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

Double Ace

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.

cover of double aceAlthough 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.



If it can happen to Target

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

Systems thinking—still in short supply

By Hans Norden
Special to Slightly East of New

I’m observing how there is, at least within management education, a dichotomy between two paradigms; one that builds decisions on the belief that money is the highest value (see Small is Beautiful by Fritz Schumacher) and another that builds decisions on systems thinking, or quality; improving the capability of a system. It’s interesting how Boyd described Orientation as the Schwerpunkt of his thinking; the paradigm through which to observe one’s environment, including new and unforeseen circumstances as they unfold.

It seems to me that people have a hard time even opening their minds to beliefs that are in conflict with their mental programming; they even reject the idea of just trying it on for size, so to speak. It was an intelligent investment banker who explained to me why Deming was not widely used, not because his ideas were too complicated but because people simply do not believe that they are true!!!??? They experience a ‘short-between-the-ears’ when their Orientation fails to make sense out of their Observation of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge. Subsequently, their lack of Fingerspitzengefühl suppresses their curiosity. (After Chet’s presentation, why was there neither a single question nor any opposition? In other words, a dialogue in which they engage the messenger.) Continue reading

Presentation slides from LKCE15

The slides from my keynote at LeanKanban Central Europe 2015 are now available from the Articles page.

ABOCoverThe originals were done in Apple Keynote and had quite a lot of animation. It is possible to export as a PDF with each stage of a build saved as a separate slide.  This only works, however, for simple builds, like “Appear,” and it makes for a very large file.

Instead, I’ve reformatted a few of the charts and exported as a regular PDF.  Even with all that, it still comes in at 6.5 MB.

You can watch the keynote address itself from Munich at


All about agility in 400 sec.

At a special event midway through the first day, five of the presenters at LeanKanban 2015 gave short presentations on various topics.  The trick was that you had to have an intro slide, an outro slide, and 20 content slides, each of which was timed to display for 20 seconds.  In the video below, you can see the timing ball moving inexorably across the bottoms of the screens.

Mine was modestly entitled “Agility: The Power and the Glory.”  The software development community has a concept of agility, and if you search on “SCRUM” you can get an idea of how it works.  Apparently it works well because lots of development teams use it.  The way the developers use the term is the same as Musashi’s chapters 2 and 3, where he discusses tactics and techniques. This is important stuff because poor technique can ruin an otherwise brilliant strategy.20x20.001

But like Sun Tzu, Musashi goes on to insist that the real purpose of agility is to drive the terms of the conflict, to ensure, for example, that what you develop succeeds in the marketplace. Nokia, for example, didn’t go out of the phone business because of poor technique in building feature phones.  Agility should govern strategy — what to develop — as well as tactics and technique — how to develop it.

As I explain in this 20-slide talk, one of the really cool things Boyd did was to extract the essence of agility from something like “super maneuverability,” that is, a hardware concept, and move it into the pilot’s mind.  My little talk shows that this proceeded in stages first by noting the ability to handle change, then in the idea of “operating inside the OODA loop,” and finally to the concept of orientation.  This progression is critical to the concept of agility because otherwise you have a big problem explaining why the Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane from WWI, which was among the most agile aircraft ever built, didn’t even stay a front-line fighter for the whole war.

As an added bonus, I deconstruct the OODA “loop,” the big one from The Essence of Winning and Losing, in 60 seconds.

All of the little talks are worth watching, and mine begins at about 35:40.  You’ll occasionally hear voices in the background. To reduce the times needed for changeovers, we were all miked and in the excitement, we sometimes forgot this simple fact.  The MC is Markus Andrezak of the German company Überproduct in Potsdam.

20 by 20 with Pawel Brodzinski, Chet Richards, Nadja Schnetzler, Karl Scotland and Dominica DeGrandis at LKCE15 from Lean Kanban Central Europe on Vimeo.

Gators, by the way, are extremely agile.  Don’t be fooled into thinking they are just sluggish, belly-dragging lizards: They do the cheng / chi maneuver (abrupt transition from expected to unexpected) better than any human I’ve run across.