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.
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.
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
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.
I tend to think of “agility” as adaptability with a time dimension, that is, the ability to adapt more rapidly to new situations than can competitors or opponents. That may not, however, be the only or even a very good way to think about these concepts.
Here’s an alternative view:
AQ is hot right now – but is it the Adaptability Quotient or the Agility Quotient?
Founder and CEO, TeamMate AI
November 13, 2018
Originally published on LinkedIn. Reprinted with his kind permission
Throughout military history, there have been winners and losers. Some of the winners have found disproportionate success due to strategic brilliance; when examining their successes, we find a golden braid that links them all together. This braid is the foundation of an underlying philosophy that dictates how military forces can survive and thrive in hyper-competitive, chaotic, uncertain situations. Continue reading
As far as I know, Boyd never made it to South Africa, but a recent book describes how the ideas of maneuver warfare were used by its forces in their highly irregular “border war” (1966 – 1990). I have not read the book, but here is a recommendation by a colleague who is familiar with some of its primary participants.
If any of you would like to write a review, please contact me.
Maneuver Warfare in Southern Africa
Book recommendation by Morgan Norval*
Speaking of maneuver war, I want to direct your attention to a recent book titled, Mobile Warfare For Africa: On The Successful Conduct Of Wars In Africa And Beyond–Lessons Learned From The South African Border War by Roland De Vries, Camille Burger and Willem Steenkamp. The book explores Lind’s 4th Generation War concept, Boyd’s OODA loop, and utilizing the indirect approach. In fact the book is basically a text on mobile/maneuver war based on its very successful use by the old South African Defense Force. The book also has over a dozen case studies on the subject. The book also comes with a separate atlas which provides maps, illustrations and photos–including three of mine–to help understand the concepts advocated by the book. Continue reading
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 (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
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?
The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War
New York: Penguin 2014
In 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.
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
Like an essay by an Israeli general that originally appeared in Hebrew in an Israeli defense journal in September 1949 (that would be coming up on 66 years ago).
Boyd extracted a paragraph from it as Chart 99 of Patterns of Conflict. Chuck Spinney, some 35 years after Boyd incorporated it, got worried about the source and after a few minutes, found the original. We have now added a citation to that slide.
Chuck made the following observation:
If you think about it, this is Israel’s strategy — as well as its grand strategy — to this day: Divide up its opponents. This becomes clear in the use of settlements and Israeli-only roads to carve up and control the West Bank and in its failing effort to isolate Iran. Of course, strategy is destructive and these ideas work to destroy your adversary, but grand strategy should be constructive, it should end the conflict on favorable terms that do not also sow seeds for future conflict. Applying concepts from strategy, such as these from Gen. Yadin, to shape a grand strategy is a prescription for perpetual conflict and destruction (ultimately your own)!
Chuck, incidentally, is echoing Boyd’s observation that strategy is destructive while grand strategy should be constructive, which Boyd put on Chart 142 of Patterns. The notion that grand strategy should “end the conflict on favorable terms, while ensuring that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict” is from Chart 139.
Chuck has a nice treatment of grand strategy on his Blaster blog, and all of Boyd’s briefings, including the newly revised Patterns of Conflict, can be downloaded from our Articles page.