Inside Detroit’s OODA loops (again)

A couple of quotes from recent articles about the auto industry. The first is from the US, and the second from the UK, but I think you’ll get the idea.

In 2017, for example, there were 11 models available on the U.S. market for less than $20,000, according to Cox data. By the end of 2022, there were four. Then, by March 2023, only 2.

Among the cars discontinued last year was the Chevy Spark, the cheapest of which started at $13,600. Chevy sold more than 24,400 of those cars in 2021 — more than most luxury models can claim. Now, Chevy’s cheapest models cost more than $20,000.

“New cars, once part of the American Dream, now out of reach for many,” Rachel Siegel and Jeanne Whalen, Washington Post, May 7, 2023

And then,

European makers, prominently Ford, abandoning their entry-level models gifts a huge opportunity to predatory Chinese companies.

“Early Chinese cars were like the early efforts from Japanese and Korean makers: bad. No more,” Gavin Green – Car Magazine (UK), June 2023

About 18 months ago, we bought a Volvo XC60, the only car on the lot. It has the Inscription trim package — top of the line at the time — the B5 mild hybrid engine, and the advanced tech package with SAE Level 2 driver automation (same level as Tesla), and several other options. We were a little embarrassed because we really didn’t want anything so fancy, but now, it turns out to be right about the average price for a new car. And yeah, I know, Volvo is owned by Geely, a Chinese auto company (from 1999 – 2010, it was owned by Ford).

Another Podcast

A while back, Mark McGrath and Brian (Ponch) Rivera interviewed me as part of their No Way Out series.

No Way Out with Chet Richards on Apple Podcasts

No Way Out with Chet Richards on SPOTIFY

I had a lot of fun with this, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

As a reminder (for those of you who haven’t had the experience of doing one of these), this video is uncensored, unexpurgated, and most important, unedited. So if you see me making obvious mistakes, or saying something more than usually ludicrous, it’s a deep fake. I swear!

Ponch, incidentally, is co-author of The Flow System, which has a nice section on Boyd’s OODA loop, tying it into the Cynefin framework.

Will AI replace pundits?

You may have seen that Microsoft has added ChatGPT capabilities to its search engine, Bing:

Now with a focus on AI, Microsoft recently invested about $10 billion in OpenAI, the research laboratory behind the AI chatbot ChatGPT.

Microsoft also launched its new Bing search engine, created in collaboration with OpenAI. The search engine now displays ChatGPT-like skills, including writing personalized emails, translating texts in over a hundred languages and recommending various searches.

I just finished Donna Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, and I thought it was fantastic — up past midnight turning pages. I’ve now started her Pulitzer Prize winning third novel, The Goldfinch. It is deep, dark and quite disturbing, where she compels us to relive our deepest fears, like when we were kids, home alone, well after sunset, imagining in more and more detail why our parents weren’t home. I’m not really sure I want to continue, so why not seek some advice by asking Bing/ChatGPT to compare the two novels? Here’s what it said:

Donna Tartt is an acclaimed American writer who has published three novels: The Secret History (1992), The Little Friend (2002), and The Goldfinch (2013). The Secret History and The Goldfinch share some similarities, such as being set in part at elite educational institutions, featuring a group of friends who are involved in a crime or a secret, and exploring themes of art, beauty, morality, and fate.

However, they also differ in many ways. The Secret History is a dark and suspenseful novel that follows a group of classics students at a fictional college in Vermont who murder one of their own under the influence of an ancient ritual. The Goldfinch is a sprawling and emotional novel that follows the life of Theo Decker, who survives a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and steals a priceless painting that becomes his obsession and salvation. While The Secret History is more focused on the psychological dynamics of the characters and their intellectual pursuits, The Goldfinch is more expansive and covers various locations, cultures, genres, and styles.

Both novels have been praised for their literary quality and originality , but The Goldfinch has also received some criticism for its length and plot. In 2014, The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

I had asked for the comparison in “professional” tone — from among the 5 choices ranging from professional to funny — of medium length, in paragraph format.

Here is the same request in “funny” tone and short length:

Donna Tartt is a master of writing long novels that take her decades to finish. Her first novel, The Secret History, was published in 1992 and tells the story of a group of classics students who murder one of their own in a twisted homage to ancient Greek rituals. Her third novel, The Goldfinch, was published in 2013 and tells the story of a boy who steals a painting after surviving a terrorist attack that kills his mother.

Both novels are full of suspense, tragedy, and obsession, but they also have some differences. For one thing, The Secret History is set mostly in Vermont and focuses on the elite world of academia, while The Goldfinch is set mostly in New York and Las Vegas and explores the seedy underworld of art dealers and criminals. For another thing, The Secret History has six main characters who are all equally guilty and complex, while The Goldfinch has one main character who is mostly innocent and sympathetic. And finally, The Secret History is inspired by a real painting by Carel Fabritius that was destroyed in an explosion in 1654, while The Goldfinch is inspired by another real painting by Carel Fabritius that miraculously survived the same explosion.

So if you like novels that are long, dark, and full of art history references, you might enjoy both of these books by Donna Tartt. But if you prefer novels that are short, light-hearted, and easy to read in one sitting…well…maybe look elsewhere.

You know, this is even more disturbing than Tartt’s novels. Nevertheless, we press on with The Goldfinch.

Bing/ChatGPT offers a style called “Blog Post,” incidentally …

Creativity under fire

An officer responds to a call reporting an active threat (active shooter) who is killing innocent people inside an office building. When the officer arrives, he is alone. Backup is at least ten minutes away and people are getting killed inside the building.

The officer makes the courageous decision to enter the building and attempt to eliminate the threat.

How would you do it? On pages 72 and following, the authors of Outcomes Based Learning describe an 8-step technique you could use. As you read through it, you’ll notice that it requires a fair amount of skill with your weapon and the ability to keep your focus in a time-critical crisis situation, not to mention a lot of courage. How would you teach officers to do it?

The way this topic might be taught is to make eight slides illustrating the actions at each step (just copy the illustrations from the book). You stand at the front and deliver a lecture. The students take notes and then take a written test, usually true-false or multiple choice to make grading easier. Those who achieve the required minimum score are certified.

The authors then conclude:

The approach outlined above is one of the most ineffective education methods in history.

They also note that it is undoubtedly the most widely used.

At best, you’ve taught people how to take a test, and since you’ll be rated on how many pass, you’ve probably taught the test. But what would happen in real life? Nowhere in all this have you trained officers to deal with situations that don’t follow the eight steps or prepared them to handle fear, smoke, screams, and bullets coming their way. In other words, how to actually clear a room.

Instead of teaching the process, the eight-step technique in this case, you might consider an alternative: Teach the outcome. What is it that you want to students to be able to do and under what circumstances, and prepare them to do that. As the authors put it:

True mastery of a skill or tactical technique is not just being able to execute the steps quickly and flawlessly in a neutral environment, but rather the ability to execute techniques under stress while reacting to unexpected variables and adjusting the techniques as needed in real-time to meet the demands of the specific situation.

The human brain actually has an internal mechanism that automatically prunes, eliminates knowledge or memory that the subconscious mind determines is not useful. … This is the reason why people often forget most if not all the knowledge they gain in high school and college.

This is confirmed by research — Prof. Ellen Langer of Harvard, for example, went into how we lose and recover memories in her book Counterclockwise. But my favorite explanation of this phenomenon was presented several years ago by Father Guido Sarducci: The Five Minute University. “In five minutes, you learn what the average college graduate remembers five years after he or she is out of the school.”

This book will give you ideas on how to construct training programs that produce real world outcomes in real world situations and that students will remember when they need them. There is almost no limit to what these outcomes could be. They offer a few suggestions:

Attribute 1: Willingness to Question Authority
Attribute 2: Aggressiveness and Boldness
Attribute 3: Judgment and Responsibility
Attribute 4: Moral Courage
Attribute 5: Adaptability
Attribute 7: Situational Awareness
Attribute 8: Confidence
Attribute 9: Critical Thinking Skills
Attribute 10: Problem-Solving Skills (“That being said, it is also important not to fall into the “there is no wrong answer” trap. When it comes to most problem-solving challenges as we have already said there is never a single right answer but there are indeed always wrong answers.”)
Attribute 11: Initiative

Somewhere in this list, there are attributes that affect your organization, whether you are a military unit, a sports team, a business team, or an educational institution. And it won’t be that difficult to get started. You won’t need to master volumes of arcane theory in order to derive a lot of benefit: “In fact, you can most likely continue training in all of the same areas and even conduct many of the same types of training events. OBL will simply add a valuable element to the equation that will change the way you approach training and think about training.” (7)

There are many interesting side roads in the book that you should explore. Take “knowledge,” for example. Knowledge applies to everybody and every type of organization, and I think you’ll find a trove of useful ideas in the chapter “Pursuit of Knowledge.” Some data, for example, do need to be committed to memory:

The ultimate goal is not just to memorize these weapons capabilities in list form but rather be able to look at a map and intuitively visualize the range circles sprouting from each weapon. Then when you look up from the map at the terrain in front of you those same range circles unfold in your mind. … intuitive decision making is almost always preferable to analytical decision making in battle because intuitive decision making is much faster and generally more effective.

The trick is which data to memorize, and then how to tie these facts into intuitive decision making so that they don’t just become courses in the Five Minute University, regurgitated for the test and then quickly forgotten.

All of these practices, including memorization and development of intuitive execution, must support the author’s insistence, noted above, that we master the ability to “execute techniques under stress while reacting to unexpected variables and adjusting the techniques as needed in real-time to meet the demands of the specific situation.” The American strategist John Boyd coined a term for this ability. He called it “building snowmobiles,” and maintained that the ability to do this is the essential skill that separates winners from losers.*

What the authors have produced is the first practical handbook for building snowmobiles, and one that is accessible to everybody. I think Boyd would be very, very excited about this book.

A couple of notes. First on the treatment of OODA loops. The authors claim that “Taking action will by definition change the situation, requiring the pilot to repeat the process all over again, observing, orienting, deciding and acting. This cycle repeats in a continuing ‘loop,’ thus the term OODA Loop is another descriptor for Boyd’s decision cycle.”

As I have argued at length in my paper “Boyd’s OODA loop,” (available for free download from our Articles page) this model doesn’t really work very well. Boyd himself came to realize this when he drew his OODA “loop” sketch (reproduced in my paper) in The Essence of Winning and Losing. The authors of this book are well aware of this, however, and explain their use of the circular model thusly:

Whether or not the last few pages accurately captured Boyd’s thinking, they certainty capture how the average military leader interpreted Boyd’s thinking. … Most importantly, the simplified narrative is more accessible and in some cases easier for most people to apply to real-world problems.

As I also note in my paper, the circular model is a subset of Boyd’s OODA “loop” sketch and does accurately represent his model of learning, that is how to build and employ snowmobiles. Creativity and leadership under fire. And since learning is what this book is all about, I can endorse their use of the circular representation, even if it is not a good model of decisions and actions in a rapidly changing situation.

Also, a note on authorship. No author is listed, but the principle author is the leading expert on outcomes based learning, Don Vandergriff, author of many works on improving leadership in critical command situations, including Raising the Bar, The Path to Victory, and Adopting Mission Command: Developing Leaders for a Superior Command Culture.

Don told me that the Special Tactics Staff provided support and contributions. Incidentally, the general background of the Special Tactics team comes out of Tier-1 Special Missions Units and Special Forces.

I strongly recommend this book. You’ll find all sorts of interesting topics, all in a highly readable style that you will find difficult to put down. No matter what your occupation, by the end of this book, you will be building better snowmobiles faster.

*The idea is that a snowmobile takes bits and pieces from what’s readily available — in this case, what we already know — and combines them in a new way to solve a problem. Boyd describes the process and importance of building snowmobiles in his presentation Strategic Game of ? and ?, available from our Articles page.

A PMC for 4GW

Way back in 2005, I wrote a book, Neither Shall the Sword, suggesting that the US outsource conventional combat capabilities to private military companies (PMCs). In my original piece, expanded upon in my next book, If We Can Keep It (IWCKI, 2008, available for free download from the Articles page), I recommended using PMCs to replace most conventional military units. The idea was to harness the power of competition to enhance innovation, increase agility, and reduce costs.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but Politico has just published a long article, “Inside the stunning growth of Russia’s Wagner Group,” by Erin Banco, Sarah Anne Aarup, and Anastasiia Carrier:

Although Wagner doesn’t appear to have much competition from other Russian PMCs, and Russia hasn’t outsourced most of its armor and infantry to the Group, the article shows how the PMC has become quite agile both in exploiting opportunities and in evading Western responses (sanctions, for the most part). These opportunities include both the war in Ukraine and operations in as many as a dozen countries in Africa and the Middle East.

German composer Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

In conventional warfare, as in eastern Ukraine, the focus is on defeating enemy military forces. Over the last few decades, though, military analysts have proposed another form of conflict, “fourth generation warfare.” In 4GW, the focus is on persuading the government of an enemy nation-state to give up the fight, even if their forces are doing well by the usual measures of success in combat. For weaker states and especially entities other than nation-states, 4GW has obvious appeal.

Consider, for example, what happened to us in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese and their allies used propaganda, including international appeals and support to various peace movements, combined with inflicting losses on American forces, to convince the US that the cost of continuing wasn’t worth it. In the end, we were victorious on the battlefield, but defeated in the war.

As our Vietnam experience shows, there are ways to persuade enemies to quit other than defeating them in combat. These constitute the toolkit of 4GW.

IWCKI does mention the potential for PMCs in fourth generation warfare, drawing on ideas from John Robb, Bill Lind, and TX Hammes. As Robb noted:

We can expect to see the use of PMCs continue to grow. For every local or global failure of nation-states to address critical problems, corporate participants in general and PMCs in particular will continue to gain ground. (Brave New War, 91).

And so it has come to pass. I suggested in IWCKI that someday, PMCs could supply complete infantry battalions, not just contractors to maintain their equipment. As you are well aware, that’s exactly what the Wagner Group is doing in Ukraine. But what marks Wagner as a new force in the world and a player in 4GW — not just a provider of military units for conventional combat — is this observation:

Wagner has become, in practice, a PR outfit with a paramilitary arm.

This statement characterizes the Wagner Group as a true 4GW organization, albeit one that also integrates a significant conventional combat capability. One could contrast that to the military establishment of a typical state, which might try to incorporate 4GW missions as additional extra duties.

The article does ramble on, berating the Wagner organization for such PR activities as trying to influence public opinion and elections in the US, Western Europe, and the Baltics. They also get tagged for extensive hacking operations as well as the traditional PMC role of propping up nasty dictators. Not that we would ever do such things.

Although I may have mis-estimated the potential scope of modern PMCs — overemphasizing their combat role, perhaps, although Ukraine — the idea of exploiting their agility and cost-effectiveness, not to mention their ability to recruit people who would never make it through the door of a USMC Recruiting Office — still holds.

OODA loops go forth

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with Boyd’s practice of exploring a variety of domains looking for what he called “invariants,” concepts that keep occurring in different fields. Here, for example, is his domain list from Strategic Game of ? and ?

From Strategic Game of ? and ?

The invariants he found in this collection explain the two question marks (All of Boyd’s works are available for free download from our Articles page).

What you may not be so familiar with is that the process goes both ways. That is, once he distilled out an invariant, it was often applicable to domains outside his original collection. In fact, this was virtually inevitable, as he observed near the end of his life in Conceptual Spiral (1992):

Taken together, the theorems associated with Gödel, Lowenheim & Skolem, Tarski, Church, Turing, Chaitin, and others reveal that not only do the statements representing a theoretical system for explaining some aspect of reality explain that reality inadequately or incompletely but, like it or not, these statements spill out beyond any one system and do so in unpredictable ways (14).

So the OODA loop, which started out as a concept from armed conflict — war — quickly spilled out into business, sports, politics, etc. One could argue that although these aren’t war, they are forms of conflict, thus the application of the OODA loop to them shouldn’t be surprising. But here is something perhaps less expected. This post introduces a paper from Lancaster University in England, “Rethinking reflective practice: John Boyd’s OODA loop as an alternative to Kolb.,” by Mike Ryder and Carolyn Downs (The International Journal of Management Education 20 (2022) 100703),

Let me start by admitting that I have no idea who Kolb was or is and have never heard of “reflective practice.” But what is clear is that the OODA loop is making a major leap from any form of conflict into pedagogy — the art of teaching. Here is the paper’s abstract:

The world is changing and business schools are struggling to keep up. Theories of reflective practice developed by the likes of Schon (1983), Gibbs (1988), Driscoll (1994, 2007) and Kolb (1984, 2015) are outdated and unfit for current purposes. Problems include the chronology of events, the orientation of the observer, the impact of external inputs, and the fact that neither education nor the workplace follow a structured, linear path.

In response to these challenges, we propose a new ‘solution’: John Boyd’s OODA loop. We argue that OODA loops offer the chance to reshape reflective practice and work-based learning for a world in which individuals must cope with ‘an unfolding evolving reality that is uncertain, ever changing and unpredictable’ (Boyd, 1995, slide 1). By embracing the philosophy of John Boyd and his OODA loop theory, business schools can develop greater resilience and employability in graduates, preparing them to embrace change while also embedding the concept of life-long learning to make them better equipped to face the uncertainty that the modern world brings.

I am not going to get involved in debate over reflective practice, whatever that may be. However, having taught Boyd’s philosophy and OODA loop theory in graduate business school, I heartily concur with the last sentence of the abstract.

Before you read the paper, one caution. As you will soon discover, I am cited and quoted several times, granting me considerably more credit than I deserve. That being said, this is an excellent exegesis of some of Boyd’s ideas, particularly as they affect the “learning loop,” where we tweak our orientations to keep up with that “unfolding evolving reality” and develop the intuitive actions we need to respond to and influence that world. Boyd described this aspect of the “loop” in Conceptual Spiral, particularly slides 26 – 28, and drew his famous sketch of it in The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996):

The “learning loop” component of the OODA “loop” (emp. added)

Let me illustrate with a few quotes from the paper:

The real value of Boyd’s theory is in its approach to thinking and understanding one’s orientation with respect to the wider world…

A good example might be the student who memorises a long list of management theories and develops excellent speed of recall. While this may be a useful skill to pass an exam, what the student doesn’t gain is the intuitive ability to process factors and apply them to a given situation. This requires a far deeper level of understanding than a textbook or list of management theories can provide. Much rather, it requires knowledge and understanding beyond the formal realms of any given subject: it requires speed of contextual processing, rather than speed of recall.

This is why Boyd’s theory is so useful. 

The application of the “loop,” the entire “loop,” to the process of teaching, itself, appears to me to be novel, and for this reason alone, I highly recommend this paper. I’m going to assume most of my audience aren’t professional educators (although we all end up teaching something to somebody at some point …). Whatever your occupation, however, it’s a great example of how ideas spread not by analogy but by first developing a deep understanding of their origins and meanings, and then applying this understanding to new domains.

Boyd first used this approach in “Destruction and Creation,” and, as he explains in the “Abstract” (available on the Articles page), continued to employ it the rest of his life:

Yet, the theme that weaves its way through this Discourse on Winning and Losing is not so much contained within each of the five sections, per se, that make up the Discourse; rather, it is the kind of thinking that both lies behind and makes up its very essence. For the interested, a careful examination will reveal that the increasingly abstract discussion surfaces a process of reaching across many perspectives; pulling each and every one apart (analysis), all the while intuitively looking for those parts of the disassembled perspectives which naturally interconnect with one another to form a higher-order, more general elaboration (synthesis) of what is taking place. As a result, the process not only creates the Discourse but it also represents the key to evolve the tactics, strategies, goals, unifying themes, etc., that permit us to actively shape and adapt to the unfolding world we are a part of, live in, and feed upon.

Boyd’s OODA “Loop”: What and why?

As Frans Osinga pointed out in his 2006 examination of John Boyd’s philosophy of conflict, Science, strategy and war: The strategic theory of John Boyd, the OODA loop is the best known but probably most misunderstood aspect of Boyd’s body of work. Even today, it’s very common to see people describe the OODA loop as a loop. However, when Boyd finally got around to producing a “sketch” of the “loop” (his terms), it was, as I’m sure practically all readers of this blog know, something entirely different.

From “The Essence of Winning and Losing,” 1996.

Why? The reason is that the OODA “loop” is an answer to a specific problem. It is not, for example a model of decision making — in fact, it simply requires you to make implicit and explicit decisions and link them to actions, all the while experimenting and learning.

On November 30, I gave a lecture on this subject to the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. My host, Johan Ivari, arranged for it to be recorded and made available on the University’s web site. They broke it into two parts:

Part 1

Part 2

I had a lot of fun with this, and the students asked some great questions. I hope you enjoy it!

By the way, check out some of the other interesting videos on their site.

Fighting on the Eastern Front, 1942 – 45

In 1979 and 1980, Wehrmacht generals Hermann Balck, A.D. Von Mellenthin, and Heinz Gaedcke gave interviews, and even participated in war-games, in the United States. Their hosts included senior US officials, including Andrew Marshall and LTGs Paul Gorman and Glenn Otis, Retired General William DuPuy, and John Boyd and Pierre Sprey. Current USMC doctrine, “maneuver warfare,” was heavily influenced by the German “blitzkrieg,” and the officers in these interviews were some of its most skilled practitioners.

Battelle Labs and the BDM Corporation compiled transcripts of these events and they are available at Chuck Spinney’s “Blaster” site,

Given what’s going on in Eastern Europe today, I’m sure you’ll find these fascinating reading. Incidentally, if you’ve tried but been unable to access them in the past, Chuck has repaired the links and they should work. To download, please use the icon in the Google Docs toolbar rather than your browser menu.

Readers of this blog who are familiar with John Boyd’s work will find the sources of many of his references to German tactics, such as:

In addition to these interviews, Chuck also includes links to interviews with Stuka pilots Hans Ulrich Rudel and Paul-Werner Hozzel.

Magic leadership video now live!

Kanban University has posted the video of my keynote, The Lost Arts of Leadership, and How to Get Them Back, from the Kanban Global Summit in San Diego in August.

Finally, the secret to great leadership is revealed. Shutterstock image.

A couple of points:

  • The speaker’s rostrum was on a platform about 18″ above the floor, and the audience was seated pretty close to it. It made for a dynamic speaking experience, but it also explains why I seem to be bent over a lot.
  • The presentation has several animations which in the interests of readability, the version that accompanies my video doesn’t capture. If you’d like to see them, please download the PDF edition on our Articles page (each stage of a build is a separate slide). Also, I’m using an Apple Pencil to underline, circle, draw arrows and the like. You’ll have to infer these.

There were a lot of interesting presentations. You can view them all on their Conference Archive and their YouTube channel. And don’t forget the helpful and entertaining set of annotations!