The phenomenon of locked orientation, where we get trapped into what Boyd called a “pattern of actions and ideas,” can be deadly in a conflict. We all know this, yet it still happens.
One reason is the implicit guidance and control link from orientation back to observation that influences what we observe, creating a “cognitive bias.” Left undampened, this feedback loop so narrows our field of observation that our brains don’t register data that our eyes actually “see,” producing “inattenional blindness.” Perhaps the best known illustrations are the famous “invisible gorilla” experiments. There are many sites and videos out there, so just Google the term and watch.
Here’s some fascinating new research on the subject from the New York Times, showing that once cognitive bias sets in, we start selecting our sources to confirm it. That is, liberals began to spend more time on liberal sites and similarly for conservatives. Neither group, in other words, tries to get an objective world view by sampling a range of evidence and opinion.
As I’ve mentioned several times on this site, Chuck Spinney, a very close colleague of Boyd’s, coined the term “incestuous amplification” to emphasize how this rapid intensification can produce self-locking tunnel vision. [Note — you can also search his site for other references to the term.] One might consider this as the strategic version of placing a microphone too close to a speaker.
What can you do, given that this sort of behavior is seemingly built in to our brains? You can’t, to coin a phrase, determine the character or nature of a system from within itself, and even worse, just attempting to do so will generate further confusion and disorder. So you need outside help. This is not exactly a startling new insight — Deming, for example, considered his system of profound knowledge as primarily coming from outside the system.
Boyd called the ability to recognize and break out of locked orientation, Behendigkeit. It might be considered as the foundation for the rest of his organizational climate. How do you achieve it? Three ideas for you:
- Recognize the danger and that it’s very difficult to spot from inside the system. The typical response when I bring this up is to nod knowingly.
- Put mechanisms in place to ensure an outside viewpoint. Otherwise the cognitive biases noted the the NYT article will steer you towards sources that agree with your existing orientation and the resulting incestuous amplification will rapidly lock this orientation. The purpose of enlisting outside help is not to select sources for you but to alert you to incestuous amplification.
- Demonstrate that your mechanisms are working.