Cheng, Chi, and Mother Nature

John Boyd, on chart 132 of Patterns, described what you’re trying to accomplish by operating inside opponents’ OODA loops*:

“Generate uncertainty, confusion, disorder, panic, chaos … shatter cohesion, produce paralysis and bring about collapse.” Once you have these well underway, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to “subvert, disorient, disrupt, overload, or seize adversary’s vulnerable, yet critical, connections, centers, and activities … in order to dismember organism and isolate remnants for wrap-up or absorption.”

If you achieve this, it doesn’t make any difference how big your opponents are or how much great technology they have.

Why not? What do you actually see inside the victim’s organization when it’s happening? Here’s an example from the cockpit voice recorder in a tragic 2009 plane crash:

At 10:16 P.M., the plane’s impending-stall alert system—the stick shaker—kicked in. “Jesus Christ,” Renslow said, alarmed. In his panicked confusion, he pulled the shaker toward him instead of pushing it away from him. Seventeen seconds later, he said, “We’re down,” and, two seconds after that, the plane crashed, killing everyone on board and one person on the ground.

Capt. Resnlow was a highly skilled professional as was his co-pilot. So what happened? One way to think about it was that Mother Nature was operating inside his OODA loop, that is, events were changing more rapidly than his mental model — his orientation — could keep up. The result was confusion, disorder, panic and paralysis. Boyd is suggesting that in a conflict between groups of human beings, you can generate these effects by operating inside opponents’ OODA loops.

Read the complete piece “The Hazards of Going on Autopilot,” by Maria Konnikova on newyorker.com.  You may have noticed that events in the cockpit resembled the results of a successful deception operation, a cheng / chi maneuver. A classic cheng / chi pattern is to lull your opponent into a false sense of security and then extremely rapidly, spring the trap. It’s interesting that some forms of automation inadvertently produce this same effect.

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*”Operating inside the OODA loop” is one of what I’ve called Boyd’s four “big ideas.” For an explanation, scroll down to “Boyd’s Big Ideas” on our Articles page.

9 thoughts on “Cheng, Chi, and Mother Nature

  1. “John Boyd, on chart 132 of Patterns, described what you’re trying to accomplish by operating inside opponents’ OODA loops*:”

    Which is what? Re-orientation or Re-harmonization? I mean you are not really trying to re-position your opponent, the advantage is all his. It seems to me, when operating inside another OODA loop one should only try to create waves (loops) that can live in harmony with each other. Or in other words, shared workspaces.

    • Hi Larry,

      Thanks. Depends on what you’re emphasizing. Re-orientation means to tweak your (dynamic) mental models to better describe what you’re observing. The test of “better” is how well they predict unfolding events. Re-harmonization means that within a team, we have what Boyd called a common implicit orientation, that is, our mental models, and thus our predictions are all pretty similar so that explicit communication can be held to a minimum and commanders can give subordinates wide freedom and initiative.

      I am, by the way, absolutely trying to reposition my opponent, in time as well as in space.

      Chet

      • This: “to tweak your (dynamic) mental models to better describe what you’re observing” ; and “that is, our mental models, and thus our predictions are all pretty similar so that explicit communication can be held to a minimum and commanders can give subordinates wide freedom and initiative.”; tells me that, like the title to my web page suggest, image is important.

        Who could have guessed, as our eyes account for 90% of our “being”, i.e. orientation and observation?

        If we could have guessed we would have been rocket scientists instead of losers on the internet 🙂

      • “I am, by the way, absolutely trying to reposition my opponent, in time as well as in space.”

        Ha! Are not we all Chet. All not we all.

        But then it is not all about feeling-good in both time and space. Re-positioning, I hope you can agree, can “feel good”.

        But then again, some of this “re-positioning” must give some kind of satisfaction, right?

        In other words, some of it, for the lack of another word “life”, must be about the potential energy and not just the kinetic?

        So structure over culture = culture over structure.

        In the US, the Tea Party is going after structure, but in the Middle East, the cultures are tearing everyone up.

        Both possible winning strategy, but for what outcome? I mean, I just don’t see it, so what am I missing?

        Why would the Tea Party want to destroy how the U.S. government is structured?

  2. There are some interesting parallels between that and the Air France 447 that went down around that time. Both pilots reacted to stalls very poorly. You get all of these points of failure within a plane and they all failed, leading to an accident.

    It maybe that we are in need of re-positioning as a society.

    I think that one of things that is interesting is that since the end of WWII, the military industrial complex has almost always gotten its way. They’ve gotten the money for the more expensive warplanes, their expensive top-heavy command structure, various high tech systems, and the defense industry has profited handsomely. They wanted money – they got it. Here we are.

    It has not led to security, war winning super weapons or anything like that. It’s like the US likes to build Death Stars and the insurgents figure out where the exhaust ports are. Combine that with some disasters, mostly self-inflicted and here we are indeed.

    Only now with the US in a severe recession has the defense industry not gotten what it wants, which seems to be a repeat of the Reagan and Bush II buildups.

    – Chris

      • Nope. Both were commercial aircraft.

        Air France Flight 447 was an Airbus A330. It was a shock to many that this aircraft crashed. Essentially the aircraft flew through a storm, the co-pilot stalled the airplane until the engines could no longer breathe, and the plane fell into the ocean.

        Colgan Air Flight 3407 was a Bombardier DHC8-402 Q400, a regional jet (CR note: turboprop) popular with low cost short-haul carriers. The only other thing I should mention is that Captain Marvin Renslow apparently failed several “check rides”, which were flying proficiency tests.

      • “Nope. Both were commercial aircraft.”

        Oh! Then how about the other craft that they were trained on, if they were ex military pilots? I am just saying that a fighter jet and a passenger jet may react differently, so, given the amount of time to act, the pilot’s reaction may come from a different orientation that the environment called for.

        Besides, something called “stick shaker” or something like that is probably a “Hail Mary” anyway. Sure it was the pilot’s fault, but what lead to the stall, to begin with?

        Wherever the craft was, it doesn’t sound like a position either pilot would have taken it to.

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