Mission Command 201

Mission Command: The Who, What, Where, When and Why, An Anthology
by Donald Vandergriff (Author, Editor),‎ Stephen Webber (Editor
August 2017

I like good anthologies, and this is a very good one. Good anthologies can do several things, among them:

  • Provide discrete bins of thought that you can mine for nuggets — parts for your snowmobiles.
  • Let you look at a concept, in this case, “mission command,” from alternative viewpoints. Sometimes this can lead to an “Aha!” moment.
  • Expand your orientation — are you really doing all you could to engage the hippocampus? Be honest, now.

Cover of Mission CommandDon and Steve have done a great job of collecting essays that take you far beyond “What is Mission Command?”  In fact, when you get through, you may find that you know less about the concept than you thought. For example, people sometimes equate mission command with the German term Auftragstaktik.  But Auftrag doesn’t mean “mission.” It’s more like the English “contract.” When Boyd’s talking about “the German concept of ‘mission,'” he notes on Patterns of Conflict, slide 76:

The German concept of mission can be thought of as a contract, hence an agreement, between superior and subordinate. The subordinate agrees to make his actions serve his superior’s intent in terms of what is to be accomplished, while the superior agrees to give his subordinate wide freedom to exercise his imagination and initiative in terms of how intent is to be realized.

As part of this concept, the subordinate is given the right to challenge or question the feasibility of mission if he feels his superior’s ideas on what can be achieved are not in accord with the existing situation or if he feels his superior has not given him adequate resources to carry it out. Likewise, the superior has every right to expect his subordinate to carry out the mission contract when agreement is reached on what can be achieved consistent with the existing situation and resources provided.

So there’s obviously a lot more to the concept than simply “Tell people what to do and let them decide how.”   Don’s and Steve’s anthology will help you broaden your understanding and, perhaps, improve your use of the underlying philosophy in your own organization.

All the chapters are good, but I’d like to draw your attention to a couple that you might find especially broadening.

Quo vadis, mission command?

First, Grant Martin’s chapter on “Type II” mission command for situations where “the commander’s intent is ambiguous or weakly connected to the political purpose of the operation. … What should be added is how to conduct mission command when the purpose of the operation is unclear, where the scope is unbounded, and where cause and effect are not linear.”  Most business applications, in other words.  He proposes a new definition

In non-linear causality  situations, however, leaders must both assist and be assisted by their subordinates to best appreciate the context of the situation and during execution must learn and constantly adjust the appreciation of the context based on that learning. Of note: The learning must go both ways.

Boyd, didn’t like the term “command & control,” suggesting instead “leadership & appreciation.” Where does this leave mission “command”? If Martin’s idea intrigues you, you might explore other possibilities for expanding the concept. Boyd used the term “organic,” which has some of the bottom-up flavor suggested by Martin (there’s an example in chapter 5 of Certain to Win). Another idea is not to issue orders, even mission orders, at all, a possibility explored by David Marquet in Turn the Ship Around!**

The requisite physical energy***

Daniel Markert and Scott Sonnon introduce subjects that you don’t often find in leadership texts in their chapter, “Operationally fit for mission command.” For those of you not up on your neurophysiology, this one may be a little challenging. Just accept that the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, and their kin are regions within the brain (or you could Google them and find out where). Markert and Sonnon address a major but often overlooked issue in leadership, that leaders inhabit human bodies:

The rapid onset of the fatigue reflex elevates stress arousal and degrades cognitive function with negative effects on shared understanding, risk awareness, creativity, and decisiveness.

They explain why this is true and what you can do about it. Recall that Boyd suggested that “Without a common outlook, superiors cannot give subordinates freedom of action and maintain coherency of ongoing action” (Patterns 74), so this is important stuff, and Markert’s and Sonnon’s chapter may start you down a productive path.

Explore, enjoy, learn, question.

Preview / buy Mission Command at Amazon

 


*This idea is implicit in Boyd’s EBFAS climate. Stephen Bungay develops it in detail in The Art of Action, where he, essentially, equates Auftragstaktik with Boyd’s entire EBFAS climate. Mini review in  an earlier post.

**Also covered in my presentation, All by Ourselves, available on the Articles page and in the mini review mentioned above.

***Observation by Gen Hermann Balck, Patterns, p. 118.

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:

Mission

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.

Fit for success

Fit for Purpose: How modern businesses find, satisfy, and keep customers
David J Anderson and Alexei Zheglov
To be released by Amazon on November 29, 2017

Fit for PurposeWhen I first read the title “Fit for Purpose,” it seemed a little passive. Something like “meets specs,” which is necessary but suggests that somebody else is driving the market. I don’t know Alexei personally, but David is the founder and chairman of Lean Kanban, Inc., which provides training and consulting in “Lean Kanban” and related management tools based on a philosophy similar to Boyd’s. I’ve spoken at several of their events and keynoted Lean Kanban Central Europe 2015. (The charts and a related paper are available from the Articles page, link above).

But when I got deeper into Anderson & Zheglov’s book, it became clear that although their methods would certainly help developers meet specs, “purpose” could be something much more active and powerful.

Developers, whether of software, cars, or airplanes, occasionally forget that the real purpose of their efforts is to produce something that will delight their customers so much that they come back for more, and tell their friends, family, and colleagues. So David and Alexei subtitled their book not “Better ways to develop widgets,” or some such, but “How modern businesses find, satisfy, and keep customers.” As they insist, the only “purpose” that counts is the customer’s:

Before you can evaluate whether your products or services are fit-for-purpose, you need to be able to identify your customer’s purpose.

Continue reading

More After Boyd

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

  • 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
  • Improvisation
  • Resourcefulness

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?

A side of tachboulah, please

The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War
Steven Pressfield
New York: Penguin 2014
398 pages

CoverLionsGateIn 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.

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Bigger than all of us

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.

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Masters of the Snowmobile: Musashi, Boyd, Musk

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

United Air Lines – an OODA loop perspective

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

Why can’t one aircraft do it all?

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