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America’s Anti-Agoge

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

“….Instead of softening their feet with shoe or sandal, his rule was to make them hardy through going barefoot. This habit, if practiced, would, as he believed, enable them to scale heights more easily and clamber down precipices with less danger.”

– Xenophon, The Polity of the Lacedaemonians

Be quiet! In your position, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman! Then why the fuck did you accept the position? Who the fuck hired you? You should step down! If that is what you think of being headmaster, you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!”
Jerelyn Luther, the Shrieker of Yale

“I personally am tired of hearing that first amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here.”

– Brenda Smith-Lezama, Vice President of the Missouri Students Association 

Much has been written this week of the protests at Mizzou and Yale universities now sparking more absurd copycats elsewhere.  Pundits have covered the dangerous illiberalism of campus political correctness and speculated that the students are the result of a generation of helicopter parenting. There were earlier essays recently on the “coddled” nature of elite university students generally and skewered Ivy League students in particular as the products of a deeply flawed, intellectually shallow,”meritocratic” rat race that serves as the gateway to the nation’s elite. There have also been conservative suggestions that the students lack the maturity to vote and a furious counterattack by social-justice faction lefties defending the students and their authoritarian anti-free speechsafe space” ideology.

While all interesting and moderately important, I don’t think any of this gets to the heart of the matter.

Up until today, every society in history has had a process, formal or informal, to prepare the next generation of leadership and inculcate virtues in them that would assure their society’s cultural continuity and physical survival. The ancient Chinese mandarinate was based on mastery of Confucian classics; the British Empire had its public schools and storied regiments where the sons of the gentry and peerage bonded; the samurai and daimyo of Tokugawa Japan continued to uphold bushido and cherish antique tactics in warfare centuries after Japan’s unification made such things more ritual than reality.

The definitive example of an educational rite of passage from student to member of the ruling class however, remains the Agoge of ancient Sparta. Established, according to Spartan legend, by the semi-mythical law-giver Lycurgus, the agoge (“the upbringing”) existed to mold Spartan boys through a ferocious training regime into the hoplite soldier-citizens who comprised the social apex of Sparta’s militaristic oligarchy. The agoge ceaselessly battered the students with physical exertion, corporal punishment, exposure to the elements and hunger in a bid to harden them  in mind and body. There’s much about life under the agoge that moderns, even admirers of classical Greece, would find distasteful or even appalling, but it was very effective at inculcating that ascetic toughness, communal discipline, martial prowess and laconic wit that Spartans prized.  For at least three centuries, the agoge helped sustain Sparta’s qualitative military edge and its hegemony over the Greek world and subsequently, its political independence for two centuries more. Not a record that was frequently matched in history.

America too has a system of education to prepare – or rather, certify – our future business, academic, judicial and political leaders based on matriculation at a small number of highly selective, elite universities and liberal arts colleges. Broadly speaking, this includes roughly the top 100 higher education institutions ranked by US News & World Report and narrowly, for filling the very top tiers of finance, law and government service, the Ivy League plus a handful of comparable schools. This would place Mizzou at the bottom of the barrel of our elite education system while Yale is at the very pinnacle. The kids going to exclusive, elite, universities are very bright for the most part, but even more so they are wealthy.

This upper class status includes the campus protestors screaming loudest about their wretched oppression. The hunger striker of Mizzou’s father is a multi-multi-millionaire while the Shrieker of Yale reportedly comes from the relative poverty of her parents $750,000 home. The aggressive authoritarianism on display at Yale, Mizzou, Amherst, Dartmouth or Claremont is less the “Rage of a Privileged Class” than the petulant tantrum of the 1%.  In other words, despite their heroic efforts at a public pathos orgy of political correctness to portray themselves as victims in grave danger as they bullied and assaulted professors other students, these are spoiled rich kids used to getting their way, pitching an unholy fit to get undeserved power over others who disagree.

However obnoxious and unlikable these petty tyrants are or how totalitarian their demands to end free speech and academic freedom, fire and expel all their critics or put social-justice commissars in charge of every university department, they didn’t educate themselves. The students embody, perhaps in a more militant form, what they were taught. The problem isn’t that this year has a random surplus of student radicals, or that sinister racist conspiracies exist in the administrations of our most left-wing universities as protestors claim or that these helicoptered students are all psychologically fragile waifs raised in a culture of self-love and psychodrama. No, the problem is that the system to educate our future leaders tends to inculcate deep hostility and loathing toward their fellow Americans, extolls anti-empirical, witch-hunting dogmatism as a virtue while rewarding narcissism and anti-social aggression in interpersonal relations. This needs to change.

We have built an American anti-Agoge that cultivates values, ethics and habits in future leaders that are politically repulsive in their authoritarian rejection of Constitutional rights and are antithetical to ruling wisely or well. At times they would seem to conflict with a life as a functionally competent human being. Half of all Yale students in this pressure-cooker require at least some mental health counseling. This is an astounding statistic. Imagine if Polybius or Livy had written that half of the sons of the Patrician class were at least slightly mad. A toxic ruling class that is certain that they have been victimized by the citizens they govern and who lack the normal resilience to withstand minor stresses of life without concocting conspiracy theories or taking to their bed is a recipe for disaster. In a liberal democratic state such as ours, dependent as it is on the values of an open society to function politically, this state of affairs is a sign of political decay and creeping oligarchy.

What is to be done?

We did not arrive at this juncture overnight and fixing a fundamentally broken academic culture will take time, but here are a few simple suggestions to start.

  1. Legislation to Secure Academic Freedom, Due Process and Free Speech on Campus:  This will defang the PC bullies, social justice warriors and their allies in university administration by hamstringing their ability to coerce and punish dissent. Obviously, this will be easier in public universities but these provisions could be attached to receiving Federal funds, including guaranteed student loans.
  2. Draconian Reduction of University Administrative Positions relative to Tenured Faculty: This will save a great deal of money better spent elsewhere in by axing bureaucracy while de-funding and disempowering the diversity commissariat on campus that is the source of much illiberal mischief. Again, this is a matter more for state level action initially.
  3. Restore a Core Undergraduate Canon rooted in Real Courses in Real Academic Fields: This will reduce the Melissa Click problem of academic sinecures for full-time radical political activists posing as professors with Fifty Shades of Gray “scholarship”. The money saved by getting rid of an army of administrators in #2 leaves a lot of room to hire mathematicians, biologists, historians, economists, physicists, philosophers and linguists who earned a doctorate in something real.
  4. Require Elite universities Receiving Federal Funds to allocate 20% of their Student Body to Students from Middle-Class, Lower Middle Class and Working Class backgrounds, Geographically Balanced: I have mixed feelings about this in principle, but it would definitely break up the overwhelming UC-UMC Superzip monoculture at our gateway institutions and bring new talent and perspectives into our ruling class that the university administrators at present work extremely hard to systematically exclude. It will also increase social mobility and provide competition for the progeny of our game-rigging “meritocratic” elite.


None of these will usher in a utopia. Much of radical academia will muddle through doing what they have been doing until retirement, but the system itself will be on a trajectory for better health rather than for getting steadily worse.

Military Reform through Education

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
Photo of Don Vandergriff instructing with a map

Don Vandergriff facilitating Adaptive Soldier/Leader exercises at Fort Benning

Fred Leland at LESC Blog recently had a guest post up by Dan Grazier from the Project on Government Oversight regarding the important work Don Vandergriff is doing to reform professional military education and training:

Military Reform Through Education: From The Straus Military Reform Project, Something We In Policing Can Learn From

….I had the privilege of experiencing this process with a group of 30 soldiers and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians learning about adaptive leadership and mission command. All were teachers from various courses at Fort Benning sent by their senior leaders seeking to infuse new ideas into their organizations. They spent a week learning how to incorporate adaptability into their courses during a seminar taught by CDI military advisor Don Vandergriff and his colleagues with Yorktown Systems Group.

The Adaptive Soldier/Leader Training & Education (ASLTE) seminar aims to move the Army away from outdated assembly-line training methods that teach soldiers to mindlessly execute checklists. Instead, the seminar shows soldiers how to incorporate creative and interactive methods that challenge both students and teachers. This results in empowered soldiers at all levels able to adapt to any situation. [….]

….Don Vandergriff, a retired Army major, has been on the front lines of personnel reform for many years. While he is most noted for his work at the service level, these seminars seek to transform the Army from the bottom up.

Approximately 20 soldiers and 10 civilian educators spent the week learning various teaching methods through experiential learning, which flips the traditional method military students are used to. Most training today follows the “crawl, walk, run” theory all service members are familiar with. Students are generally expected to complete reading assignments, sit through a PowerPoint lecture, and then finally conduct field training to reinforce what they have learned.

The seminar exposed students to new methods by putting the practical exercises first. For example, the seminar uses several Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) to encourage students to rapidly develop a plan for a military problem presented by the facilitators. TDGs can be created for nearly any kind of a situation, but this course mostly used actual battlefield problems like how to capture a bridge or defeat an enemy force entrenched on a hilltop. While working through these problems, the students are exposed to such concepts as Mission Command and the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act decision cycle, commonly called the OODA Loop or Boyd Cycle.
It is only after the practical exercises that they receive reading assignments about those concepts. Because they’ve encountered them during the exercises, the concepts become more tangible. The OODA Loop, for instance, explains an individual’s or an organization’s decision-making process. It is a difficult concept to truly understand, but it becomes easier when one first sees how it works and then reads about it. The idea is to give them a moment of discovery, that “Ah ha!” moment. Success using such methods is to have a student say, “So, that’s what you call that,” while reading.

Don is making use of several powerful learning methodologies in his Adaptive Leadership philosophy – and I saying “learning” and not “teaching” because Don has properly put the emphasis on the student actively thinking and doing rather than on passively listening to a lecture or discussion. Lecture has a place in education, to explain or to set the student up for new learning experiences, but it should be used sparingly and in short bursts of time when the instructor has carefully set up a “teachable moment”. By having the students doing active problem solving first, they come to Vandergriff armed with their own questions, eager to have feedback.

The use of games are also a very powerful learning tool, perhaps one of the most effective because the situational learning. tends to be transferrable rather than be compartmentalized and isolated information. The right kind of decision games are serious practice for life. This was noted by RAND social scientists way back during the early days of the Cold War:

“The gamers argued that insights arose from immersion in play. In 1956 Joseph Goldstein noted that the war game demonstrated ‘ the organic nature of complex relationships’ that daily transactions obscured.War-gaming gripped its participants, whipping up the convulsions of diplomacy ‘ more forcefully…than could be experienced through lectures or books’.”

” A team from the Social Science Division [ at RAND ] posed a number of questions which they hoped the unfoldig month of gaming would resolve. Chief among them was whether gaming could be used as a forecasting technique ‘ for sharpening our estimates of the probable consequences of policies pursued by various governments’. Would gaming spark “political inventiveness“, and more importantly, how did it compare to conventional policy analysis? Did gaming uncover problems that might otherwise be neglected? And invoking the emerging touchstone of intuition, did the experience impart to policy analysts and researchers “ a heightened sensitivity to problems of political strategy and policy consequences?”

  Sharon Ghamari- Tabrizi, The Worlds of Herman Kahn

Back to the article:

….Vandergriff’s teaching method incorporates recent research into adult learning, designed “to engage students in direct experiences which are tied to real world problems and situations in which the instructor facilitates rather than directs student progress.” This creates a situation where the students learn from one another. Unlike most other military classes, the ASLTE teachers use very few PowerPoint presentations. They also end up speaking far less than the students themselves.

Vandergriff ran the class through the first TDG and led the discussion afterward. From that point forward, students took turns leading the class through After Action Reviews. Students gained confidence in leading such an exercise while the rest of the class bounced ideas off each other. The interactive nature of this kept the entire class engaged and gave all of them ownership of their own learning.

The concept of ownership was a consistent theme throughout the seminar. According to Vandergriff, a good teacher “works to make his students better than himself and encourages them to take ownership of their development, to make them life-long learners.”

Here Don is making use of the social pressure and reinforcement of a Peer to Peer (P2P) dynamic to maintain maximum student engagement while having them practice critical intellectual reflection, something that is a vital constituent of a professional culture of learning. A true professional embraces an honest discussion of ideas and both accepts and gives critical feedback on performance in hopes of learning and improving.

Read more regarding Don Vandergriff’s adaptive leadership methods here and here.

Creativity and Ennui

Friday, August 16th, 2013

[Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]

Creativity is a subject that has  interested me, going back to the days long, long ago when I was an art student. Creativity is only mildly correlated with IQ, but like “intelligence”, the deeper you delve into the study of  creativity and creative thinking the more “creativity” looks like a multifaceted, multidimensional and diverse set of capacities, habits and circumstances than it does a single, universal, characteristic or ability.

Creativity has been studied from a neuroscientific, psychological, evolutionary,  behavioral, economic and social perspective but what of creativity”s opposite?  What about Ennui?

From a cognitive perspective, the two may be flip sides of the same coin, note the correlation between highly   creative  people and incidence of depression. It may also be a sign of overuse of certain brain functions, like adrenal exhaustion from an excess of physical and mental stress over a long period of time. Creativity, being in “the flow” is intoxicating but it usually involves peak exertion which accumulates weariness. Exemplary performance in one area can also come at the expense of penalties in another area.

Or perhaps ennui is the natural, cyclical ebb and flow between generative conceptual fertility and barrenness, the brain preparing itself for the next creative “surge” to come?

When are you creative and when are you not?

The Controversial CTC Report

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:

First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminalinsurgency of  the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.

The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement”  where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis,  these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:

….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government.  They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights.  Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government

….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the  Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist  practices,and libertarian ideas 

This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.

By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist,  Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.

As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.

I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.

Boyd and Beyond Local DC Event

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Jim Hasik’s White Board Outline


At the suggestion of Adam Elkus, we were privileged to host our first “local” Boyd and Beyond event on 15 December. We had 14 attend, and five speakers. Logistically, we turned our family room in to a fairly comfortable briefing area, using a wall with Smart Sheets as a temporary white board. In keeping with our October events, we took up a collection and had pizza delivered for lunch. Coffee, soft drinks light snacks were provided. Each speaker was allotted 50 minutes, but given the participation of the audience, most talks lasted about 90 minutes. I should emphasize to those planning one of these events, to keep a lean speaker’s list, as the Q&A and discussion can easily double the time of a presentation—-and I believe all who attended would agree the comments/discussion made already great presentations even better.

My sincere thanks go out to my wife and partner, Kristen, for making this event look easy! She was the one who made sure everything was moving along and that folks felt at home. I would encourage others around the country to schedule and hold events through the year. We’re looking to do another in March 2013.

Our speakers were:

Jim Hasik, Beyond Hagiography: Problems of Logic and Evidence in the Strategic Theories of John Boyd

Francis Park, The Path to Maneuver Warfare in the U.S. Marine Corps

Robert Cantrell,  Which Card Will You Play?

Terry Barnhart, Designing and Implementing Maneuver Strategy in Transforming Major Organizations

Marshall Wallace, Theories of Change and Models of Prediction

I led off with a few comments on the military professional and intellectual rigor. I recommended the best book I’ve read this year: Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, by Jon Tetsuro Sumida, and the challenges he suggests in the realm of intellectual rigor. He writes:

“It remains to be seen whether readers exist with the mind and will to accept his guidance on what necessarily is an arduous intellectual and moral voyage into the realm of war and politics.” (emphasis added)

I followed with the example from An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941, by Charles E. Kirkpatrick. Mr. Kirkpatrick’s little book provides an excellent primer to the formulation of the United States’ WWII strategy and a refreshing insight into the education of an master strategist, then Major Albert C. Wedemeyer, attached to the War Plans Division, the Army chief of staff’s strategic planners, who wrote the Army strategy for WWII in 90 days. (read the review here) I suggested that military professionals should start something akin to a book club, where they can discuss and debate strategic issues and concept.

Following my comments, Jim Hasik offered his critique of John Boyd’s work. Adam tweeted that we were a “tough crowd,” but Jim was able to discuss his misgivings with respect to Boyd’s work and a lively discussion got us started. For those unfamiliar, Jim is the author of a paper called, Beyond Hagiography, which generated controversy in the Boydian community following this year’s October event at Quantico. (reviewed here and at zenpundit.comHere is a link to the paper. (see Hasik’s white board outline above).

According to Hasik, Boyd erred when extrapolating from physical processes/science to social processes. He reviewed Boyd’s use of science in his essay, Destruction and Creation, and suggested no literal correlation between Clausius’ Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and human behavior (on this I concur with Hasik, as analogy or metaphor these scientific principles enlighten).  Hasik asked if OODA scales from air-to-air combat to large scale events, and whether OODA was original (compared to PDCA, for example). One point that generated quite a bit of discussion was whether one could “like” Clausewitz or Sun Tzu and Boyd. Hasik questioned whether Boyd’s work should be judged as social science, history, or war studies, and suggested that further work was needed to fill in the gaps in his work. In October, someone suggested Boyd needed a “Plato,” someone to address Boyd’s work with less emphasis on science (as in Osinga’s book), thereby making Boyd’s work more accessible. The Strassler model was suggested; Strassler is an “unaffiliated scholar” who has written exhaustively referenced versions of ThucydidesHerodotus, and Arrian. [personal note: I believe a Strassler-like book on Boyd’s ideas would be a great resource] A great thought-provoking conversation.

Francis Park’s White Board


Francis Park’s talk on on maneuver warfare, the evidence of history began with “I’m a historian and I have a problem.” The irony wasn’t lost on the audience, as Francis is an active duty Army officer, speaking on the history of the USMC’s adoption of maneuver warfare (MW). Park called the Marine Corps “the most Darwinian of the services.” The venue for for the Corps discussion between MW advocates, and the “attritionists” was the Marine Corps Gazette. This venue was “unofficial,” otherwise the debate may have never happened. The Gazette’s forward-thinking editor made space and encouraged the debate, which was a “long, bitter, and complex fight.”

Park listed and discussed the champions of MW Michael D. Wyly, G.I. Wilson, William Woods, William Lind, and Alfred M. Gray. Park recommended Fideleon Damian’s master’s thesis, THE ROAD TO FMFM 1: THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS AND MANEUVER WARFARE DOCTRINE, 1979-1989. (Adam Elkus recommended Eric Walters essay in the Small Wars Journal, titled Fraud or Fuzziness? Dissecting William Owen’s Critique of Maneuver Warfare.)

Park called the USMC adoption of MW a “confluence of fortune” that may have never happened without the vigorous efforts of proponents.

Robert Cantrell’s Which Card Will You Play? was an instructive and interactive example of Robert’s strategy cards. Cantrell has two decks of strategy playing cards, one devoted to strategy, the other to sales strategy. The user’s guide is at www.artofwarcards.com.

Robert provided examples of how the cards are used to spark strategic thought and ideas. Volunteers pulled first one, then two cards from the decks, and read aloud and commented on how the statement(s) on the cards could be used in practice. For example, “Muddy The Water To Hide the Nets” was drawn (the 8 of clubs, a bit more on card suits from Robert below). The “strategy” is to “confuse your adversary so he cannot perceive your intentions. The “Basis” is “Confused adversaries make mistakes they would not make if they grasped your intentions.”

Longtime friend of this blog, Fred Leland at Law Enforcement Security Consulting is using the cards with success. Fred’s goal is “to get cops thinking more strategically and tactically in their work. I have been pulling a card from the deck and writing my thoughts and sharing them with cops who have been passing them along to their officers.” He is using Robert’s cards for “in-service” training, and providing a low cost entry into strategic thinking.

I followed up with Robert and asked for an explanation of the card suits. Here is his response:

Hi Scott – although they are gray delineations, the Hearts are oriented on the shaping self, the Clubs on shaping the field of contest…the diamonds are isolation strategies, and the spades are elimination strategies. This is the wolf pattern on the hunt: wolf becomes all the wolf it can be, shapes the hunt, isolates a member from the heard, brings that member down. With aces high – and again also gray – the higher cards tend to be strategies used from a greater abundance of strength and the lower numbers from comparative weakness in strength. Of course from here we can talk about gaining relative advantage if we cannot have absolute advantage to gain strength for a critical moment…and so on

Terry Barnhart spoke on Boydian organizational applications in a talk called Designing and Implementing Maneuver Strategy in Transforming Major Organizations. Terry said any organizational change had to be accomplished on the realms of the moral, mental, and the physical. With that in mind, he advised mapping the social networks of the organization and speaking in “the language of the culture” and “asking for what you need” when attempting to transformation. The end goal is “aligned autonomy,” and Terry’s recommended method of choice is taken from Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict,Slide 80:

Patterns of Conflict, Slide 80


Search out the “surfaces and gaps”, as reference from Slide 86, POC. In Boyd’s language:

•Present many (fast breaking) simultaneous and sequential happenings to generate confusion and disorder—thereby stretch-out time for adversary to respond in a directed fashion.

•Multiply opportunities, to uncover, create, and penetrate gaps, exposed flanks, and vulnerable rears. [emphasis added]

Create and multiply opportunities to splinter organism and envelop disconnected remnants thereby dismember adversary thru the tactical, grand tactical, and strategic levels. [emphasis added]

In Terry’s words, “be everywhere at once” and establish relationships that result in buy-in, avoiding “no,” as Terry advised it can take a couple of years to overcome an objection. As aligned autonomy is reached, word will get around about the successes, and all of sudden what was a single agent of change becomes a movement. So Terry is recommending methods in maneuver warfare as a method in transforming organization culture.

During Terry’s talk, Dave recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie as a guide in navigating the bureaucracy and obstacles often found in large organizations.

Marshall Wallace’s White Board


Marshall Wallace’s Theories of Change and Models of Prediction was our final presentation. Marshall has emerged as one of the leading thinkers among Boydeans. Wallace said, “people are lazy” as he led off his discussion of change models. [personal note: I’ve come to refer to this laziness as “neurological economy”] His thinking was influence by Daniel Kaneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and the Heath brother’s Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard. When change is desired, clarity is an absolute must have. Wallace offered the four models above as example of change. He said we must ask: “What is the change we want to see?” and ” What are the pre-conditions?”—instead of this model, most people begin with the idea, which more often than not, fails.

Wallace walked our group through the models and emphasized the importance of tempo and used his wife’s efforts to establish dog parks in their city. Everything in government has a process, and Wallace said in this case “going slower than the politicians” paid off. Also, for programs of change, it is best if there is 100% transparency of goals. Both Marshall and Terry recommended a book called The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. The most powerful model for me was the one in the lower right corner—particular the use of “more people” and “key” people in any effort to affect change.

Post meeting, Wallace posted the following to our Facebook group wall, that rounds out and expands his thinking:

I was on the plane back to Boston yesterday morning, deeply engrossed in Terry’s book [Creating a Lean R&D System] when a phrase leapt into my head: “Target the whole organism”.

As the Michaels in our lives (Moore and Polanyi) remind us, “we know more than we can say”. I feel that quite clearly and I constantly struggle with language. I am never satisfied with any presentation I give because I know that, due to failures on my part to use the perfect word at the right moment, I left some understanding on the table.

Somehow the weekend, with spectacular conversation, a good night’s sleep, the enforced idleness of air travel, and Terry’s superb book, shook something loose.

Target the whole organism.

What flashed through my mind at that moment were pieces of the talks.

Jim prompted discussion of what the next set of books about/on/adding to Boyd should look like.

Francis drew a pie wedge with “firepower” on one edge of the pie and “maneuver” on the other. He was describing two schools of thought on conflict as represented by these extremes. Everybody seemed to agree that the balance lay somewhere in the middle and was definitely related to the context.

Robert’s exercises with his strategy decks shook countless examples of strategic action and insight loose in our minds. The combination of cards, taking one from each of the competition and collaboration decks, was especially exciting.

Terry laid out his plan to blitzkrieg his company, and invited us to make it better.

I ended with a 4-cell matrix demonstrating the four basic categories under which all Theories of Change operate (more on this later). Experience has shown that most people operate out of an implicit Theory that traps them in one quadrant, whereas social change only occurs if all four quadrants are affected.

Target the whole organism.

I got home and opened up “The Strategic Game of ? and ?”. Interaction and Isolation.

Firepower and maneuver – at the same time. Competition and collaboration at the same time.

Boyd side-by-side with his sources and several commentators. CEO, discouraged middle-managers, and the line at the same time. More People and Key People at both the individual level and the structural level all at the same time.

Target the whole organism.

A force that uses maneuver to confuse and firepower to destroy will dominate. A force that can swing rapidly between extremes and also find balance is even more slippery than one that acknowledges the “necessary” balance. The two practices can be in separate parts of the battlespace (context matters), but because both are occurring, the confusion generated may well be more intense. It looks as though the force is two distinct armies and communication among the enemy may be unintelligible because the threats being faced are so different.

Bringing collaborative concepts into competitive spaces or vice versa while not abandoning the underlying logic of the space opens up more options, challenges notions, and expands horizons. Can we interact and isolate at the same time? What does that snowmobile look like?

If we want to effect social change, we need to target the whole system. We can sequence our efforts in time, though we can’t forget to move as quickly as the circumstances allow. At the same time, every effort must be connected to the whole organism.

The target is not the target. I do not aim at the eye of the fish. I don’t wan’t to hit the bullseye.

I want to pick up the whole madding crowd of intense archers, cynical kings, and wildly cheering spectators and move them.

This was the first “local” event, and based on the response, we’ll be doing these a few times a year. Many thanks to all who participated, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to  you all!

UPDATE: Dave shared these with our group. Francis said, “We live and die by bumper stickers.” Here is a good example:


Here is Dave’s interpretation of the Sufi elephant:




Cross-posted at To Be or To Do.

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