A Pig Inside my OODA Loop

Gully Dirtgullydirt
Robert Coram
Five Bridges Press, Atlanta
January 2017

Way off in the southwest corner of Georgia, where that state, Alabama, and Florida come together, there’s a constellation of small towns that exist only to serve the farms that surround them. Peanut country. Edison is one of them. There were no Interstate highways when Robert Coram was growing up in Edison, and when they were built, the closest was 60 miles away. Television did arrive before the big highways, and on a good day, and with a tall antenna, you could pick up two stations.

In most of the rural South, life went on as it had for millennia. Outside of the towns themselves, most people did not have what we call “indoor plumbing.” If you’ve never had the pleasure of using the outdoor variety — yes, they did use the Sears Roebuck catalogue for toilet paper — Coram will fill in this gap in your experience. Continue reading

When orientation locks

Here’s what it might feel like:

It wasn’t that what first came to mind was always wrong; it was that its existence in your mind led you to feel more certain than you should be that it was correct.

From “Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project: How do ER surgeons avoid dumb, deadly mistakes? Ask their doctor.”  In other words, you go with what feels right, and that guides the data you find and how you interpret it.

When your orientation locks, you don’t stop thinking. Rather, you fall into a pattern of thinking that you can’t break out of because it feels right. At least two things can make this worse. One is the phenomenon of “incestuous amplification,” where you ignore or explain away anything that appears to conflict with the pattern, and another involves deliberate actions by your opponents — deception.

Breaking out can be extremely difficult. Incestuous amplification, well, amplifies the effect. And egos get involved. The only device that pretty much always works is to get outside the system, as the Toronto hospital in the article did.  But this involves both training — so that everybody is aware of the problem (such mutual awareness is an aspect of Einheit, of course) — and an organizational climate that reinforces the humility to admit that you’re wrong, even among friends, colleagues, and enemies.

Creating such a climate, and I think you’ll find Boyd’s EBFAS climate will work well for this, is a primary task of leadership.

Note on dis-orientation

The main role of orientation, as least as far as winning and losing goes, is to predict the consequences of our actions more accurately than our opponents can predict the consequences of theirs.  The question of how we do this opens “Destruction and Creation,” and all the rest of Boyd’s works illustrate his answer.

There are many subtleties.  For example:

  1. Nobody’s orientation is perfect, so how can we tell if we’re the one making the more accurate predictions?  This is anything but a straightforward issue, even if we could ameliorate all the problems of making inferences from limited samples (because that’s what our observations are) of the situation. For example, are we being deceived? Are we deceiving ourselves (e.g., confirmation bias/ incestuous amplification)? In both of these cases, we believe that our orientation is making suitably accurate predictions, and what’s worse, we often have the data to prove it.
  2. Once we realize that we have a problem, what do we do about it?
  3. Boyd suggested that the consequences of not maintaining as accurate an orientation as our opponents include panic, disorientation, confusion, chaos. Is this true? Always? Why?
  4. Does time matter? That is, if we make more accurate predictions, but it takes us longer to make them, do we still have an advantage? [Hint: What’s the opponent doing during these time gaps?]
  5. Does orientation include being able to predict consequences of opponents’ actions?
  6. How much more accurate do our predictions have to be in order to offset an opponent’s other advantages, in size and technology, for example?
  7. How does all this apply to groups of people, where intragroup dynamics govern the group’s actions?

Larry Dunbar sent an interesting comment to the last post, and my reply is what got me going on this one. With these subtleties (and other you think of) in mind, you might read over the quote that opened the last post and add your comments to this one.

The magic of the OODA loop

Observe, orient, decide, act: words to live or die by. Right now, Persephone is disoriented — on the run, cut off. It’s time to go on the offensive, work out where she is and what’s going on, then get the hell out of this trap.

I found myself reading this on page 160 of Charles Stross’s sci-fi novel, The Apocalypse Codex. Stross had mentioned the OODA loop in an earlier book in this series, so I wasn’t exactly shocked when I read it. But it was such a graphic illustration of how Boyd actually used the loop, as opposed to the usual “she observed, then oriented …” that I just had to send it to Chuck Spinney.

He reminded me that Boyd used to say that we had succeeded when the OODA loop began appearing — without attribution — in Superman comics. This being 30 years later, and the Man of Steel not perhaps enjoying the popularity he once did, I’m going to declare victory.

One nitpick: Boyd would have preferred “seize the initiative” to “go on the offensive,” but I think Stross’s formulation works better rhetorically and in this case means about the same thing. Thus, “go on the offensive” would be another way of saying “get inside their OODA loops,” and, as Persephone understands, the key is orientation.*

I ran across Stross’s work in a tweet by Paul Krugman announcing the seventh book in the Laundry Files series (The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth). The premise is that we live in a multiverse, and the creatures known as demons, devils, and spirits are actually inhabitants of other universes. What gives them entree to our space is mathematics, particularly complex and clever proofs. In other words, real magic, as contrasted with stage illusions, is applied mathematics. As computer science has evolved, more people are creating more intricate codings, which can be considered types of proofs, and so are opening up more gateways for these entities to move across.

As a reformed mathematician (Ph.D. 1971), I recall many times when, working alone late at night on some complex and convoluted proof, the appearance of a demon would not have been at all surprising. So his novels do have a nice basis in reality, and like all good storytellers, he just carries it that one little extra step. With OODA loops.

*Generally “go on the offensive” would not be synonymous with “get inside their OODA loops.” More on this and other OODA loop lore in my paper, “Boyd’s real OODA loop,” available along with all of Boyd’s works on our Articles page.

High water line

We’re about 13 feet above sea level and around 15 miles from the nearest beach.  This is the “Lowcountry,” though, and there’s a tidal estuary about 3 miles from us and a flood plain with a small river less than a half mile west.  The NOAA flood maps suggested that a category 2 storm could under the worst conditions push a 3-6 foot storm surge up that river and towards us.

I was up early Saturday morning and glued to Weather Underground as the north side of Matthew’s eyewall brushed past Calibogue Sound, one of the primary avenues for drainage in our area, right at high tide.

We certainly weren’t anywhere nearly as badly hit as Hilton Head Island, where the county is just now beginning to let people back in, but we were only maybe 18″ of water level away from water coming into the houses here.

Storm surge or rain? The bag marks the high water line (click for gallery view).  The

flood plain with its small river — generally a small creek — is less than .5 miles to the right. It turns out from examining debris lines around the pond between us and the river that the flooding was from the community drainage system, which got overwhelmed by 11.5 inches of rain. I don’t know whether the surge also came up into the flood plain or how high it might have reached.  Fortunately, not to us.

[Note: The ponds, or “lagoons” as the real estate people call them, is part of our drainage system. Water from the streets and yards drains into the ponds, which then overflow into the flood plain.  There’s a grating at the bottom of the small pool that is supposed to feel runoff into the pond. As  you can see, it’s having a few problems. In a storm surge, water would be coming up the other way, from the flood plain and then over the banks of the pond and towards us.]

Safe and sound

Back home after a 4 1/2 hour drive from Athens.

Whoever is managing the clean-up effort here in South Carolina knows what they’re doing. We came down the back way through Augusta, Allendale, Fairfax, and Hardeeville.

Work crew on US 321 between Estill and Hardeville, SC

Work crew on US 321 between Estill and Hardeville, SC Many thanks for their heroic efforts!

Although we saw dozens of trees that had blocked the roads only 48 hours ago, we had no delays.  We’re talking 2-lane secondary highways for the most part.  The SCDOT web site was pretty accurate, and we augmented the traditional way with intel we picked up from locals at our frequent refueling stops.

Still have some more work to do.

Still have some more work to do.

Unfortunately, my poor little golf cart wasn’t so lucky on our cut-through trails.

Strangers in a fairly hospitable land

We left Hilton Head Wednesday morning and have been staying in Athens, GA, about 200 miles to the northwest.


Storm shutters in place!

The eyewall brushed the Island early Saturday, doing extensive damage to the south end, but reports from people who stayed suggest only minimal damage to our neighborhood about 20 miles to the west.

In the meantime, the University of Georgia operates several gardens, and thanks to the efforts of my brother, who is a Georgia Master Gardner, we toured three of them, and picked some okra (click for gallery view).

On Saturday,  the nearby town of Madison held a fall festival and chili cook off.  It’s a beautiful little town, and we spent more time than I’m going to admit browsing antique shops.


Madison is the seat of Morgan County

Our county, Beaufort, won’t give us any return information, although many other areas are allowing residents back.  Another family from our development tried to get back and were put into a “post-storm” shelter. Although residents who stayed report no damage to the property and no problems moving around, and power is on, they were told they could be there as long as 72 hours.  Now, I’m not going to second guess our emergency management folks, but the danger is that fewer people will heed evacuation “orders” (here in South Carolina, there doesn’t appear to be any penalty for simply ignoring them) next time.

Einheit: New Research

In Organic Design, Boyd had suggested:

Arrange setting and circumstances so that leaders and subordinates alike are given opportunity to continuously interact with external world, and with each other, in order to more quickly make many-sided implicit cross-referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections as well as create the similar images or impressions, hence a similar implicit orientation, needed to form an organic whole. (23)

New research out of UCLA and Caltech has found evidence of a physiological basis for this:

“Observational learning is the cornerstone for our ability to change behavior,” said senior author Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “It’s human nature to want to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than commit your own.”

Said lead author Michael Hill, a former UCLA and California Institute of Technology scientist now based at the Swiss National Science Foundation: “The ability to quickly learn from others can give humans a critical edge over other species. The skill also contributes to someone feeling he or she is a member of one culture versus another.”

They were able to identify neurons in a part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, that were active in these situations:

The findings suggest that individual nerve cells in the person’s brain used the details gleaned by observing the other players to calculate which deck to choose a card from next.

“The anterior cingulate cortex acts as the central executive of human decision-making, yet we know little about the neuronal machinery at this level,” said Fried, who is also a professor of neurosurgery at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.

Perhaps as we learn more about how the brain works in such social situations, we can design programs and organizational climates to build Einheit more rapidly and more effectively.

[All of Boyd’s briefings are available for free download from our Articles page.]


Double Ace

Double Ace: The Life of Robert Lee Scott Jr., Pilot, Hero, and Teller of Tall Tales Robert Coram’s bio of Robert Scott, Brig Gen USAF (1908 – 2006), is now out.  I’ve ordered it and will post a review here.

cover of double aceAlthough General Scott isn’t well-remembered now (a Google search for “Robert Scott” didn’t include him in the first 10 pages of results), after WWII, he was famous as a daring fighter pilot and author of God is my Co-pilot. I met him several years ago when he was running the Museum of Aviation at Robbins AFB, about 2 hours south of Atlanta down I-75. This is an incredible museum, incidentally, with a collection of Air Force aircraft second only to the USAF Museum at Wright-Pat.  You’ll find the L-5E Sentinel (cruising speed 90 mph), the SR-71 (“Over 2,200 mph”), and pretty much everything in-between, including the P-40 Warhawk flown by Scott and the Flying Tigers.

If you can spend a day or two in this area, you won’t be too far from Andersonville and the National Prisoner of War Museum (my dad was a POW of the Japanese from  April 1942 – September 1945).  Boyd emphasized humane treatment of prisoners — and widely publicizing that fact — as a great way to encourage enemy troops to defect. Obviously there have been exceptions, but all-in-all, I think we have done this pretty well since the Civil War.

While you’re down here, check out nearby Macon, one of the capitals of Southern music, including Otis Redding, Little Richard, and the Allman Brothers.



The torch of chaos

Yesterday’s quote on the Page-a-Day calendar of Zen sayings was:

The torch of doubt and chaos is what the sage steers by. Chuang Tzu.

If you Google that quote, you can find lots of references, even a book by that title.  I’m not terribly familiar with Chuang Tzu, a younger contemporary, so the legend goes, of the much better known Lao Tzu. But I know that Boyd was heavily influenced by classical Taoism. The sources for Patterns of Conflict, for example, include Gary Zukav’s The dancing Wu Li masters and Fritjof Capra’s The tao of physics. I might possibly be somewhat to blame — I sent him his copy of Alan Watts’ Tao, the watercourse way (a great beach read, incidentally) — but he had other associates who were much more familiar with Taoism and Zen than I.

His study of these ancient ideas reinforced his natural tendency towards harmony and flow on the inside to produce non-differentiable, that is, abrupt, jerky, and disorienting, change on the outside. These ideas come through explicitly on charts 12 and 117 of Patterns of Conflict and underly practically all the rest of his work, particularly his notion of “operating inside the OODA loop.” Continue reading