Bigger than all of us

Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?

There was a time when companies were urged to set overarching goals to inspire the troops. In many of these companies, though, the troops noticed that when tough decisions needed to be made, considerations like “Don’t embarrass your boss” and “Pump up the CEO’s bonus” seemed to be the real guiding principles.  In other words, instead of inspiration, employees got hypocrisy.  At the very best, they got platitudes, akin to “We want to do good while making our employees happy and providing a superior return to our investors.” Kumbaya.

Boyd, oddly enough, liked the idea of a higher guiding principle. He wrote:

A review and further manipulation of the ideas and thoughts that make up these different ways suggest that for success over the long haul and under the most difficult conditions, one needs some unifying vision that can be used to attract the uncommitted as well as pump up friendly resolve and drive and drain away or subvert adversary resolve and drive. In other words, what is needed is a vision rooted in human nature so noble, so attractive that it not only attracts the uncommitted and magnifies the spirit and strength of its adherents, but also undermines the dedication and determination of any competitors or adversaries. Patterns of Conflict, 143.

It turns out Boyd may have been on to something. A recent article in Quartz references a new book, Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness:

While researching their book, Stulberg and Magness interviewed countless scientists and world-renowned athletes. They found that people who exhibited this kind of “superhuman” strength were able to do so only when they chose to focus on a purpose greater than themselves.

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Amazing what you can find on Google

Like an essay by an Israeli general that originally appeared in Hebrew in an Israeli defense journal in September 1949 (that would be coming up on 66 years ago).

Boyd extracted a paragraph from it as Chart 99 of Patterns of Conflict. Chuck Spinney, some 35 years after Boyd incorporated it, got worried about the source and after a few minutes, found the original.  We have now added a citation to that slide.

Chuck made the following observation:

If you think about it, this is Israel’s strategy — as well as its grand strategy — to this day: Divide up its opponents. This becomes clear in the use of settlements and Israeli-only roads to carve up and control the West Bank and in its failing effort to isolate Iran. Of course, strategy is destructive and these ideas work to destroy your adversary, but grand strategy should be constructive, it should end the conflict on favorable terms that do not also sow seeds for future conflict. Applying concepts from strategy, such as these from Gen. Yadin, to shape a grand strategy is a prescription for perpetual conflict and destruction (ultimately your own)!

Chuck, incidentally, is echoing Boyd’s observation that strategy is destructive while grand strategy should be constructive, which Boyd put on Chart 142 of Patterns. The notion that grand strategy should “end the conflict on favorable terms, while ensuring that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict” is from Chart 139.

Chuck has a nice treatment of grand strategy on his Blaster blog, and all of Boyd’s briefings, including the newly revised Patterns of Conflict, can be downloaded from our Articles page.