These things are scary

No, I’m not going to discuss the president’s plans for Afghanistan, but the Amazon Echo and more specifically its AI system, Alexa.

I’ve used Apple’s Siri for years but usually found it more trouble than it’s worth. The problem is that if you’re talking with a fellow native speaker, there’s a virtual infinity of questions you could ask. If you’re talking to an AI system, there’s only a small subset that it will understand (“Pardon?”)  What’s that subset? I got tired of guessing. It’s good at finding local restaurants when we’re traveling.

Once Siri lowered the bar, it made it easier for Amazon to meet expectations (cheng) and then to exceed them (chi.) The net effect, as I explained in Certain to Win, is that you become hooked. With Alexa, for example, Amazon has gone to great lengths to ease you into the process. Inside the shipping box there’s a short list of things you can try.  These are pretty much what you expect, and I’m sure all the other AI systems can do these, too (although, as I noted, Siri’s initial performance was so disappointing that I never thought to try). Then the web site has a few more, and the support pages even more, and pretty soon you’re trying them out, and Wow! All of the requests I made worked, even while the system was playing music and I was on the other side of the room. Simple example: It will play anything on Amazon Prime (and on Unlimited if you subscribe to that). It will even tell you the artist. Just by asking. Which is chi at least to me.

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Another cheng / chi sighting

This time in the wild battlefields of strawberry development:

Bjorn, the company’s president, says, “Consumers have to be more satisfied, or what we call more delighted, all the time.” Produce companies tend to be driven by supply: what they grow, they try to sell. Driscoll’s, conversely, sees itself as a consumer-products company. According to Bjorn, “We create the demand …”

The company is Driscoll’s “a fourth-generation family business, says that it controls roughly a third of the six-billion-dollar U.S. berry market, including sixty per cent of organic strawberries, forty-six per cent of blackberries, fourteen per cent of blueberries, and just about every raspberry you don’t pick yourself.”

Produce is war, and it is won by having something beautiful-looking to sell at Costco when the competition has only cat-faced uglies.

In other words, they meet customer expectations for flavor and appearance (that would be cheng) but then figure out how to add something special and unexpected — something that delights (the chi).  This could be a new variety as a result of their high powered R&D effort, or perhaps a tinkering of a currently seasonal variety to make it available year round, in 49 countries. The result, as the man said, and as it usually is: “We create the demand.”  The Steve Jobs of Strawberries?

Boyd, paraphrasing Sun Tzu, put it this way on Patterns chart 13: “Employ cheng and ch’i maneuvers to quickly and unexpectedly hurl strength against weaknesses.” Driscoll’s use of this concept, inadvertent as it might, perhaps, be isn’t an analogy. It’s the exact same concept applied to a different sphere of competition.

Read the complete article, “How Driscoll’s Reinvented the Strawberry” by Dana Goodyear in August 21, 2017 edition of The New Yorker.

Pivotal conference on Lean R&D

“Lean,” which is based on the same fundamental principles that underly maneuver warfare, has long been applied to production.  In fact, much, if not most, of what we now call “lean” came from study of the Toyota Production System.  Beginning with a stream of papers from the International Motor Vehicle Project at MIT in the late 1980s, the academic community has documented that the system works to the extent that if you have a competitor who adopts it, and you don’t, you’ve signed your own corporate death Machine that Changed World Coverwarrant.

Less well known is that the same basic underlying principles also apply to R&D. As far as I know, the first paper to document this was “The Second Toyota Paradox: How delaying decisions can make better cars faster,” by Allen Ward, Jeffrey K. Liker, John J. Cristiano and Durward K. Sobek II, and published by the Sloan Management Review in April 1995 (register on their site and you can read it).  Note that the sub-title gives lie to the notion that simply doing what you’re doing now, but doing it faster, is the key to success. A most important paper!!

As it turns out, there is a major conference abrewing out in San Jose on this subject in September. Led by Terry Barnhart, who has done brilliant work in applying Boyd’s concepts to R&D, it looks to be one of the major events in Lean for product development this year.

Here, courtesy of the conference organizers, are particulars:

Workshops that take you from the basics – what Lean in creative areas is all about, to advanced work that is solving problems not previously encountered.

  • Tony Wilcox (former Al Ward student) shares what he learned expanding Lean product development at Harley Davidson
  • Norbert Majerus, Shingo-Prize winner shares what he learned transforming product development at Goodyear
  • Goran Gustafson and Peter Palmer (Chalmers University and Scania respectively) on the basics
  • Don Reinertsen gives you the nuts and bolts of how to make R&D flow

Sessions at the cutting edge of lean

  • How are the US and Russian space agencies using Lean to advance rocket science? Come find out!
  • How can you use external innovation schemes to fill holes in time and content? Henry Chesbrough shares how!
  • How to make sustainable creation and convert it to sustainable innovation? – Sally Domiguez walks you through!
  • And dozens more

Networking sessions and lunches to discuss Lean innovation and product development with your peers

Site visits and tours of interest

  • We go to NASA Ames facility
  • We go to Intel and learn about Lean in the computer chip business

September 18-21
San Jose Marriott and San Jose Convention Center
San Jose, California

For more information and to register, please visit their web site.



Hitler lives??

In Hell? In Chile? (which, I understand, is actually rather nice):

I was watching this parade, when all of a sudden, they break into a goose step and begin playing the Badenweiler March. Note the uniforms, with Fritz helmets, and the UN designation on the vehicles. WTF? Time warp? I’ve read the comments, but can anybody can shed more light on this?

There’s some controversy over whether the Badenweiler March was actually Hitler’s favorite, but as the Wikipedia article notes, there was an order in Nazi Germany that it be played only when Hitler was present.

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.

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Hitler lives?

In Hell, anyway, in Martin van Creveld’s new novel, Hitler in Hell.

Van Creveld asks: What might Hitler’s world view have been in order for his actions to have been logical and reasonable?  And then he proceeds to answer. Briefly, the two main pillars of his Weltanschauung, were:

  1. In order to survive, Germany must expand its territory to the East.
  2. Jews (racially defined) are inherently evil and must be driven out of German-controlled territory or, if that proves impossible, eliminated.

Pretty much all of Hitler’s actions, including the war, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust follow from these, as van Creveld’s Hitler relates over the course of some 390 pages.

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Just for the record

I am not the “Chet Richards” who writes for the web site “American Thinker.”  For one thing, I rarely write on hardware issues (“People, ideas, and hardware in that order — I don’t seem to ever make it past ideas.) For another, a quick glance will show an obvious difference in both style and viewpoint.

There is also a “Chet Richards” who is / was a screenwriter in Hollywood. It is possible, I guess, that he is now writing on defense issues.

Also for the record, I am not associated with the web sites d-n-i .net or belisarius .com. Although I started both of those, they got hijacked by hackers and so I shut them down. I understand that someone else has taken over those domain names — visit them at  your own risk.  The Project on Government Oversight maintains a time capsule of the original Defense and the National Interest at, and you can also download the most recently edited copies of Boyd’s materials from our Articles page.


Power tends to corrupt

And absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Yada, yada …

Three things about this quote:

  1. It’s usually misquoted by leaving out the “tends to,” without which it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
  2. Nobody argues against it.
  3. We know that it only affects other people.

The reason for number three is that we possess superior insight and such elevated moral character so that we can detect and avoid sycophancy, as in the emperor’s new clothes syndrome. People tell us the truth, not simply what we want to hear. Continue reading

Book Review: Patterns of Strategy

Patterns of Strategy
Patrick Hoverstadt and Lucy Loh
Routledge (London & New York) 2017
368 pages

Patrick Hoverstadt and Lucy Lot (H&L) have written an excellent addition to the library of anyone trying to apply Boyd’s concepts to business. The authors are experienced consultants with an enviable client list, so I don’t intend to critique their strategies, some 80 of them, or even their concept of “strategy.” They work for them, so more power to them.

HoverstadtAndLohCoverHowever, they do cite Boyd as one of five “geniuses” who “brought new thinking that has depth, rigor and has radically challenged the conventional thinking in their respective fields.” (xvi) So I will make a few observations on their use of Boyd’s material.

One area where purists might question their understanding of John’s ideas might be in their use of a multitude of strategies, which they at one point characterize as “strategy recipes” that “you can follow, or at least start to recognize.” Your first impression might be that such an approach would not have sat well with Boyd, who detested recipes and checklists of any kind when it comes to human conflict. There are, however, productive ways to use long lists. One of Boyd’s favorite books, for example, was Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, which offers some 25 strategies and 20 tactics for the aspiring samurai. In Boyd’s philosophy, Musashi’s strategies and tactics might best be considered as parts for your snowmobile or maybe even ideas for prototypes. You still need to build your own, but you can pick up a lot of ideas from Musashi. Continue reading

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