Is it agility or adaptability?

I tend to think of “agility” as adaptability with a time dimension, that is, the ability to adapt more rapidly to new situations than can competitors or opponents.  That may not, however, be the only or even a very good way to think about these concepts.

Here’s an alternative view:

AQ is hot right now – but is it the Adaptability Quotient or the Agility Quotient?

Kristopher Floyd
Founder and CEO, TeamMate AIDao-TheWay

November 13, 2018
Originally published on LinkedIn. Reprinted with his kind permission

Throughout military history, there have been winners and losers. Some of the winners have found disproportionate success due to strategic brilliance; when examining their successes, we find a golden braid that links them all together. This braid is the foundation of an underlying philosophy that dictates how military forces can survive and thrive in hyper-competitive, chaotic, uncertain situations. Continue reading

Schwerpunkt and grand strategy

Fabius points out the power of retaining the moral high ground, “Feminists’ strategy brought many wins. They’ve abandoned it.” Technically, it should be “Feminists’ grand strategy …” but why quibble?  Here’s a take from Patterns of Conflict on what grand strategy is supposed to accomplish:

grand strategy chart.jpg

If you don’t care about influencing what Boyd called “the uncommitted,” including potential opponents and potential allies, as well as the less fanatical among your own team, or you’re not worried about what happens after the smoke settles, then you can dispense with grand strategy.

However, one never knows what the future will bring, so it’s always wise to keep your grand strategy in play as long as possible.  For example, during the South African Border War (1966 – 1989), the South African government gave its military a well-defined mission:

… to create the necessary conditions for the politicians to negotiate a political settlement from a position of power. The SADF (South African Defense Force) counter-insurgency approach therefore focused on denying SWAPO the opportunity for a military build-up in SWA/Namibia and Angola and its ability to operate effectively. This it succeeded in achieving. De Vries, Burger, and Steenkamp, Mobile Warfare for Africa, p. 198.

Notice the focus on military objectives. No nation building, occupation of enemy territory, or winning hearts and minds. This last was of critical importance, but the military was given the mission of making it possible for others to accomplish.

Interestingly, this did not lead to a purely defensive strategy, where South Africa could portray itself as a victim of Cold War aggression.  As de Vries, Burger, and Steenkamp note:

From 1978 until the war ended in 1989, the SADF took the fight to the enemy. They did not hesitate to execute pre-emptive strikes into southern Angola or launch high density counter-insurgency operations in enemy territory. Naturally, these operations received great international attention, which did not do foreign relations any good at all. p. 199, emphasis added

However this was a price South Africa was willing to pay because the effect on morale (friendly as well as enemy) and the sheer costs of the attrition caused by these raids led the Cubans to withdraw and persuaded the other parties to enter negotiations that ended the conflict. In any case, South Africa was pretty much a pariah nation by this time, anyway (Nelson Mandela was not released from prison until the following year).

Happy 45th

Last Wednesday was the 45th Anniversary of John Boyd’s Happy Hour in the Old Guard Room at Patton Hall, the officer’s club at Ft. Myer, VA (I refuse call it “Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall”). It was great to reconnect with folks, a few of whom I was working with when we started happy hour there a couple of weeks after Tom Christie took over the TACAIR shop.

In our honor, they put up a plaque:

Happy Hour Plaque 9-2019

And here are two of John’s closest colleagues, Chuck Spinney (left) and Tom Christie:

Chuck and Tom 45th HH

Robert Coram described the scene on page 414 of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

The Wednesday evening gatherings were loud and raucous and filled with plans about generals to be hosed. Old stories were told and retold–of Spinney’s white wagon kill, of a general’s air-to-rug maneuver, of cape jobs and to platters and particularly effective techniques known as tube steaks and barbwire enchiladas.

All true, so true.

New Edition of Boyd’s Discourse

Grant Hammond, a long-time associate of Boyd’s and the author of The Mind of War, John Boyd and American Security (Smithsonian Press, 2001), has published a new edition of Boyd’s Discourse on Winning and Losing. You can download it from Air University via a link on the Articles page.

Grant has included a new Introduction, along with an Afterword, index and an Appendix. You can access further information on some of the concepts via QR codes sprinkled throughout the text.

This is a major effort and makes a significant contribution to understanding John’s work.  I strongly encourage all readers to download it.

If you’d prefer a hard copy, you can order one free of charge from Air University Press:

By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to Boyd’s last briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing, Grant includes the material from it in the Appendix.


Boyd for policing

Several years ago, I posted Major PJ Trembley’s Master’s Thesis on the Articles page.  I had forgotten that at the time, Lt. Fred Leland of the Walpole, MA, Police Department, and owner of Law Enforcement & Security Consulting, Inc., had written an introduction calling attention to Maj Trembley’s paper for law enforcement professionals.

Boyd felt that his philosophy reflected deeper principles that manifest themselves in all forms of conflict, not just war — hence “Patterns of Conflict.”  As the author of a book on how these principles operate in business, I obviously agree.  Perhaps by examining their applications to law enforcement, which should not be thought of as conflict, per se, but which can have elements of it, we can develop a more profound understanding of these fundamental concepts.

Fred has kindly granted me permission to repost his introduction; I apologize for the slight delay.

Major PJ Tremblay just gave permission to share his brilliant paper called “Shaping and Adapting – Unlocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop.pdf” with police and those who visit our website. This paper explains the actual complex nature of the Boyd Cycle verses its often oversimplified and misunderstood OODA Loop.

The paper is thoroughly researched and discusses numerous factors crucial in making sound decisions. Feedback loops are discussed as well as the difference between direct outside observations and indirect causal loops as the difference between “top down” processing and “bottom up” processing of perception. While “top down” processing refers to a person’s expectations of what is likely to occur based on previous experiences and inherent mobilization of selective mechanisms that influence focus and attention, the “bottom up” processing are the actual observations sensed.

The Major goes on to explain what I believe is an important concept for police to understand called incestuous amplification. Incestuous amplification occurs when one’s preconceptions misshape the observations that one is sensing. These misshapen observations then blur the true connection between the individual and the environment because the brain begins to synthesize cues and preconceived responses. This has huge implications on how we train and prepare officers for dynamic encounters. You must read this piece.

Fred writes on this and a myriad of other topics on his blog,

Happy Birthday, Alice

Sun Tzu was a great fan of intelligence and spies in particular — check out Chapter 13 if you need a refresher —  because it’s much easier to operate inside opponents’ OODA loops if you already know what they’re going to do. As luck would have it, today is the birthday of Louise de Bettignies, AKA Alice Dubois, one of the greatest intelligence operatives of all time.

To explain why, a little historical perspective might prove useful. Although the German Schlieffen Plan failed to hook around Paris and end World War I in 1914, it left the Germans occupying a fair portion of northeastern France for the next 4 years. From January to September, 1915, this area provided the theater of operations for de Bettignies, whose network alerted the British to German plans and tactical movements  and almost took out the Kaiser himself. Among other feats of derring-do.

There are several bios of her, but historical fiction might be a good place to start. To this end, Kate Quinn has written a most readable — “page turner” wouldn’t be too strong — story of her operation, The Alice Network. I recommend it highly.

Happy Birthday, Louise.

Creating mission-oriented leaders

Don’t you want your organization to run better? Of course you do: Get rid of the office politics, cliques, backstabbing, passive aggression — morale goes up, blood pressure goes down, objectives are routinely exceeded, competitors / opponents get trounced. Hence, the size of modern CEO offices, which need to be that big to hold all the books on how to actually do it.

Among the many approaches, “agility” proposes to use time to shape the competitive environment, and, if necessary, react to changes before they become fatal. Nestled within the agile approaches, there is a school that insists the best way to do this is to fire up creativity and initiative throughout the organization and harmonize them to accomplish the objectives of the organization. Note that “throughout” includes everybody from new hires to the aforementioned CEO.

Boyd’s philosophy is obviously in this category. He proposed an organizational climate, often known by the acronym EBFAS,* whose purpose was to produce organizations that could shape, reorient to, and exploit rapidly changing situations.  Boyd regarded conflict as characterized by deception, surprise, ambiguity, stress and threat, which can lead to fear, mistrust, and a breakdown of cohesion. “Reorient to” is a way of saying that you understand such situations better than your opponents. “Rapidly” implies that given time, your opponents will figure these things out; don’t give them the time.

The “E” in EBFAS stands for Einheit, for which Boyd adopted the English “mutual trust.” It is fundamental, so organizational cultures that focus on building mutual trust are sometimes called “trust based.”  Of the other letters, perhaps the best known is “A” for another German word, Auftragstaktik, often translated as “mission command.”  It has become something of a sub-genre in management literature.**

Last month, I featured an article by Don Vandergriff on Auftragstaktik, where he described the origins of the concept and why high performing organizations use it.

Don has now followed up with a well-documented piece on how to train people for Auftragstaktik .  He describes an emerging methodology within the Army, Adaptive Leader Soldier Training and Education (ALSTE), and an implementation, the Army Reconnaissance Course, that have proven to develop leaders who can excel under the philosophy of mission command. These programs reflect initiatives Don has been working on for years and documented as far back as Raising the Bar (2006).

*I’ve done several posts on EBFAS — please use the search feature in the right column if you’re interested.

**For an in-depth look at Auftragstaktik, I can recommend Stephen Bungay’s The Art of Action and Don’s recent book on Mission Command.

Deep foundation for Auftragstaktik

Don Vandergriff has a nice piece at Small Wars Journal on how Auftragstaktik developed and why.  He makes what to me is an extremely important but generally overlooked point that mission orders, which is how most people explain the term, are not what defines Auftragstaktik but represent evidence that the underlying culture is alive and working.

As a culture, Auftragstaktik implies that those who can influence the organization — top leaders, board members, large shareholders, influential members of Congress, etc. — have given careful thought to and so evolved practices for selecting, training, retaining, and promoting people who embody the philosophy and separating those who do not.

If this happens, what we call “mission orders” (or something, perhaps, even better) will be the natural outcome.


Boyd’s personal papers, II

I’ve just posted the second part of the accession list for Boyd’s personal papers. You can find it under “John R. Boyd” on the Articles page (tab above).

I don’t have the first part. If any one does and would be so kind as to send me a PDF, I’d be happy to post it, too. In the meantime, the first part consists primarily of works on history and military topics.  Many of these, and virtually all of the ones he actually used, are included in the Sources section at the end of Patterns of Conflict.