold adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep-up with what’s going on. He will become disoriented or confused;
which suggests that
• Unless such menacing pressure is relieved, adversary will experience various combinations of uncertainty, doubt, confusion, self-deception, indecision, fear, panic, discouragement, despair, etc.,
which will further
Disorient or twist his mental images/impressions of what’s happening;
Disrupt his mental/physical maneuvers for dealing with such a menace;
Overload his mental/physical capacity to adapt or endure;
Collapse his ability to carry on. SG 44
In other words, when times get tough, these isolated centers, these “many non-cooperative centers of gravity” as Boyd termed them, will start to fight each other for increasingly scarce resources. Note that confidence turns to doubt and then panic as the real world intrudes on their once happy little home. Fortunately, Google has people like Avery Pennarun, the employee who wrote the excerpt. Now if they’ll just listen to him.
PS — my guess is that they’re seeing the effects of their ludicrous hiring “policies.” See for example, “Would Google hire you? 10 test questions to find out.” I understand that some sanity has now intruded into Google’s HR practices; they should hope it isn’t too late.