More physiology of “operating inside the OODA loop”

On page 132 of Patterns of Conflict, Boyd hails “operating inside the OODA loop” as the foundation of victory. Near the end of a long list of indignities one can inflict on one’s opponents via this device, he included “Generate uncertainty, confusion, disorder, panic, chaos … to shatter cohesion, produce paralysis and bring about collapse.” He was so attached to this outcome that he drew a box around it in the original typewritten version.

As he explains earlier in the presentation, the specific device for producing paralysis, disorder, panic, confusion, etc. is surprise and in particular, the mechanism of cheng / chi.  The Sun Tzu text discusses this phenomenon in Chapter 5 as one of the elements of shih, the general pattern of operations, and we can assume the idea itself predates this text, possibly by many centuries. Continue reading

Cheng / chi sighting

When you’re in a situation where things periodically don’t work as we wish, then “not working” becomes the expected, the cheng. You might recall, although you’ll be dating yourself if you admit it, that a day when you didn’t have to reboot your Windows 3.1 machine was often circled in red on your calendar.

So in this perverse but all too common environment, consistently working as expected becomes the unexpected, the chi.  You might recall the first time you upgraded to Windows 2000: It didn’t crash!  Ditto for Mac OS X. And you were delighted.

I mentioned this effect 11 years ago in Certain to Win:

I can illustrate this by using the personal computer industry, where working as advertised would be absolutely shocking. p. 149

So it’s nice to see this phenomenon mentioned in the mainstream press, in this case The Atlantic’s site:

Apple has thrived above all in the last two decades by offering the particular beauty that lies in order, organization, and simplicity, and in the predictable delight that results when something technical, unexpectedly, just works. (“Apple and Star Wars together explain why much of the world around you looks the way it does” by Nicholas de Monchaux)

[As an aside, as I’m writing this, my wife’s computer is trying to upgrade to Windows 10. The first little app proudly proclaimed my wife’s vintage Dell Inspiron as suitable for Windows 10. I have great hopes for being delighted.]

Systems thinking—still in short supply

By Hans Norden
Special to Slightly East of New

I’m observing how there is, at least within management education, a dichotomy between two paradigms; one that builds decisions on the belief that money is the highest value (see Small is Beautiful by Fritz Schumacher) and another that builds decisions on systems thinking, or quality; improving the capability of a system. It’s interesting how Boyd described Orientation as the Schwerpunkt of his thinking; the paradigm through which to observe one’s environment, including new and unforeseen circumstances as they unfold.

It seems to me that people have a hard time even opening their minds to beliefs that are in conflict with their mental programming; they even reject the idea of just trying it on for size, so to speak. It was an intelligent investment banker who explained to me why Deming was not widely used, not because his ideas were too complicated but because people simply do not believe that they are true!!!??? They experience a ‘short-between-the-ears’ when their Orientation fails to make sense out of their Observation of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge. Subsequently, their lack of Fingerspitzengefühl suppresses their curiosity. (After Chet’s presentation, why was there neither a single question nor any opposition? In other words, a dialogue in which they engage the messenger.) Continue reading

On traveling to Europe


The fjord in front of Bergen. The old town is around to the right.


Here are some thoughts from my recent trip to Munich, Bergen, and Amsterdam. If you’re going to Europe, you might find something interesting. Click any image for a larger view.

  1. Take an American Express card.  We now have the new chip cards, but as you probably know, ours are chip-and-signature, while Europe is on chip-and-pin.  You probably don’t have a pin (there are a few exceptions). This means that there are places that won’t accept your credit card, like some fare machines.  I didn’t find any, however, that accepted Amex that wouldn’t take my card. I guess it must waive the need for a pin when necessary.
  2. Take two credit cards.  I still remember the call from my Visa issuer one evening several years back, also in Munich. “Hi. There’s been suspicious activity on your card, so we’ve cancelled it.”  “Great. You do know I’m in Germany.”  The response was, essentially, that it wasn’t their problem. Fortunately, I had the Amex.
  3. NightWatch

    “The Night Watch” at the Rijksmuseum

    Cash is rapidly disappearing from Europe. Various forms of card / electronic payment are replacing it. So if the Euro zone does break up, at least we won’t have to go back to changing cash at every border we cross.  I brought $200 in cash with me and took $200 in cash home — the Visa did work at the one ATM I tried. Gave the remaining Euros — practically all of them — to the hotel on the last night.

Continue reading

Presentation slides from LKCE15

The slides from my keynote at LeanKanban Central Europe 2015 are now available from the Articles page.

ABOCoverThe originals were done in Apple Keynote and had quite a lot of animation. It is possible to export as a PDF with each stage of a build saved as a separate slide.  This only works, however, for simple builds, like “Appear,” and it makes for a very large file.

Instead, I’ve reformatted a few of the charts and exported as a regular PDF.  Even with all that, it still comes in at 6.5 MB.

You can watch the keynote address itself from Munich at


All about agility in 400 sec.

At a special event midway through the first day, five of the presenters at LeanKanban 2015 gave short presentations on various topics.  The trick was that you had to have an intro slide, an outro slide, and 20 content slides, each of which was timed to display for 20 seconds.  In the video below, you can see the timing ball moving inexorably across the bottoms of the screens.

Mine was modestly entitled “Agility: The Power and the Glory.”  The software development community has a concept of agility, and if you search on “SCRUM” you can get an idea of how it works.  Apparently it works well because lots of development teams use it.  The way the developers use the term is the same as Musashi’s chapters 2 and 3, where he discusses tactics and techniques. This is important stuff because poor technique can ruin an otherwise brilliant strategy.20x20.001

But like Sun Tzu, Musashi goes on to insist that the real purpose of agility is to drive the terms of the conflict, to ensure, for example, that what you develop succeeds in the marketplace. Nokia, for example, didn’t go out of the phone business because of poor technique in building feature phones.  Agility should govern strategy — what to develop — as well as tactics and technique — how to develop it.

As I explain in this 20-slide talk, one of the really cool things Boyd did was to extract the essence of agility from something like “super maneuverability,” that is, a hardware concept, and move it into the pilot’s mind.  My little talk shows that this proceeded in stages first by noting the ability to handle change, then in the idea of “operating inside the OODA loop,” and finally to the concept of orientation.  This progression is critical to the concept of agility because otherwise you have a big problem explaining why the Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane from WWI, which was among the most agile aircraft ever built, didn’t even stay a front-line fighter for the whole war.

As an added bonus, I deconstruct the OODA “loop,” the big one from The Essence of Winning and Losing, in 60 seconds.

All of the little talks are worth watching, and mine begins at about 35:40.  You’ll occasionally hear voices in the background. To reduce the times needed for changeovers, we were all miked and in the excitement, we sometimes forgot this simple fact.  The MC is Markus Andrezak of the German company Überproduct in Potsdam.

20 by 20 with Pawel Brodzinski, Chet Richards, Nadja Schnetzler, Karl Scotland and Dominica DeGrandis at LKCE15 from Lean Kanban Central Europe on Vimeo.

Gators, by the way, are extremely agile.  Don’t be fooled into thinking they are just sluggish, belly-dragging lizards: They do the cheng / chi maneuver (abrupt transition from expected to unexpected) better than any human I’ve run across.

Maneuver breaks out

Fokker Dr.1

Replica of a Fokker Dr.1 Triplane in the Deutsches Museum, Munich. A very agile airplane, but not very fast, so by the end of the war, no longer capable of operating inside opponents’ OODA loops.

If you look down through the sweep of history, you might see two broad trends in the concept we call “agility” or “maneuver.” In the military, including the martial arts, people have known that certain practices could disorient opponents, making the physical act of combat much easier to win.  Among these were deception, ambiguity (the “fog of war”), the ability to operate at a rapid tempo, and especially a rapid shift between what the opponent expects and what they experience. The oldest known documentation of these ideas comes from the Sun Tzu text, fragments of which date back to 300 BCE, and they flow like a stream through later Chinese commentators, the Japanese samurai, various schools of the martial arts, the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the German “blitzkrieg,” and on to our day via the works of John Boyd and the US Marine Corps doctrine of maneuver warfare.

Sometime after World War II, in Japan, they jumped the military track and into, of all things, automobile manufacturing.  Known today as “lean manufacturing,” the philosophy and set of practices that began as the Toyota Production System broke longstanding tradeoffs between cost, delivery time, and quality.  Before the TPS, and in US auto manufacturing up until the 1990s, higher quality meant higher costs. The TPS showed that it was possible to build better cars cheaper.

Why is the TPS another manifestation of the principles that underlie maneuver warfare?  For one thing, they both accord a central role to time. Sun Tzu wrote that quickness is the essence of war. Similarly, the TPS stresses the continuous reduction in the time between when a customer places an order and when they receive the vehicle. And as this chart from my keynote illustrates, they both rest on a philosophy that stresses human creativity and initiative:

Final Brothers illustrations.001

Both maneuver warfare and lean are mature concepts.  One could argue that all the elements that define maneuver warfare were identified and in place no later than the early 1940s and might even make a case for 1936, when the German Army issued its doctrine for command of troops, the Truppenführung. If you’re interested in the details, Martin van Creveld provides an extensive analysis of the Truppenführung in his book Fighting Power.  These concepts were refined by John Boyd, Bill Lind, and a group of young officers in the Marine Corps beginning in the early 1980s and reached what is essentially their current state with the publication of Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 1, Warfighting in 1989.

Similarly, Taiichi Ohno, one of the prime creators of the system at Toyota, maintained in his book Toyota Production System that the basics of the system were in place by 1973.  In 1979, in response to claims that the Japanese were dumping cars at below cost (nobody could sell a car that good for so little!), MIT began the International Motor Vehicle Program, which documented the system and compiled data that demonstrated its effectiveness. Their results were presented in a number of articles principally in the Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review and popularized in the 1990 book, The Machine that Changed the World.  Two of the authors of that work continued to develop the ideas into a more general theory of lean and published them in Lean Thinking (1996).  At about the same time, Allen Ward and his colleagues at the University of Michigan were researching the Toyota Vehicle Development System, which applies the same underlying principles but in quite novel ways. This may be evident from the subtitle of their 1995 paper, “How Delaying Decisions Can Make Better Cars Faster.”

It’s been 20 years since anything significant developed in the world of maneuver, agile, and lean.  My 2004 book, Certain to Win, looked more at the relationships between maneuver and lean. It was the first to point out the common foundation of maneuver and lean, particularly the “human” factors that underly both (by “pumping up creativity …”). It noted that in business, the military concept of grand strategy reduces to “ordinary” strategy. It offered an interpretation of the maneuver concept of cheng / chi that, by focusing on the customer, not the competitor, works for business, too.  Good foundational stuff, but it wasn’t written to divert the lean / maneuver pattern into a new field of application.

So it’s about time that the maneuver stream found a new channel, that it broke out of the worlds of manufacturing and war and over into what we might call “white collar” occupations.  From the quality and intensity of the discussions at LKCE15, building on what I first observed at Lean Software & Systems 2011 in Long Beach, we may be seeing the power of these ideas manifesting in an entirely new area:

Final Brothers illustrations.002


Lean kanban incorporates many of the practices associated with classical maneuver / lean theory: managing flow, limiting work-in-process inventory (which can hide problems and distort orientation), and employing an hypothesis-test methodology for learning.  According to the web site of one of its founders (and a keynote speaker at this conference), David Anderson, it also “encourages acts of leadership at all levels.” Depending on how they implement this idea, it could be in harmony with “Pump up the creativity and initiative of everybody …” Because this concept is the real foundation of classical lean and maneuver, I’d need to know more before pronouncing a final judgment.  Looks promising, though.

For more information, check out the conference’s sponsors — there are links down at the bottom of the conference’s home page.

“All by Ourselves” – Now a Major Motion Picture!

Or at least a video of my keynote at LeanKanban Central Europe 2015 in Munich on November 17:

All by Ourselves (Keynote) – Chet Richards at LKCE15 from Lean Kanban Central Europe on Vimeo.

Many thanks to the folks at it-agile for a superb conference! Ran like clock work, too many great presentations to catch them all, rocking late Oktoberfest, and somehow they arranged for record high temperatures in Munich.