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?

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.

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

Quick update on the march to Imperial Class

Although “Imperial Class” was originally about airlines, the same phenomenon applies to a variety of other services that can be segmented into “luxury” and  “common.” From the NYT:

In the Haven, as this ship within a ship is called, about 275 elite guests enjoy not only a concierge and 24-hour butler service, but also a private pool, sun deck and restaurant, creating an oasis free from the crowds elsewhere on the Norwegian Escape.

Said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s former chief executive, who helped design the Escape with the hope of attracting a richer clientele: “That segment of the population wants to be surrounded by people with similar characteristics.”

In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat,” by Nelson D. Schwartz (very slightly edited for brevity).

The premise of “Imperial Class” is that in the limit, they won’t even want you on the same plane with them, and the airline will find it simpler and more profitable just to eliminate coach class entirely.

For earlier pieces on this theme:

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.

Maneuver breaks out

Fokker Dr.1

Replica of a Fokker Dr.1 Triplane in the Deutsches Museum, Munich. A very agile airplane, but not very fast, so by the end of the war, no longer capable of operating inside opponents’ OODA loops.

If you look down through the sweep of history, you might see two broad trends in the concept we call “agility” or “maneuver.” In the military, including the martial arts, people have known that certain practices could disorient opponents, making the physical act of combat much easier to win.  Among these were deception, ambiguity (the “fog of war”), the ability to operate at a rapid tempo, and especially a rapid shift between what the opponent expects and what they experience. The oldest known documentation of these ideas comes from the Sun Tzu text, fragments of which date back to 300 BCE, and they flow like a stream through later Chinese commentators, the Japanese samurai, various schools of the martial arts, the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the German “blitzkrieg,” and on to our day via the works of John Boyd and the US Marine Corps doctrine of maneuver warfare.

Sometime after World War II, in Japan, they jumped the military track and into, of all things, automobile manufacturing.  Known today as “lean manufacturing,” the philosophy and set of practices that began as the Toyota Production System broke longstanding tradeoffs between cost, delivery time, and quality.  Before the TPS, and in US auto manufacturing up until the 1990s, higher quality meant higher costs. The TPS showed that it was possible to build better cars cheaper.

Why is the TPS another manifestation of the principles that underlie maneuver warfare?  For one thing, they both accord a central role to time. Sun Tzu wrote that quickness is the essence of war. Similarly, the TPS stresses the continuous reduction in the time between when a customer places an order and when they receive the vehicle. And as this chart from my keynote illustrates, they both rest on a philosophy that stresses human creativity and initiative:

Final Brothers illustrations.001

Both maneuver warfare and lean are mature concepts.  One could argue that all the elements that define maneuver warfare were identified and in place no later than the early 1940s and might even make a case for 1936, when the German Army issued its doctrine for command of troops, the Truppenführung. If you’re interested in the details, Martin van Creveld provides an extensive analysis of the Truppenführung in his book Fighting Power.  These concepts were refined by John Boyd, Bill Lind, and a group of young officers in the Marine Corps beginning in the early 1980s and reached what is essentially their current state with the publication of Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 1, Warfighting in 1989.

Similarly, Taiichi Ohno, one of the prime creators of the system at Toyota, maintained in his book Toyota Production System that the basics of the system were in place by 1973.  In 1979, in response to claims that the Japanese were dumping cars at below cost (nobody could sell a car that good for so little!), MIT began the International Motor Vehicle Program, which documented the system and compiled data that demonstrated its effectiveness. Their results were presented in a number of articles principally in the Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review and popularized in the 1990 book, The Machine that Changed the World.  Two of the authors of that work continued to develop the ideas into a more general theory of lean and published them in Lean Thinking (1996).  At about the same time, Allen Ward and his colleagues at the University of Michigan were researching the Toyota Vehicle Development System, which applies the same underlying principles but in quite novel ways. This may be evident from the subtitle of their 1995 paper, “How Delaying Decisions Can Make Better Cars Faster.”

It’s been 20 years since anything significant developed in the world of maneuver, agile, and lean.  My 2004 book, Certain to Win, looked more at the relationships between maneuver and lean. It was the first to point out the common foundation of maneuver and lean, particularly the “human” factors that underly both (by “pumping up creativity …”). It noted that in business, the military concept of grand strategy reduces to “ordinary” strategy. It offered an interpretation of the maneuver concept of cheng / chi that, by focusing on the customer, not the competitor, works for business, too.  Good foundational stuff, but it wasn’t written to divert the lean / maneuver pattern into a new field of application.

So it’s about time that the maneuver stream found a new channel, that it broke out of the worlds of manufacturing and war and over into what we might call “white collar” occupations.  From the quality and intensity of the discussions at LKCE15, building on what I first observed at Lean Software & Systems 2011 in Long Beach, we may be seeing the power of these ideas manifesting in an entirely new area:

Final Brothers illustrations.002


Lean kanban incorporates many of the practices associated with classical maneuver / lean theory: managing flow, limiting work-in-process inventory (which can hide problems and distort orientation), and employing an hypothesis-test methodology for learning.  According to the web site of one of its founders (and a keynote speaker at this conference), David Anderson, it also “encourages acts of leadership at all levels.” Depending on how they implement this idea, it could be in harmony with “Pump up the creativity and initiative of everybody …” Because this concept is the real foundation of classical lean and maneuver, I’d need to know more before pronouncing a final judgment.  Looks promising, though.

For more information, check out the conference’s sponsors — there are links down at the bottom of the conference’s home page.

“All by Ourselves” – Now a Major Motion Picture!

Or at least a video of my keynote at LeanKanban Central Europe 2015 in Munich on November 17:

All by Ourselves (Keynote) – Chet Richards at LKCE15 from Lean Kanban Central Europe on Vimeo.

Many thanks to the folks at it-agile for a superb conference! Ran like clock work, too many great presentations to catch them all, rocking late Oktoberfest, and somehow they arranged for record high temperatures in Munich.