Although Fingerspitzengefühl is one of the core concepts of Boyd’s organizational climate, the others being Einheit, Schwerpunkt, Auftragstaktik, and Behendigkeit (as I’m sure you’re aware …) Boyd only uses the term once in the Discourse on Winning and Losing;
We can’t just look at our own personal experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experiences and the strategic world we live in.
if we can do this
We will be able to surface new repertoires and (hopefully) develop a Fingerspitzengefühl for folding our adversaries back inside themselves, morally-mentally-physically—so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s happening—without suffering the same fate ourselves. Strategic Game, 45
[When I’m discussing this, I omit the “a” before Fingerspitzengefühl because I think it reads better. Some day in the future, wars will be fought over this point, complete with burnings at the stake. So choose your side carefully.]
The term is associated with Rommel, who is said to have had an almost magical ability to “feel” the flow of the battle and thereby to influence it. This idea of an intuitive feel for a situation carried over to Boyd’s work: Until you have Fingerspitzengefühl for something so that you can do it quickly, smoothly, and intuitively, you don’t have it. Expressions like “Shoot yourself in the foot” spring to mind.
The set of actions for which you do have such potentially effective responses we call your repertoire. Boyd talks about repertoire in his last briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing, where he notes that we need both
- an implicit repertoire of psychophysical skills shaped by environments and changes that have been previously experienced, and the ability to
- evolve new repertoires to deal with unfamiliar phenomena or unforeseen change.
The OODA “loop” sketch, by the way, is a schematic for developing and using Fingerspitzengefühl. This perhaps mysterious statement may become more palatable if you read The Essence of Winning and Losing and my brilliant essay on Conceptual Spiral (both available on the Articles page). TEOWL is only four pages — give it a go.
How do we develop Fingerspitzengefühl? That’s something of a mystery, and Boyd isn’t a lot of help. Obviously it involves practice, but since the idea behind Fingerspitzengefühl is to deal with “unfamiliar phenomena or unforeseen change,” somehow those have to enter into the equation. And perhaps most important of all, we have to do whatever it is we’re doing as members of a team or other type of organization.
The only advice Boyd gives concerns teams:
Expose individuals, with different skills and abilities, against a variety of situations—whereby each individual can observe and orient himself simultaneously to the others and to the variety of changing situations.
? Why ?
In such an environment, a harmony, or focus and direction, in operations is created by the bonds of implicit communications and trust that evolve as a consequence of the similar mental images or impressions each individual creates and commits to memory by repeatedly sharing the same variety of experiences in the same ways.
A command and control system, whose secret lies in what’s unstated or not communicated to one another (in an explicit sense)—in order to exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and compress time, hence gain both quickness and security. Organic Design 18
I’m not a huge fan of “practice makes perfect.” So I’m happy to finally see some research to support what I had thought was innate laziness: “Practice Not As Important As Believed For Success,” by Douglas Main in Popular Science. He quotes a new paper published in the journal Intelligence that concludes:
Deliberate practice does not explain all, nearly all, or even most of the variance in performance in chess and music, the two most widely studied domains in expertise research. Put another way, deliberate practice explains a considerable amount of the variance in performance in these domains, but leaves a much larger amount of the variance unexplained.
Read the article and see what you think. Note that chess always has the element of uncertainty, in the person of the opponent, while that factor is largely missing from music. As far as I can tell, the study only considers individual, not group, performance.
Can groups have Fingerspitzengefühl? Not really. Boyd used the word Einheit to describe an organization that seemed to be functioning as a unified organism with Fingerspitzengefühl. The quote above suggests that it’s best to view Fingerspitzengefühl and Einheit as different aspects of the same underlying phenomenon and develop both at the same time. This is difficult to do, but unless a person can work harmoniously with others in the organization to accomplish the purposes of the organization, Fingerspitzengefühl is just showing off.