Empathy in Orientation

I tweeted a link to a Forbes article on empathy this morning, “Want more innovative solutions? Start with empathy.” by Tracy Bower.

Boyd explained his notion of orientation on chart 15 of Organic Design (available from the Articles link, above):

Orientation is an interactive process of many-sided implicit cross-referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections that is shaped by and shapes the interplay of genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.

I don’t recall any place where he defined “empathies,” or, for that matter, “empathy,” much less “projections,” “correlations,” or “rejections.”  These terms appear out of the ether, right after this chart:


where he proclaims an “Insight” that:

Interactions, as shown, represent a many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection. (OD, 11)

If you really want to have some fun, try briefing these two charts sometime.

Then, in his very last briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing (also in Articles), he drew his infamous OODA “loop” sketch (his words), below which he recorded another “Insight”:

Also note how the entire “loop” (not just orientation) is an ongoing many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection.

The Zen of Boyd?  I don’t know. Perhaps something to ponder. For example, if you squint hard at chart 10, are there other ways you could characterize these “interactions”?  And how is the Stuka pilot Hans Rudel an interaction?  Can you come up with some more relevant interactions to make a similar point about orientation?

6 thoughts on “Empathy in Orientation

  1. Great post Chet,

    In my work, I’m finding myself using two of Boyd’s core constructs – EFBAS, and OODA. Within EFBAS, the probably the deepest dives happen around Einheit, and often takes us into areas from depth psychology to philosophy as we explore what” internal wholeness” is as a start point for leadership, before we move to team and environment. Empathy always features in these discussions.

    Regarding OODA, that is a major framework, for just the reasons you outline – when you get to orient, the rabbit hole goes a long way down. The value often lies not in the analysis, but in the understanding that it’s there for many people where the pressure of work leads to superficial, or shallow thinking – Kahneman’s System 1 in “Thinking Fast and Slow”

    It is a tribute to Boyd’s insights that having spent over 40 years in focused on organisation system health, his work remains by far the best “go to” frameworks.

    Best regards


  2. Thank you, Chet, for this article. I have often wondered about the role that empathy played in the thinking of John Boyd. (By the way, you might be interested on the following piece, which discusses a technique for cultivating “empathy-in-orientation.”


    [Ed. note: Dr. Gudmundsson is a distinguished historian and the author of the classic Storm Troop Tactics, one of my sources for Certain to Win; available at Amazon]

  3. “And how is the Stuka pilot Hans Rudel an interaction?”
    Perhaps if we assign the units of measure for one Rudel, then maybe we can see what one interaction will look like.
    Units of measure are one description of that which makes up a Rudel, as is psi in its description of pressure, i.e. force/inches^2.
    As Kristopher Floyd may have suggested in his article: Empathy as a Strategic Virtue: The Case of Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the Most Decorated German officer of WWII the units of measure for one Rudel is ft*lbs, the same units as energy.
    In other words, Rudel was able to come “close” (within feet and inches) and was of considerable “weight”, as to make a difference in battle.
    Not only tactical, one Rudel was also a winning strategy, when “winning” meant surviving.
    If I understand correctly, Rudel survived the war.
    As for his empathy, it was a (and hopefully I am not mixing metaphors) two-way street.
    Just saying…, his “mates” on the ground felt an equal empathy for Rudel, and, I believe, it made a difference in his survival ability.
    At least as much as his ability to pilot an airplane.

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