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

Can you think about it too much?

Research on the physiology of “choking” under pressure suggests that the reason isn’t that you think about it too much, but that you think with the wrong parts of your brain.

On those (unfortunately rare) occasions when I’ve had to sign more than about a dozen books, the first few flow naturally and reinforce the impression of literary greatness. There comes a point, though, when my hand takes on a life of its own, and I can’t finish the signature. Signature becomes scrawl. Choke.

Research indicates that the parts of the brain that smooth out our previously learned actions — areas like the cerebellum and the premotor cortex of the cerebrum — get overridden by the prefrontal cortex of the cerebrum where our conscious thought resides.  The prefrontal cortex is great for thinking, but when it starts micromanaging the cerebellum, disaster often ensues. Continue reading

Doomsday approaches, and it isn’t the Great Spiral Nebula in Andromeda

Here’s a fun way to start your weekend: Play with the new Google Translate app on Android or iOS.  I mean “fun” in the sense of “How much longer is your white collar career going to last?” You may be wondering about the connection.

If you’re in a traditional blue collar job, like manufacturing, the writing’s been on the wall for a long time. For example, “Industrial robots will replace manufacturing jobs — and that’s a good thing

There is no denying that the U.S. and Canada have been losing jobs to offshore competition for almost half a century. From 2000 to 2010 alone, 5.6 million jobs disappeared.

Interestingly, though, only 13 percent of those jobs were lost due to international trade. The vast remainder, 85 percent of job losses, stemmed from “productivity growth” — another way of saying machines replacing human workers.

All this suggests that many of those jobs that do come back from overseas will go to robots, and it doesn’t take a lot of searching on the Internet to see that this is the latest big meme.  Continue reading

The missing piece of the “hi/lo” mix debate

Editor’s note: Guest contributor Ed Beakley is a retired Naval aviator who flew the A-7 on 170 combat missions in Vietnam. He has extensive experience as a test pilot and R&D manager and is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He is also the founder and project leader at Project White Horse.

War on the Rocks has been posting for some time now articles on air supremacy, close air support (CAS), future of airpower, etc. I continue to follow, given that they’re well thought out and written mostly by operators. But they remain consistently flawed for one significant reason: They equate “Air Force” and “Air Power,” never addressing the role that Navy and Marine air have and so will continue to be part of the airpower equation.

One case in point, as the authors of “Rethinking the Hi-Lo Mix, Part I: Origin Story” note, expense began to diminish number of aircraft and thus gaps in ability to “cover” the world. Really? So exactly who fought the air war in the Pacific that allowed the B-29s to launch in range for the Army Air Corps war-winning strikes (fire bombing and nukes) to Japan? Leaving Navy/Marine air out of the design and operations discussion is fatally flawed. But moving to another point… Continue reading

Clearing the fog from your orientation

George Weber developed an interesting talent:

“No one noticed. I’d go into a meeting with nothing prepared, no list of points in my head. I’d just sit there and wait to see what came up. And what came up when I opened my mouth were solutions to problems smarter, and more elegant than any I could have developed on my own.” Jeff Warren, The neuroscience of spiritual awakening.

In other words, actions flowing directly from orientation via the IG&C link. Fingerspitzengefühl. But he didn’t develop it in the usual way, via long hours of practice. Or perhaps I should say “just in the usual way” because he did have a Ph.D. and spent years working his way up the corporate ladder ending as head of R&D for a major manufacturing operation.

Weber combined that experience with an intense meditation practice that he began even before he got his Ph.D. Although he had no previous experience in meditation, an incident triggered a first awakening, a kensho, that was so wonderful that he spent the next 25 years trying to get the state to last. This experience is not uncommon and occasionally ends up in literature. Fans of Trevanian may recall his particularly vivid descriptions of Nicholai Hel’s mystical experiences in Shibumi.

Then one day, the chatter in his mind stopped, and he achieved what you saw in the opening quote. Continue reading

Why can’t one aircraft do it all?

Years ago, there was a concept floating around the Pentagon called the “hi / lo mix.”  The idea was that you couldn’t afford the thousands of expensive but highly capable fighters the Air Force and Navy wanted, so you bought a reasonable block of them and filled the fleet out with a large number of less capable but cheaper “lo” fighters.

This concept reached concrete form with the F-15 as “hi” and the F-16 as “lo.”  Logical, but as Scott Bledsoe & Mike Benitez show in their paper on War in the Rocks, “Rethinking the Hi-Lo Mix, Part I: Origin Story,” this is not exactly how it happened.   Continue reading