When orientation locks

Here’s what it might feel like:

It wasn’t that what first came to mind was always wrong; it was that its existence in your mind led you to feel more certain than you should be that it was correct.

From “Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project: How do ER surgeons avoid dumb, deadly mistakes? Ask their doctor.”  In other words, you go with what feels right, and that guides the data you find and how you interpret it.

When your orientation locks, you don’t stop thinking. Rather, you fall into a pattern of thinking that you can’t break out of because it feels right. At least two things can make this worse. One is the phenomenon of “incestuous amplification,” where you ignore or explain away anything that appears to conflict with the pattern, and another involves deliberate actions by your opponents — deception.

Breaking out can be extremely difficult. Incestuous amplification, well, amplifies the effect. And egos get involved. The only device that pretty much always works is to get outside the system, as the Toronto hospital in the article did.  But this involves both training — so that everybody is aware of the problem (such mutual awareness is an aspect of Einheit, of course) — and an organizational climate that reinforces the humility to admit that you’re wrong, even among friends, colleagues, and enemies.

Creating such a climate, and I think you’ll find Boyd’s EBFAS climate will work well for this, is a primary task of leadership.

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19 thoughts on “When orientation locks

    • Max,

      Thanks. “Incestuous amplification” refers to what happens when the loop formed by the “implicit guidance and control” feed back from Orientation to Observation and the feed forward from Observation to Orientation is not dampened by Orientation. One of its causes can indeed be “confirmation bias.” I talked about this a little in another post.

      The big question is why Orientation failed to keep the feedback loop from amplifying out of control. And what can be done about it, both by individuals and by organizations.

  1. In briefings, Boyd would frequently talk about observing from every possible facet (as countermeasure to orientation bias).

    The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, loc374-75: “Confirmation bias is the most insidious because you don’t even realize it is happening,” he said. A scout would settle on an opinion about a player and then arrange the evidence to support that opinion.

    • Good point. Boyd would talk about looking for “invariants” across a wide variety of domains. Good example on chart 12 of Strategic Game.

      Still have to be careful, though, because that IG&C link operates both in selection of domains and in selection of data within the domains.

  2. “The big question is why Orientation failed to keep the feedback loop from amplifying out of control. And what can be done about it, both by individuals and by organizations.”
    I think at least a part of the answer can be found in understanding what Orientation is structurally. I mean considering structure is really all that is “observable”, I think too much time is spent examining the energy inside an orientation and not on its looks :).
    So if a person could observe an orientation it would look something like a position (marked by a point) with a posture that would look like a line, or many lines curved or what have you, arising out of that point as to denote direction and intent.
    In other words, posture with its line showing direction and intent is the observable trust you can take from observing an orientation, while its position full of energy marks a point of truth (advantages of an orientation).
    So the thyroid condition was a point of truth and the heart irregularities coming out of that position was a posture the surgeons could trust and postured their way in a forward bent from that position onward in time, i.e. time/step.
    But then they didn’t have all the important data input, and they didn’t even know that they didn’t have all the data. They probably knew the lungs were producing energy and probably at a near normal level, a person with only one lung can produce near normal energy, but they didn’t have the information on the power the lungs were producing. Power being the cubic feet per minute of the flow in an out of the lungs.
    So the only way I can see, and from my position I can’t see much, to combat incesstious amplification would be to think after Decisions. In other words, put position and posture somewhere between Decision and Action where it can be observed. I mean, energy means heat and maybe a thermal body scan would be impractical, but a computer might be able to make something out of outlier temperatures near the area of the lungs that could then be converted into some type of graph to be observed, as an example. It really sounds to me like amplification can be controlled through observation.
    The trick of course is making the step between Decision and Action small and the time shortest as possible so as to keep hesitation out of the time/step.
    The doctor said to stop and think about this for just a bit, he didn’t say to change their posture, just think about moving the point where they are coming from.
    Position and posture can also be thought of in terms of network warfare. In that metaphor, Position is a node and a network edge is the posture of that node. So, by attacking the thyroid problem the doctors were changing the relationship between points in the network (which didn’t need changing) instead of attacking the real problem of network posture in the structure itself, as it was not to be trusted.
    So, they thought about it a bit.
    But then, as the article suggests, it comes down to command and control. You command from a point of energy and the thing you control is the velocity of the moment whose snapshot can be found in its posture.
    I remember looking at two network graphs. One showed the startup commands and actions of microsoft’s operating system on boot–the other graph showed Apple’s operating system on boot and wondering why one “patient” wasn’t dead on arrival.

  3. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, loc2276-79: The Oregon researchers went and tested the hypothesis anyway. It turned out to be true. If you wanted to know whether you had cancer or not, you were better off using the algorithm that the researchers had created than you were asking the radiologist to study the X-ray. The simple algorithm had outperformed not merely the group of doctors; it had outperformed even the single best doctor. You could beat the doctor by replacing him with an equation created by people who knew nothing about medicine and had simply asked a few questions of doctors.
    loc/2291-93: Why would the judgment of an expert–a medical doctor, no less–be inferior to a model crafted from that very expert’s own knowledge? At that point, Goldberg more or less threw up his hands and said, Well, even experts are human. “The clinician is not a machine,” he wrote. “While he possesses his full share of human learning and hypothesis-generating skills, he lacks the machine’s reliability.
    loc2296-99: Right after Goldberg published those words, late in the summer of 1970, Amos Tversky showed up in Eugene, Oregon.

    I remember reading articles in the 70s about medical profession pushing back against these findings.

    loc4277-81: Amos was in Israel on a visit in 1984 when he received the phone call telling him that he’d been given a MacArthur “genius” grant.

    trivia: in the 90s we did some work on computer image recognition of breast cancer xrays (in conjunction with xray moving from film to digital), with somebody from Michigan. He was in the running for MacArthur award … when he got disqualified for having been involved with cruise missile guidance system.

  4. Good post Chet,
    Let me offer an example you may disagree with and some Boyd folks might consider blasphemy.
    I think you can make a case that the Light Weight Fighter/Fighter Mafia folks had some degree of “orientation lock.” They appeared totally focused on a cheaper more maneuverable air-air platform than the F-15 – a plane design that matched well with WWII and Korean War scenarios but frankly diverged from the reality of the air war in Vietnam which was much much more air-ground despite the MiG kill stories.

    Research beyond the Boyd books shows that it wasn’t just a bunch of a-hole big $$$$$ generals who wanted multi-role a/c. The SAM threat demanded a higher thrust to weight “attack” a/c and once you get afterburner, kabaam, you have a potential air-air a/c. Navy, Marine Corps and AF recognized this. The fights of the “mafia” guys to get the F-16 were important and it has been a great a-a fighter, but the emerging type of air-war necessitated all the attack mods to the Viper and it’s done extremely well.

    But that storyline has created an after taste that still troubles tactical a/c design. The Navy elects a multi-role F/A-18 but has no legs. Finally the Super Hornet has recovered some range, the AF can’t get out of its own way with the A-10/F-35 CAS issue.

    Going way back to biplanes the heavies always wanted one a.c to do all well. Aerodynamics and the other guys vote will always mitigate against this. The F-35 was/is a bridge too far merging technology/threat/missions, but it is not IMHO a straight line fighter follow-on. Indeed,despite its troubles it foretells a change in air warfare that most certainly leverages information and orientation in OODA fashion.

    In closing in regard to orientation lock, I think it was possible back in the LWF days to see an air war future much different than the “Red Baron” and gun club experience. The lesson was there in Vietnam but was misread. Consider AF F-4s were either fighters (a-a) or attackers (a-g) as a function of missions assigned to the particular base in Thailand. ‘course, unlike the Navy, they all called themselves “fighter pilots.”
    Just a thought.

    • Ed,

      Good blasphemy is always delicious. Many thanks.

      Readers – What do you think? Unfortunately I’m reasonably sure Pierre Sprey doesn’t read this blog.

      • “Let me offer an example you may disagree with and some Boyd folks might consider blasphemy.”
        Of course I will give you what I think.
        I think we Boyd folks, and I consider myself a Boyd folk, can say is that if you believe in blasphemy, then you are not a Boyd folk.
        On the other hand, I trust Ed Beakley. I have followed him for many years.
        I mean if you think there is a: “…A-10/F-35 CAS…” issue, then that is something that needs to be discussed.
        The A-10F is nearly a 1st Generation aircraft and the F-35 is nearly a 5th generation aircraft, so they are both outliers.
        In the context of outliers, if the US is going to shrink its global footprint, then maybe it should think about the F-35–if it is going to continue its global footprint, then maybe it needs to think, i.e. rethink, the A-10F.
        So, are we going to become Trump globalists and go with the A-10F or our we going with the Pence and his foreign and domestic policy making and continue to develop the F-35?
        Both scenarios are, to some degree, blasphemous, in the context of Boyd.

    • Larry, I don’t believe the issue of Trump’s foreign policy approach are a driving factor here. The possibility of problems for the F-35 appear real given his comments on cost and schedule and the JSF certainly is /has been problematic.

      But the “blocked orientation” concept seems most appropriate to me for an entirely different reason. The F-35 design and technical reach issues can be traced back pre Vietnam War when the Curtis LeMay AF considered fighters little more than delivery platforms for smaller Nuclear weapons and interceptors to fight of USSR bombers with same mission as SAC’s B-52’s. Therein the de-emphasis of guns, dog fighting and conventional tactical bombing. The Navy fell under this umbrella also, but to a much lesser extent. This created significant issues for the AF in Vietnam.

      But immersed in all this was some terminology that to my way of thinking has created a long term orientation block that is now becoming noticeable with the CAS issue (meaning in particular. operations in the Middle East) , especially when contrasted with possible confrontation in the air with China or Russia. Since both of these air war scenarios are real, possible and continuous for some extended period based on” the other guy always has a vote in war,” the need will not go away no matter how the new president drives foreign policy.

      The orientation blockage stems around 1) understanding the differences of the threats and their impact on airpower – from a/c design to mission execution, 2) the dialogue on CAS – what it really is vice how many are using the term, and 3) the “fighter xxx” (fill in the blank, a/c. design, pilot, mission) terminology.

      I have read Spinney, Sprey and of course Boyd and exchanged e-mails with Spinney and Chet. I restate- the fighter mafia was b-b mode focused on an air-air cheap maneuverable a/c. In 1971 I was a complete kool-aid drinker coming out of F-8s, but by 1973 after my 11 month cruise stemming from the Easter Offensive in A-7’s I began to see air war differently.
      That has continued to expand through today and my airpower analysis in the Blown Slick series on Remembered Sky. I’m most certain Spinney and Sprey would disagree completely with my views on the F-35, future CAS, and that they were over focused on the a-a mission back in the LWF days (despite doing very good and necessary work)

      • “Larry, I don’t believe the issue of Trump’s foreign policy approach are a driving factor here. The possibility of problems for the F-35 appear real given his comments on cost and schedule and the JSF certainly is /has been problematic.”
        Well, Trump’s foreign policy, to me, represent a very great change in the wars we fight going forward. His way seems to be quick, cheap, and dirty. I suggest Trump’s foreign policy approach was behind Obama sending troops to Poland, not vetoing the UN and the activity going on in the IC. While tactical nuclear weapons have always been on the table, the US military has stated that they don’t need them. Basically, they believe that if you put an x on the map they, or at least SOF, can be at that x. So, if you don’t want to fight the next war with what you have instead of what you need, then, if it is not an issue, Trump’s new vision for our military needs to be a part of the strategy going forward.
        I think Trump is correct about the real problems of F-35, but when he asked for a cheaper comparable aircraft to replace it with, then he needs to take his head out of his ass. I mean the difference, at least one that I can think of, between CAS and VICE is the “close” part. If you put VICE capabilities on a non or heavily structurally modified F-35 there is a real possibility that 1) its cost will eventually compare with the F-35 and 2) you will lose much of the F-35’s ability to get close, if it ever develops that ability. The structure of the F-35 and its ability to have a neutral center of mass is just as important as the cultural advantage of it being a jobs program. So you build or buy the fighter you want, but then don’t develop the F-35 platform, unless that is your strategy going forward.
        I am not a military person, but after the World Trade Center attack, the second time, I felt compelled to try and understand war. To me the attack was a military campaign that produced terror, but was carried out to bend us to a will other than our own.
        That will wanted us to engage the MENA and create an environment where the emerging nations have the advantage. Militarily it was a success, not only in its tactical operations, but in its strategic objective of occupation.
        Since then the US has bent back and a Clinton POTUS would have change both the position and posture of the US, from that posture which resulted from the attack on the WTC, to something else. Obama and Clinton turned the war in the MENA we were fighting back more towards a posture that would look more like Large State war. At least a similar posture that produced the Cold War between Russia and the USA. That war ended when one economy collapsed, which is most likely to happen to the USA if Trump’s foreign policy continues to give the emerging economies the advantage in the MENA environment. I believe a Trump POTUS is a continuation of the original campaign by, my best guess, the BRIC nations with the use of Saudi resources that produced the attack on the WTC.
        The difference this time is that Trump has come out in favor of tactical nuclear weapons. Which, with Trump at the helm, most likely will end with the use of tactical nuclear warheads, or at least for the need of tactical weapons, instead of strategic ones like the F-35.

  5. In briefings Boyd would also talk about something much cheaper than F16, much simpler to maintain, much more flt hrs per maintenance hrs, etc. … something along the lines of claims for F20/tigershark. Recognizing that MIC(C) would never accept the F20, an attempt was made to sell into export market. Then MIC(C) got congress to offer “direct appropriation” USAID (that could only be used for F16 purchases) to F20 candidate countries. They claimed countries said that they would much prefer F20 (for their purposes) … but they were faced with using their own money for F20 or getting F16s essentially for free (some had arguments at the time, about how “giving away” F16s essentially for free, saved the US money).

    Burton talked about doing a mini-A10 … with 5-barrel gun and could be forward deployed and maintained … however these days, it would likely be a drone.

    • I am less sure. It could be a manned A10. It takes approximately 200 personnel to man a drone. Does the US, under a Trump administration, still have 200 personnel to man the drone, but the more important information may be in the question: what do you see as its target?

      • USAF officers slammed for pranging Predators on manual

        Army forward deployed drones operated by army sergeants in theater … crash less than nearly identical drones flown by USAF officer pilots back in Nevada.

        There are a wide variation of drones from small backpack drones, hand launched and used for surveillance … to predator/shadow.

        ISIS using drones to deliver bombs.

      • At 2011 USNI conference … it was pointed out that F35 was going to be well over two decades in the making … while drones were evolving at the rate of over a dozen generations/year … and that shortly drone flying was going to be completely automatic and that they would be operated by mission specialist … following tradition that started with F16 fly-by-wire (increasingly computer/automation of the flying function).

      • Exactly – and that trend continues. I have a friend whose son is graduating from the AF Academy. He’s hesitant to put in for flight training for fear that he might become a drone operator instead of a fighter pilot. I don’t know how realistic a fear this is, but it would have been unheard of just 5 years ago. Ironically, he’s thinking of trying to get into Materiel Command.

        When I joined the AF, the place was run by SAC generals. Then it became fighter generals. Now … ?

      • “When I joined the AF, the place was run by SAC generals. Then it became fighter generals. Now … ?”
        Now the material managers? I can see that as a thing. I mean Trump is a globalist, or at least a wanta be.
        In relation to his base, he believes he can get his base a better deal in the global market than his competition. I think the white nationalist theme he has going-on board are really only useful idiots to him. They have a lock on their orientation and Trump is used to taking advantage of people like that.
        And when you talk about a global market, it really just comes down to resources, both human and other. So the generals, especially flag generals, that are able to manage resources, it is to “he” that goes the spoils , so to speak.
        The general who can both tactically and strategically keep resources going towards Trump’s, or the next corporation taking over the office of the POTUS, global empire in the making, will succeed, as will those in support of the general.
        I think a young person trying to succeed in the air force today should understand that there is only one MICC in the world, whose center of gravity and center of mass is constantly changing, and, because of all this changing, so should the position and posture of the young person change.
        Second, if wanting to be a fighter pilot, it should be understood that the human will be the last one out of the cockpit of a F-35. My guess is that the computer (machine) will bail way before you do. in other words, as the human leaves, the computer will be rebooting/restarting long before the ejection lever is pulled.
        So in the context of repositioning and re-posturing, If you are not willing to be in the position whose posture looks like you will be the last one out of a very bad situation, then it probably wouldn’t be worth your time getting involved in the pilot program in the first place.
        As a ride the F-35 should be a very good one. However, the human has the advantage over a machine in that it is quick, cheap, dirty, and is still a pretty good targeting system. In a F-35, the human will be the last click in the targeting system after the machine has quit.
        The machine has an advantage of being very precise, which has nothing to do with targeting, except in the context of time. Given time the machine(s) will, of course, win, unless, in the glorious of its precision, it becomes a human target.
        In that case, the pilot will be left with his/her joystick in hand, as the machine tells him/her to hit restart and join in another game.

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