Guest Post: Shipman on Boyd and Beyond, 2010

J. Scott Shipman is the owner of a boutique consulting firm in the Metro DC area that is putting Boyd’s ideas into action.

Boyd and Beyond, 2010

by J. Scott Shipman

Boyd & Beyond 2010, 15-16 October 2010

Mr. Stan Coerr (GS-15 Marine Corps, LtCol, USMCR), coordinator. Hosted by the USMC Command and Staff College at the Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA.

This was my first Boyd conference. I discovered Boyd in early 2005 through Robert Coram’s book, BOYD, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. I did not know what to expect of the conference, and was anxious to meet guys I’d corresponded with over the last couple of years (the ones who made it: Robert Coram, Fred Leland, Don Vandergriff, and Adam Elkus); so my thinking going in was at least I’d get to meet these guys regardless, and besides Quantico is right down I-95 from my home.

As others have already observed, Boyd 2010 exceeded any expectation. It was a pleasure to be in the same room with such an impressive collection of talent and intellect and listen to what they have done and continue to do with Boyd’s work and ideas. At the end of the first day, I felt my head was going to explode—and heard many others echoing similar sentiment. I told a friend, those two days were like drinking from a fire hydrant.

As many readers are probably already aware, the reaction to the conference has been universally positive, and calls for a 2011 event have been heard and is scheduled for 14-15 October 2011 at Quantico, same location. Stan Coerr and the USMC University deserve our gratitude for this recent event and the opportunity to reconvene next year. The bar, has indeed been set high.

What follows is from my notes, and I apologize in advance if I leave out something I should have remembered. I will try and avoid repeating too much of Adam Elkus’ excellent review, so all presenters are not covered—while all presenters provided valuable and enlightening insights. At the conclusion, I’ve added the references of books and online links that I heard (there were many more) recommended, and books and articles I recommended during the conference.

The day began with a colorful introduction to Boyd by Robert Coram. He related the circumstances of how he came to write BOYD, and shared several stories of the evolution of the book and the people he met. Coram reported that as of the conference, 73,000 copies of BOYD are in print—not bad for a book about someone most people have never heard of.

Ray Leopold, PhD, (the third acolyte) gave a touching and penetrating retrospective of how he came to be associated with John Boyd, and how that association changed his life for the better. Of interest, Ray shared a common introduction that he and Boyd used when they visited other Air Force officers. They would write the following on the blackboard:


They would then cross these familiar words out, and replace with:

Pride, Power, Greed

From Boyd’s perspective, the military industrial complex and the inherent bureaucracy had (and in my humble opinion, continues) corrupted the original intent of those core principles military members are taught to embrace.

Don Vandergriff followed with a fast-paced explanation of his continuing efforts within the US Army to advocate Outcome Based Training and Education (T&E). He follows with successful practical examples of allowing his student to think and adapt-“off-script.” Vandergriff also recommended the work of Dr. Robert Bjork, Dean of the School of Psychology at UCLA, particularly his presentation “How We Learn Versus How We Think We Learn: Implications for the Organization of Army Training.”

General Paul Van Riper (LtGen, USMC, Ret) was the keynote and gave a compelling address on mental models and systems theory. Throughout his talk, he added insight into how John Boyd’s ideas found a home in the USMC. Gen Van Riper made the distinction between informational knowledge and transformational knowledge, and the “eloquent schema” that is OODA. He also discussed systems theory, and distinguished between linear systems (cause & effect), complex systems, and interactive complex systems. Of the later, he reminded that these systems are non-linear and unknowable using a deductive approach, and one output is emergent behavior(s).

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