It’s that time of the year

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay

Nothing captures the mood of a place — the heat that penetrates, the dust, the humidity — like the Ode to Billie Joe:

Although Ms. Gentry was born in nearby Chickasaw County, the song has long been associated with Greenwood, where the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha come together to form the Yazoo. It’s where she started school and learned to play a variety of musical instruments. As an aside, “Greenwood” doesn’t appear in the lyrics — the only actual places mentioned are Tupelo and the “Carroll County picture show,” neither of which are in the Delta.

To get to the point, Greenwood is also where my wife, Ginger, was born.  So the song has always had a lot of significance to us.

If you’ve never been to the Mississippi Delta, it’s worth a trip. Home of the Delta Blues, of course, and one of those supernatural places where, to quote Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

What you think you see

Perhaps more accurately, “What you think, you see.”

It’s always worth reminding ourselves that we don’t actually “see” anything.  Photons strike our retinas causing nerve impulses to travel to various parts of the brain.  (There is processing behind the retina, so sometimes no impulses get sent.)

In any case, these impulses get mixed up with all the other activity in our 86 or so billion neurons in the brain, involving in some cases thousands of interconnections, each. The result when it finally hits our prefrontal cortex is an “observation.”

Lots of things can go wrong, a fact for which we need constant reminding. Here’s a good one.

You may have seen this recently floating around the Internet. Go to and look at the last illusion.  If you have a color picker that will tell you the RGB values for any pixel, you can verify Dr. Kitaoka’s claim. Or just blow the thing up and scroll back and forth.

The same phenomenon happens out in the real world, where the patterns are not static pixels on a page but evolving scenarios often with lots of people.  If you can be fooled by pixels-on-a-page, think about what happens out there. Oh, and the pixels aren’t actively trying to deceive you.

In the OODA “loop” sketch, Boyd tried to capture this with the “implicit guidance and control” feed from orientation back to observation:

Basic OODA Loop No Blue.001

We can mine a little more from this experiment. Once you’ve decided that you see blue and green spirals, it can take a fair amount of effort to convince you otherwise, even though Kitaoka tells you what the RGB values are. You may have noticed this. Now suppose you didn’t know the real colors and just saw the figure cold.

Why do they lie to us?

Asked the late father of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, in one of his last major new books, The Curse of Lono.

The same question was asked back last November by David Anderson at the Lean Kanban Central Europe 2015 conference where he mentioned that the biggest fear of senior managers is that their middle manager are always lying to them ( and click on his keynote.)  As luck would have it, it was answered at least in part when a friend of mine sent me Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book, Leadership BS, a couple of months ago. Pfeffer has collected data over the years to show that in the vast majority of organizations, people lie simply because there are incentives to do so and few penalties for getting caught.

So putting all this together, I did a keynote at this week’s Executive Services Planning Summit in San Diego that concluded that one of the defining characteristics of lean/agile/maneuver — basically an organization run “according to Boyd” — is that people don’t lie to each other. In such an organization, the more people trust each other and use the other elements of the EBFAS climate, the better they can employ the lean / maneuver practices specific to their line of work.

Conversely, one characteristic of a “lean” practice is that using it also reinforces the EBFAS / trust climate.  Thus using lean practices over time “matures” an organization, and that maturity will help the organization use those practices more effectively and even develop new ones.

This should be a familiar idea to those who practice lean / maneuver. For example, here’s an observation on trust from the US Marine Corps’ basic doctrinal manual MCDP-1, Warfighting:

We believe that implicit communication—to communicate through mutual understanding, using a minimum of key, well-understood phrases or even anticipating each others’ thoughts—is a faster, more effective way to communicate than through the use of detailed, explicit instructions. We develop this ability through familiarity and trust, which are based on a shared philosophy and shared experience. (page 79)

Note that “shared experience” means using their practices together, just as Boyd recommended on p. 18 of Organic Design and pp. 74-79 of Patterns of Conflict. All of Boyd’s briefings are available from our Articles page, as is Why do they lie to us?

Life of Chuck Myers

Charles E. (Chuck) Myers served as the Director for Air Warfare in the Office of the Secretary of Defense between 1973-78 during which time he launched Project Harvey which later became known as the “stealth” program (see The Five Billion Dollar Misunderstanding by James Stevenson, Naval Institute Press). Chuck had the extraordinary experience of playing an integral role in creation and development of nine front-line military aircraft: the F-14, F-15, A-10, F-16, F-18, EF-111, EA-6B, F-117 and the B-2. While in DDR&E, his projects included Pershing, Tomahawk, Advanced Sparrow and Sidewinder, HARM, IR Maverick, Laser Guided Bombs and AMRAAM.

In 1961, Mr. Myers created Aerocounsel, Inc., a mini-think tank to serve the aerospace community. Since then, he has consulted or worked for 16 aerospace companies, NASA, FAA, GAO, CNA, IDA, OMB, CSIS, DoD, USAF and USN. During the past forty years he has written and lectured about various military missions including air superiority, close air support, fleet air defense and fire support for ground forces. In 1978, he began the effort which led to reactivation of the Iowa Class battleships and much later, a Navy proposal to create a Battle Surveillance Airship to assist in air defense against the “sea skimmer” cruise missile threat. This was coupled with briefings on his Littoral Warfare study which illuminated the need for a dedicated “fire support ship”. During 1985-2000, Aerocounsel, conducted workshops on tactical air support for maneuver warfare. He chaired forums sponsored by COMNAVAIRPAC which led to a novel concept wherein fixed-wing pilots perform as a self-adaptive cooperative element in support of infantry.

Mr. Myers had the unique experience of completing both Army Air Corps and Navy pilot training. He flew low-level attack versions of B-25s with the Fifth Air Force in the Pacific Theater in WWII, separating from the Army Air Force in October 1945. Chuck then served as an USAF reserve pilot while attending Lafayette College, graduating with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1949. He was then commissioned Ensign, USN and trained as a Naval Aviator, graduating in April 1951 and later joining VF-72 to deploy aboard the carrier USS Bon Homme Richard to fly F9F-2 Panther jets in the Korean War.

In 1954, Lt. Myers graduated from Navy Test Pilot School after which he flew as a Navy Test Pilot for nearly two years before resigning to become a civilian engineering test pilot for CONVAIR. His first assignment was to develop a new flight technique for the “Pogo Stick” VTOL Navy fighter. After this project was terminated for engine problems, he joined the CONVAIR fighter-interceptor test team at Edwards AFB, CA. During five years at Edwards, he served as President of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, became Chief Test Pilot on the USAF F-106 program and flew the speed envelope extension necessary for the Air Force to capture the World Speed Record from Russia in 1960 at 1,544 mph. He later flew with the U.S. Army during early experiments using armed helicopters for fire support at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. In December 1999, Chuck was inducted into the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to aeronautical progress during the past 50 years.

RIP Chuck Myers

My long time (40 years) friend and colleague, Chuck Myers, died a little after 8 this morning in Naples, FL. Many of you knew Chuck, and for those who didn’t, I’ll post his obituary later. 

The great ones are passing from the stage. 

Quick update on the march to Imperial Class

Although “Imperial Class” was originally about airlines, the same phenomenon applies to a variety of other services that can be segmented into “luxury” and  “common.” From the NYT:

In the Haven, as this ship within a ship is called, about 275 elite guests enjoy not only a concierge and 24-hour butler service, but also a private pool, sun deck and restaurant, creating an oasis free from the crowds elsewhere on the Norwegian Escape.

Said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s former chief executive, who helped design the Escape with the hope of attracting a richer clientele: “That segment of the population wants to be surrounded by people with similar characteristics.”

In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat,” by Nelson D. Schwartz (very slightly edited for brevity).

The premise of “Imperial Class” is that in the limit, they won’t even want you on the same plane with them, and the airline will find it simpler and more profitable just to eliminate coach class entirely.

For earlier pieces on this theme:

Operating inside the pitcher’s OODA loop

Nifty example of getting inside their OODA loops in an article about Ty Cobb:

When Cobb made it to first—which he did more often than anyone else; he had three seasons in which he batted over .400—the fun had just begun. He understood the rhythms of the game and he constantly fooled around with them, keeping everyone nervous and off balance. The sportswriters called it “psychological baseball.” His stated intention was to be a “mental hazard for the opposition,” and he did this by hopping around in the batter’s box—constantly changing his stance as the pitcher released the ball—and then, when he got on base, hopping around some more, chattering, making false starts, limping around and feigning injury, and running when it was least expected. He still holds the record for stealing home, doing so 54 times. He once stole second, third, and home on three consecutive pitches, and another time turned a tap back to the pitcher into an inside-the-park home run.

From “Who Was Ty Cobb? The History We Know That’s Wrong,” by Charles Leerhsen
Author of Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.

Happy Birthday, Colonel’s Lady

BertChetMomHappy 96th birthday to my mom.  Here she is with me (on her right) and my brother.

Let’s go back many years. My dad was the commander of the 1st Recon Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, in Bindlach, West Germany. They went to a lot of parties — I guess it was an official duty — but I also know that both of them enjoyed the experience greatly.

This picture is, I think, from Fasching, probably around March 1960.Version 2

The years do pass.

A call for revolution

No, not Trump. As Fabius points out, the Donald is more accurately described as a populist reactionary than a revolutionary or even a fascist (“Fascists,” as Hitler himself noted, are revolutionaries.)

Weirdly, perhaps, today’s strident calls to storm the barricades comes from that bastion of conservative economics, The Economist. In “Too much of a good thing: Profits are too high. America needs a giant dose of competition” (paywall) the magazine lays out how America’s dysfunctional economy evolved and what it costs the vast majority of US citizens who don’t own large chunks of major corporations or occupy their C-level offices.

The article also makes a case for why the current situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.  In the  past, there have been periods of oligopoly (e.g., TR’s trust busting in the early 20th century) and abnormally high profits, but new entrants into the marketplace or severe recessions or technological change have broken them open. Today, however, there are at least two reasons why this process may be delayed. One is that a small group of super investors, mainly funds, owns significant percentages of all the major firms in a variety of industries. Thus it is in their interests to keep things as they are and even to force more mergers (the article lists several in the works). Continue reading