Why you should read Certain to Win (and 5 other books)

Shepherd.com has just published my recommendations for your light summer reading.  The concept is to explain why people should read one of your books, and then to recommend five others, all around a common theme.  I took my inspiration from Boyd, whose basic method was to look for common themes — “invariants” —  across a wide variety of domains and then use these as the building blocks for his syntheses.

Here’s an example from his 1987 briefing, Strategic Game of ? and ?

SG Slide 12

Typical Boyd to begin his presentation on strategy with stuff from mathematical logic and physics. In that spirit, I recommend works from:

  • Statistics
  • Literature
  • Ancient wisdom & philosophy
  • Anatomy and Physiology

And Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.

Just seemed like what every person ought to know. The site limits authors to five books, so I tried to pick subjects that you might have overlooked.

Go check it out: https://shepherd.com/best-books/for-upsetting-your-orientation

The hardest step

That would be the very first.

One of the most common ways to block change is to challenge, “OK, specifically, what do we do Monday morning?” You really can’t answer with “Oh, read over Patterns of Conflict a dozen times, and then we’ll hold a roundtable on Sun Tzu.” It just doesn’t work. Nor does “Monday morning, right after the meeting on the new promotion criteria, we’ll start working on einheit.*”

And be suspicious of the common suggestion to “create a sense of urgency.” If you really are in a situation where survival on your own terms is at risk, then ensuring a shared perception of reality will be all the motivation you need.

This post offers ideas for creating a solution to the problem of declining competitive power due to cultural reasons. In other words, you have lots of energetic, educated, and experienced people, but compelling products and services aren’t rolling out the door. Corporate entropy: Plenty of energy, but it isn’t accomplishing useful work. In that regard, here’s a short example on Blue Origin vs. Space X: https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/10/revealed-the-secret-notes-of-blue-origin-leaders-trying-to-catch-spacex/

This was once known as the “Sears Tower”

But first, a disclosure. I’ve known David Anderson for some 11 years and have spoken at several of his events. I’ve even been mentioned in one of his books. The reason for bringing up his methodology anyway is that it’s firmly grounded in Boyd’s philosophy and has evolved into a specific answer to “What do we do Monday morning?”

With that in mind, download the “KANBAN Maturity Model: Barriers to Adoption.” Don’t worry about what the words mean at this stage, just read over some of the barriers. Here are a few right at the very first:





These should seem familiar: Einheit (“mutual trust” was Boyd’s translation)? Schwerpunkt (“focus and direction”)? Orientation (“common outlook/understanding”)? Etc.

There are some real gems as we move through the various maturity levels:

  • Oblivious Careerists
  • Managers as dating agents and traffic cops
  • Failure to understand the intent behind regulations (i.e., not leading by auftragstaktik)
  • Lack of mathematical and risk management literacy (lack of fingerspitzengefuehl)

You get the idea. It’s important to keep in mind that these are symptoms. What you need, and what the KMM methodology addresses, are the underlying causes.

I’m certainly not going to claim that this is the only methodology that will get at fundamental causes. But even if you never take the first step up the maturity levels, you might find several useful parts for your snowmobiles in this chart.

Should you be interested in more information, you can visit them at: https://djaa.com. Incidentally, I’ll be doing a keynote at the Kanban Global Summit in San Diego, March 14 – 16, 2022. Not to give away any spoilers, but I shall resurrect “The Lost Arts of Leadership.”

*Observant readers may have noticed the lack of initial caps, or italics, or the odd umlaut in the elements of Boyd’s organizational climate. Got tired of all this, so I’ve declared them to be English words, where we don’t do such things. Consider them recent loan words from German, on a par with autobahn, blitzkrieg, kindergarten, schadenfreude (my personal favorite), and umlaut.

Boyd's OODA 'Loop," Really Final Edition

The Norwegian Defense University has just published a new version of “Boyd’s OODA Loop” in their journal, Necesse, edited by Royal Norwegian Naval Academy. I had thought that the previous version was about as close to perfection as can be found on this Earth, but alas Necesse is a peer-reviewed journal, and “Reviewer No. 2” ripped it to shreds. After I calmed down, it was clear that Number 2 was right. So the edition published in the journal is vastly improved over the last version.

As Boyd suggested in his final briefing, The Essence of Winning and Losing (all of Boyd’s works are available for free download on our Articles page), the OODA “loop” is simply a schematic representing three processes and the interplay among them:

  • Using our existing implicit repertoire
  • Creating new and therefore unexpected ways to use our repertoire in the heat of conflict
  • Creating new repertoire, principally by training when not in direct contact with an opponent
From “The Essence of Winning and Losing,” 1996.

In fact, he even called his drawing of the OODA “loop” a “sketch,” strongly indicating that there might be better ways to represent these processes, and over time, people have suggested several.

The folks at Necesse have done a magnificent job of making this rather long and complex paper readable. Although I am sure there are many people involved whom I do not know — you have my sincere gratitude — I would like especially to thank two officers of the Royal Norwegian Navy whom I know quite well and am proud to call colleagues, Commanders Roar Espevik, Main Editor of Necesse, and Tommy Krabberød, who approached me with the idea of a new version of the paper and encouraged me to press on with a major revision as a result of certain peer review comments.

You can download the paper from the Articles page. The current edition of Necesse, which contains the paper, is available at https://fhs.brage.unit.no/fhs-xmlui/handle/11250/2647802, and past issues can be found at https://fhs.brage.unit.no/fhs-xmlui/handle/11250/2559117. It’s an interesting journal. There are quite a few articles in English, and, through the miracle of Google Translate, you should have no trouble with the others. The origin of the name, incidentally, is found on the last page of the journal.

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.

Continue reading

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.”


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.

Continue reading

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.