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

Beakley reviews Gully Dirt

[Ed Beakley is a retired Naval Aviator with 170 combat missions in the A-7 Corsair during the war in Vietnam; all total, he has over 3000 hours in 20 different military aircraft. In his last military tour he was Test Director and Lead Project Test Pilot for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile Program.

Ed is a 1968 NROTC graduate from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, a graduate of the Naval Post Graduate School with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering, and a graduate of the Flight Research Inc. Test Pilot and Flight Test Engineer Course. He is a member of the International Test and Evaluation Association, Naval Institute, the Association of Naval Aviation, and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

He founded and manages Project White Horse, exploring leadership in the post 9/11 world.]

Recommendation for my Nashville, Litton HS, Vandy, and generally below the Mason Dixon long time friends:

Don’t know if you’re familiar with author Robert Coram out of Atlanta. Fiction writer but his last four books prior to Gully Dirt were biographies of military folks — all of which I highly recommend, not because of military or war connection, but because of the story telling of some really great, brave, and unique Americans. See: 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

Locking our own orientation

The phenomenon of locked orientation, where we get trapped into what Boyd called a “pattern of actions and ideas,” can be deadly in a conflict. We all know this, yet it still happens.

One reason is the implicit guidance and control link from orientation back to observation that influences what we observe, creating a “cognitive bias.” Left undampened, this feedback loop so narrows our field of observation that our brains don’t register data that our eyes actually “see,” producing “inattenional blindness.” Perhaps the best known illustrations are the famous “invisible gorilla” experiments. There are many sites and videos out there, so just Google the term and watch. Continue reading

Who still reads Boyd?

Apparently the Russians. In “The Moscow School of hard knocks: Key pillars of Russian strategy,” 17 Jan 2017,  CNA analyst and former NDU program manager Michael Kofman
offers vivid illustrations of ideas that Boyd developed in his various papers and presentations (all available on our Articles page).  He doesn’t cite Boyd, but you’ll recognize the concepts.

I have no idea of how Kofman came across these ideas — Boyd has nine pages of sources at the end of Patterns of Conflict, so he isn’t claiming that he thought most of them up. Regardless of how Kofman discovered them, he establishes that they certainly do work, but unfortunately not for us. Continue reading

Chi, cheng, and friction at Amazon

In his only paper (as opposed to hours-long presentation), Boyd concluded that

According to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics one cannot determine the character or nature of a system within itself. Moreover, attempts to do so lead to confusion and disorder.”

In other words, to even stand a chance of reducing “confusion and disorder,” or “friction” as Clausewitz called it, you have to go outside the system.

It turns out one reason that Amazon seems to work so well is that it understands this principle. In “Amazon’s Friction-Killing Tactics To Make Products More Seamless,”  the company’s product management and engineering PMO, Kintan Brahmbhatt, gives several examples of where friction comes from  during product development and how to overcome it. All involve going outside. Continue reading