I get asked from time to time what to read after finishing Boyd’s Discourse (All of Boyd’s briefings are available from the Articles tab at the top of this page). If you look at the Sources section of Patterns of Conflict, or the “Disciplines or activities to be examined” page from Strategic Game:
the answer would appear to be “most anything.”
Let me toss out a few suggestions from the last few years; please add your favorites in the comments.
- Turn the Ship Around!, by L. David Marquet (USN, ret.) This is the best illustration I’ve seen of the power of Einheit. It shows how you can achieve the USMC’s goal of being able to read each others’ minds:
We believe that implicit communication—to communicate through mutual understanding, using a minimum of key, well-understood phrases or even anticipating each others’ thoughts—is a faster, more effective way to communicate than through the use of detailed, explicit instructions. We develop this ability through familiarity and trust, which are based on a shared philosophy and shared experience. Warfighting, p. 79.
- The Art of Action, by Stephen Bungay. An in-depth treatment of the origins and effects of what Boyd called his “EBFAS” climate, an organizational culture that accelerates learning and facilitates operating inside opponents’ OODA loops. You’ll note that Bungay’s use of Auftragstaktik is somewhat broader than Boyd’s.
- Anything recent on human evolution. The theory of evolution by natural selection forms one of the two pillars of Boyd’s work (Patterns 11), so anything you can extract from that domain might prove useful. The field is changing so rapidly that I hesitate to recommend anything specific. However, last August, Scientific American published The Story of Us, a collection of essays that summarize the latest findings. It has just been released as an eBook, entitled Evolution: The Human Odyssey.
- This might be 3b: Anything on the latest in genetics (including epigenetics), the mechanism behind both human development and human evolution and another field that’s changing so rapidly that I hesitate to recommend anything specific. Lots of good books out there, plus you can follow @physorg_com on Twitter.
- Neurophysiology. This was where Boyd was spending a lot of his time just before he died (see, for example, charts 16 and following in Strategic Game.) The ability of the brain to change itself, called “neuroplasticity,” was just becoming apparent in 1997, and I’m not sure we really understand that much about it now. Anyway, you can’t understand orientation and its effect on actions without understanding how the brain works. Did you know, by the way, that scientists have recently discovered neural connections between parts of the brain that perform higher order functions (thinking, in other words) and those that govern emotions? Might explain why Patterns 132 works as it does. Connections between brain physiology and genetics are also becoming more apparent. Check out “Intelligence and the DNA Revolution” from SciAm, August 2017.
- Anything recent from any other field (“domain” as Boyd called it), including those that weren’t even named when Boyd was alive. Keep in mind, though, that Boyd is all about making connections across domains, not memorizing today’s knowledge about any specific one. When he defines “orientation,” for example, the phrase “many sided” refers to “across multiple domains.” Worth also rereading the “Abstract,” if you haven’t in a while.
- The Apocalypse Codex, by Charles Stross. A lot of people make a show of turning up their noses at fiction. This is a mistake. Many authors best known for non-fiction have turned to stories and novels to breathe life into their ideas: From Musashi (carpenter analogy) and Jesus (parables) to modern authors on things military such as John Schmitt (“Operation VERBAL IMAGE” in MCDP 6, Command and Control, 1996), David Hackworth (Price of Honor), Pat Lang (Strike the Tent trilogy), and Bill Lind (Victoria). Sun Tzu included many tales of lore to illustrate his points. And I suppose we should add the venerable Martin van Creveld’s Hitler in Hell to this list.
I did a post last December on Stross’s novel, and in particular, how one of the main characters uses the OODA “loop.” In short, much more like Boyd suggested than the “observe-then-orient-then-decide-then-act” misconception that appears in places that mention the subject. Read the passage I quoted and you’ll get the point immediately. Similarly, you won’t soon forget Bill Lind’s political philosophy, and so, perhaps, his ultimate goal, after reading Victoria.
- I’ll close with my own stuff. But first, if you’re familiar with Boyd’s work, but haven’t read Chuck Spinney’s Evolutionary Epistemology in a while, I strongly recommend it (Articles tab, again). I’ve completed a couple of companion papers to Certain to Win that you might find interesting (“John Boyd’s real OODA loop” and “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the meaning of life.”). Both are available from the Articles tab. And I did dabble a little in fiction, also available on that page, but I’m not sure that it reveals much about Boyd’s philosophy.