Dispatches from the front

In this case, automotive engineering.

Dean Lenane gave a major presentation at the recent European Manufacturing Strategies Summit in Berlin and has kindly agreed to post it on our Articles page (link above).  Look for “Organizing for Success with lessons from The master – John Boyd, OR, People, ideas, technology…IN THAT ORDER.”

In addition to being a keen student of Boyd’s ideas, Dean has had the wherewithal to put them into practice. As CEO of CRH North America, he grew the company from $20 M annual revenue to more than $350 M in a span of seven years. He documented some of this experience in The Turnaround, also on the Articles page. Now, as Managing Director, Europe, for Fisher Dynamics, he is continuing to experiment. I think you’ll find  his presentation innovative, exciting (if you’re into this sort of thing), and useful.

One thing I might point out is Dean’s concept of “providing coherent strategy” beginning on slide 69. You may recall that the objectives Boyd set on p. 2 of Patterns of Conflict were:


Focus and direction

• To make manifest the nature of moral-mental-physical conflict
• To discern a pattern for successful operations
• To help generalize tactics and strategy
• To find a basis for grand strategy

[“Focus and direction” was Boyd’s translation of Schwerpunkt.]

In order to  do this, he needed to harmonize grand strategy, strategy, and tactics so that success at one level wasn’t undone by failure at another — the “win the battles but lose the war” phenomenon.  It took him a while to get there, but Boyd finally gave an answer on slide 141.

Dean’s concept of “coherent strategy” serves the same function for manufacturing, and I would suggest for all commercial enterprises. To give one example, he insists:

This requires that a solid understanding of how things work at a tactical level be possessed by those making the strategic decisions.

By implication, a large staff structure of persons without actual front line experience and management by a mandarin class of professional managers without actual detailed knowledge of the specific business and products is anathema to a fast maneuver approach as these will slow down the decision loop. Slide 76.

Compare to Boyd’s slide 176:

– In accepting this idea we must admit that increased unit complexity (with magnified mental and physical task loadings) does not enhance the spontaneous synthetic/creative operation. Rather, it constrains the opportunity for these timely actions/counteractions.

Or put another way

– Complexity (technical, organizational, operational, etc.) causes commanders and subordinates alike to be captured by their own internal dynamics or interactions—hence they cannot adapt to rapidly changing external (or even internal) circumstances.

I think you’ll find what Dean has developed over the last 15 or so years to be an important addition to the expansion of Boyd’s ideas beyond their original domain of war and another instance of the Conceptual Spiral in action.

Good luck.

3 thoughts on “Dispatches from the front

  1. “– Complexity (technical, organizational, operational, etc.) causes commanders and subordinates alike to be captured by their own internal dynamics or interactions—hence they cannot adapt to rapidly changing external (or even internal) circumstances.
    So true. Boyd got it right on the money, his targetting was accurate.
    Focus and direction is what I call position and posture. Mine falls right between Decision and Action, and is mostly structural.
    To be clear: I believe every Orientation consists of 3 things: Focus and Direction, which are mostly structural, and ethics, which is mostly cultural.
    Ethics are the forces (both constructive and destructive) that keep the mass of the movement (as represented in its focus and structure) in a position with an advantage; and a direction that gives the Orientation a positive posture into the future.
    I think it happens somewhat like this: When the ethics of the project Observe an image that they can fall in love with and a position with an advantage that they can live with, then, with little thought, it is time for action.
    Thanks for the post. As a structural person this may be just what I need: to organize my Grand Strategy, strategy and tactics into an orientation showing the advantages and future, and present that orientation to my culture.
    I thought of this before, but never in the terms of Grand Strategy, strategy and tactics. Sort of the Trilogy of business.
    Again Thanks. It helps to see it laid out before me, as you have done.
    I hope I can “act” on the help you have given me. 🙂

    • Larry — you’re most welcome. I’ve been doing this Boyd stuff for some 40 years now, but when I see it from another perspective, I often find something new. Just as Boyd predicted. Chet

      • Tdaxp introduced Boyd to me around the early 2000’s. As I was studying engineering at the time, I saw the OODA loop as a distribution of energy and, more importantly, quantum physics instead of Newtonian physics.
        The old saying in quantum physics is: “If you say you know quantum physics, then you don’t really know quantum physics.”
        I can honestly say I know really nothing about quantum physics, nor Boyd.
        I hope he would approve.

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