More stuff to read after you’ve OD’d on Boyd’s Discourse.
- One reader suggested Nicholas Taleb, particularly Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, and Antifragile
- Another recommended Reality is not what it seems, by Carlo Rovelli and The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman
Please add your suggestions in the Comments.
If you’d like more on how the IDF operates, here are two by Martin van Creveld:
- Command in War (also one of Boyd’s favorites; the quote on Organic Design chart 29 starts on p. 199).
- The Olive and the Sword, a Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force
The important thing is not to take any of these as gospel (same applies to Boyd’s briefings, too) but as sources of ideas. For example a previous post mentioned four elements of the IDF culture:
- Complete the mission
- Perform every action to perfection
- Follow through at any cost
- Be “ruthlessly candid” in debriefings
On page 196 of Command, van Creveld cites:
- Individual daring
- Maintenance of aim
Are these different translations of the same concepts? Complementary? Contradictory? Would any apply to you? How would you build them in your organization? How could you demonstrate that your program is working, i.e., that you’re having a positive effect on organizational performance?
The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War
New York: Penguin 2014
In my last post, I suggested a few things to read once you’ve become satiated with Boyd himself (don’t worry, it happens). A reader kindly recommended Steven Pressfield’s study of the Six Day War, told from the viewpoints of Israeli participants ranging from 19-year-old troopers to Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. I highly recommend it as a source book for illustrating the major points of Boyd’s work.
I will admit to being a huge fan of Pressfield, beginning with The Gates of Fire. I suspect that regardless of your position on the various players in the Levant, past or present, you’ll find The Lion’s Gate to be a page-turner.
Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?
There was a time when companies were urged to set overarching goals to inspire the troops. In many of these companies, though, the troops noticed that when tough decisions needed to be made, considerations like “Don’t embarrass your boss” and “Pump up the CEO’s bonus” seemed to be the real guiding principles. In other words, instead of inspiration, employees got hypocrisy. At the very best, they got platitudes, akin to “We want to do good while making our employees happy and providing a superior return to our investors.” Kumbaya.
Boyd, oddly enough, liked the idea of a higher guiding principle. He wrote:
A review and further manipulation of the ideas and thoughts that make up these different ways suggest that for success over the long haul and under the most difficult conditions, one needs some unifying vision that can be used to attract the uncommitted as well as pump up friendly resolve and drive and drain away or subvert adversary resolve and drive. In other words, what is needed is a vision rooted in human nature so noble, so attractive that it not only attracts the uncommitted and magnifies the spirit and strength of its adherents, but also undermines the dedication and determination of any competitors or adversaries. Patterns of Conflict, 143.
It turns out Boyd may have been on to something. A recent article in Quartz references a new book, Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness:
While researching their book, Stulberg and Magness interviewed countless scientists and world-renowned athletes. They found that people who exhibited this kind of “superhuman” strength were able to do so only when they chose to focus on a purpose greater than themselves.
In 1645, as he was looking back at his long and successful career as a samurai, where a single loss often meant death, Miyamoto Musashi concluded that although rigorous sword practice was essential, it wasn’t enough. At the end of the first chapter of A Book of Five Rings, he also admonishes aspiring warriors to “Cultivate a wide variety of interests in the arts” and “Be knowledgable in a wide variety of occupations.”
Similarly, Boyd, who was was a keen student of Musashi, described his method as looking across a wide variety of fields — “domains” he called them — searching for underlying principles, “invariants.” He would then experiment with syntheses involving these principles until he evolved a solution to the problem he was working on. Because they involved bits and pieces from a variety of domains, he called these syntheses “snowmobiles” (skis, handlebar from a bicycle, etc.) Continue reading
“Operating inside an opponent’s OODA loop” is Boyd’s primary device for dealing with opponents (he has other recommendations, primarily at the grand strategic level, for relationships with our own side and the uncommitted). He suggests its power in several places. Here’s probably the best known, from Patterns of Conflict:
In other words, what’s their orientation?
I’m not too good at reading minds, much less corporate minds, but one thing stands out: For all practical purposes, domestic airlines in the US today are monopolies. They have left just enough market share at their primary hubs to avoid the threat of federal action, and this limited capacity means that open skies treaties won’t significantly increase competition.
When your orientation says “monopoly,” you act like a monopoly. In particular, without the threat of the marketplace, you have a lot of flexibility in the levels of service you provide — your quality — and in what you can charge. Play this game well and you can maximize the amount of money to be paid out to the the people who control the organization and to those who can fire them. Continue reading
Years ago, there was a concept floating around the Pentagon called the “hi / lo mix.” The idea was that you couldn’t afford the thousands of expensive but highly capable fighters the Air Force and Navy wanted, so you bought a reasonable block of them and filled the fleet out with a large number of less capable but cheaper “lo” fighters.
This concept reached concrete form with the F-15 as “hi” and the F-16 as “lo.” Logical, but as Scott Bledsoe & Mike Benitez show in their paper on War in the Rocks, “Rethinking the Hi-Lo Mix, Part I: Origin Story,” this is not exactly how it happened. Continue reading
Double Ace: The Life of Robert Lee Scott Jr., Pilot, Hero, and Teller of Tall Tales Robert Coram’s bio of Robert Scott, Brig Gen USAF (1908 – 2006), is now out. I’ve ordered it and will post a review here.
Although General Scott isn’t well-remembered now (a Google search for “Robert Scott” didn’t include him in the first 10 pages of results), after WWII, he was famous as a daring fighter pilot and author of God is my Co-pilot. I met him several years ago when he was running the Museum of Aviation at Robbins AFB, about 2 hours south of Atlanta down I-75. This is an incredible museum, incidentally, with a collection of Air Force aircraft second only to the USAF Museum at Wright-Pat. You’ll find the L-5E Sentinel (cruising speed 90 mph), the SR-71 (“Over 2,200 mph”), and pretty much everything in-between, including the P-40 Warhawk flown by Scott and the Flying Tigers.
If you can spend a day or two in this area, you won’t be too far from Andersonville and the National Prisoner of War Museum (my dad was a POW of the Japanese from April 1942 – September 1945). Boyd emphasized humane treatment of prisoners — and widely publicizing that fact — as a great way to encourage enemy troops to defect. Obviously there have been exceptions, but all-in-all, I think we have done this pretty well since the Civil War.
While you’re down here, check out nearby Macon, one of the capitals of Southern music, including Otis Redding, Little Richard, and the Allman Brothers.
It can happen to you.
Joe Castaldo tells the tale of Target’s expansion to Canada. Less than two years after opening its first store, Target Canada filed for bankruptcy and closed. The episode cost the parent company some $2 billion, not counting the damage it did to its reputation.
Why? Read the article and you’ll have no problem finding the reasons. Lots of them. But what struck me is that the most critical problems were clear not just in retrospect but to many of the participants at the time. Continue reading
Dated 22 December 2015, is now available from our Articles page.
Minor wordsmithing, some new stuff on the neurophysiology of operating inside the OODA loop, and a note on Behendigkeit.