75th anniversary of Operation Hurry On

Nick Engelen

Operation Market Garden evokes images of the classic film A Bridge Too Far, where paratroopers led by Sean Connery fight a pitched battle against the German hordes, while hoping to be relieved by Allied ground forces advancing all the way from the Belgian border towards Arnhem. In September 1944 the Germans were on the backfoot and retreating. In the north of the Belgian borders, there was a huge gap in the German lines. The door to the Third Reich seemed open. Like water, an army attacks the gaps — the voids — and rather than trying to muscle trough the Siegfried line, Field Marshal Montgomery saw the opportunity to take the path of least resistance to bypass these defensive lines and attack the Rurh area, Germany’s industrial heart.

However a 24-hour pause not only made the allies lose momentum but also gave German commanders the opportunity to reorganize their retreating forces and send them right back to grind the allied advance to a halt. This and some other factors resulted in the what’s now called a magnificent disaster wherein more people lost their lives than during the landings in Normandy.

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A bit of the old ultra-violence

Of the roughly 36,000 words that Boyd left behind, only about a tenth are in the form of a paper, that is, a linear stream of text. What if Boyd had expanded his textual output by 100,000 words and written a sci-fi novel along the lines of Starship Troopers? (Some of you believe that his one paper, “Destruction and Creation,” (1976) is written in an alien tongue but that doesn’t count). One of Scottish author Charles Stross’s characters does use the OODA loop, and quite appropriately, in the The Apocalypse Codex, as I described back in 2016, and so it might be a candidate for a “What if John Boyd …?” novel.

Here’s another. New author Ian Michael is serializing his novel, Ultra-Violence, on Sundays at the Fabius Maximus site. I think you’ll find lots of operating inside the OODA loop, cheng / chi, penetration along multiple thrusts, and even some moral conflict. So far, I haven’t stumbled across an explicit reference to the OODA loop, yet — although there’s plenty of messing with peoples’ orientations — but he’s only on chapter 4.

Check it out.

Here’s an obscure tip — there is a character named “Alex.” If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it.

Creating agile leaders

All forms of mission-oriented leadership, from maneuver warfare to the Toyota Production System, share a common foundation: Fire up the creativity and initiative of all members of the organization and harmonize their efforts to accomplish the objectives of the organization. Such an orientation allows them to create and exploit fleeting opportunities before their opponents can understand what is going on.

As Don Vandergriff quotes one of the principal architects of the German blitzkrieg:

The principle thing now is to increase the responsibilities of the individual man, particularly his independence of action, and thereby to increase the efficiency of the entire army. . . .The limitations imposed by exterior circumstances cause us to give the mind more freedom of activity, with the profitable result of increasing the ability of the individual.

HANS VON SEECKT, Commander of the German Army, 1920 -1926

This approach is often called Auftragstaktik, and it is hard to find any military organization that doesn’t claim to be using it.

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Magic and illusion: Foundation for leadership

Aspiring leaders typically concentrate on history and case studies, creating theories of success and failure in their disciplines.  This is fine but won’t produce great practitioners in either war or business. As the German General Hermann Balck once told Boyd, “The training of the infantryman can never be too many sided.”  Miyamoto Musashi in 1645 wrote that samurai (much less top-level commanders) should study the arts and sciences and master fields other than their own. And this was just to keep them from getting hacked to bits. And then there’s Steve Jobs with his famous calligraphy course and Zen training. Continue reading

Epistemology Evolves

Chuck Spinney has made a tweak to Evolutionary Epistemology, his look into Boyd’s process of destruction and creation.  If you’ve ever been put off by the density of Boyd’s paper, start here (download from our Articles page).

In particular, he added one more slide, Boyd’s “Revelation.” He explained: “As you know the Revelation was produced by Boyd at the completion of all his efforts … it is a great slide to end my brief.”

revelation

I agree. But on first reading, it may seem obvious, even trite. There’s more here, though, than meets the eye. You might try treating it like a Zen koan: What does he mean by “loser”? Somebody who loses all the time? Fifty-one percent? Only the decisive battle? Someone who quits? Does this apply to other forms of conflict, like business, where not every product or service is going to be successful? Would it be more accurate to describe a winner as someone — individual or group — who can build better snowmobiles than the competition? Seems reasonable, but it’s not what Boyd wrote. That, of course doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

And what about that term “appropriate?” According to the “Revelation,” losers can’t build snowmobiles at all, but winners not only have to build them but also employ them “appropriately.” Again, it seems obvious that to succeed, you have to use the thing you built, and why would you employ it inappropriately? Is Boyd driving at anything profound, or even useful, here?

Every word in the “Revelation” was pondered and debated, including many of the topics raised above, in those legendary phone calls Coram describes. What you see is what came out.


While we’re on the subject of winners and losers, you might compare the “Revelation” to The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996).

 

Not John Boyd

But a good video, nonetheless.

Here’s Prof. Daniel Bonevac giving an introductory lecture on the OODA loop:

Professor Bonevac is a member of, and was formerly chair of, the Philosophy Department at the University of Texas. I don’t know when this lecture was given, but the video was posted in April of this year. One of the interesting things about it is that Professor Bonevac is teaching a class on Organizational Ethics.

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With a name like OODA

Here’s an interesting paper on uses of OODA loops in TPRM. For the uninitiated, that’s “third party risk management.”

Maley_OODA_Loop_InnovativeTPRMAs one of the aforementioned unenlightened, I had to look it up. Here, for example, is an introduction  by PWC Canada.  I think the basic idea is that risk taken on by your suppliers and sub-contractors flows to you, but it’s your name and reputation on the final product. So how do you manage this “third-party” risk and still achieve the benefits?

Bob Maley, former Global Head, Third Party Security and Inspections, PayPal, Inc.; Co-Chair, Continuous Monitoring Working Group of Shared Assessments (managed by the Santa Fe Group), recently wrote a white paper for his working group. You have to love the title, “Innovations in third-party continuous monitoring: With a name like OODA, how hard can it be? (1.1 MB PDF)

It can be a little slow going for people not in that field, but I think you’ll find interesting applications of the OODA “Loop” concept that may provide ideas for your snowmobiles.

Zen and the Art of Business Books

hiroshige

This is Tokyo, circa 1832.  The print is “Nihonbashi no hakuu” by the Ukiyo-e master Andō Hiroshige. Many years ago, my wife found a copy in a consignment store in Atlanta. I don’t remember what she paid for it, but she assures me that framing it cost many times the purchase price. Since we’ve been here in South Carolina, we’ve had it reframed to show off the stamps and writing around the borders.

Ch. 6 from OODA Loop

Intro to Chapter 6, Surprise and Anticipation

I’ve spent many hours contemplating this scene. The simplicity, the attention to details, the overall composition, the colors and shading — they bring out a spectrum of emotions that I find very satisfying.  The Japanese have terms for this effect. You may be familiar with wabi sabi or shibui, but there are a number of others that in English we sometimes group together as a “Zen aesthetic.” It’s something that I truly wish I knew more about.

Some of these same emotions accompanied the Japanese edition of Certain to Win when I unwrapped it a few days ago.  This is a business book, but the attention to detail, the quality of the binding, the columns of kanji characters on the pages, even the feel and smell of the paper mark it as a minor work of art (OK, I may be a little prejudiced).

I offer this as an example of cheng / chi: I got what I expected, which isn’t surprising because I’ve been involved with the translation project since it started in June. But the final product still exuded a “Wow!” factor that I wasn’t expecting. Japanese has a phase for this, too: miryoku teki hinsihtsu, quality that delights the customer so much that they have to have it. Just a thought, but you might buy a copy if only for the artistic merit of the piece, even if you don’t speak Japanese.

In addition to OODA Loop, I’ve just received a couple of other books concerning Japanese culture and strategy that I’ll feature here in the next few days.  Boyd would have liked them both.

As for the print, you can download a high resolution copy from the Library of Congress’s collection of 2,500 such prints.  And, yes, you can also download The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

Samhandling: Enabling Auftragstaktik

Samhandlung

Military Strategies for Samhandling in Unforeseen Situations – A Historical Perspective,
do Cdr Tommy Krabberød, Ph.D., and Dr. Jan O. Jacobsen,
Royal Norwegian Naval Academy

Chapter 25 in Interaction: ‘Samhandling’ Under Risk, A step ahead of the unforeseen, Glenn-Egil Torgersen, Ed., Oslo, NO: Cappelen Damm Akademisk, 2018, pp. 467-480.

I know what you’re thinking: OMG! Another post on Auftragstaktik! Just kill me now.

I am assuming that most of my readers are familiar with Auftragstaktik (if not, search this site or Google the term). Even if you are, or perhaps especially, I think you’ll find Krabberød and Jacobsen’s paper well worth your time.

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