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Chet on TEMPO….Rao on OODA

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011


At Fabius Maximus, Dr. Chet Richards reviews TEMPO by Dr. Venkat Rao, enjoying the book as much as I did, if not more. Chet has some particularly incisive comments, positive and critical, in his review, which I suggest you read in full:

Book Review: Tempo

…Rao draws on Boyd in several places, as well on sources ranging from the topical, such as Gladwell and Taleb, to the foundational (e.g., Camus and Clausewitz), to the downright obscure – know anything about The Archeology of Garbage? Do the words wabi and sabi ring a bell?

The result is a synthesis, what Boyd called a “snowmobile,” that combines concepts from across a variety of disciplines to produce a cornucopia of new ideas, insights and speculations. You may be confused, challenged, outraged, and puzzled (some of the language can be academic), but you’ll rarely be bored because every chapter, often every page, has something you can add to the parts bin for building your own snowmobiles.

Let me highlight just a couple, of special interest to folks familiar with Boyd’s concepts. Near the end of the book, Rao introduces an expanded version of “legibility”:

A piece of physical reality is legible if it is obviously the product of coherent human agency, a deliberate externalization of a mental model. When human and natural sources of order are harder to tease apart, you get greater illegibility (p. 133 – and I warned you about the academic language).

Then a couple of paragraphs later, he claims that:

Used with adversarial intentions, Boyd’s OODA can be understood as a deliberate use of illegibility to cause failure.

At first, this seems silly. Boyd only considers conflict between groups of human beings (Patterns of Conflict, 10), so all uses of his strategic concepts would seem to be prima facia examples of legible phenomena. On the other hand, and this is an example of what makes Rao’s little book so valuable, some commentators, such as Stalk and Hout in 1990’s Competing Against Time, point out that victims of a Boyd-style attack can rarely identify the cause of their problems – often blaming bad luck or incompetent, self-serving and treacherous idiots in their own organizations. Boyd made this clear in his own work, such as in Patterns of Conflict, 132, when he suggested that his victims would exhibit a variety of traumatic symptoms including confusion, disorder, panic, chaos, paralysis and collapse – indicating unrelenting attack by forces outside the scope of their own mental models…

Chet concludes with a suggestion for Venkat (with which I concur):

…As for where to go from here, Rao might write more about tempo. This will seem strange to him, I’m sure, but pages go by with hardly a mention of the concept. This means that we need another book from him. I’d suggest expanding on some of the concepts that he raises but doesn’t find space to develop. Here are three ideas: […]

But you will have to go over to Fabius Maximus to read the rest. Venkat, in turn responded to Chet over at his blog, Ribbonfarm:

Chet Richards’ Review of Tempo on Fabius Maximus

….Overall, Chet comes to the conclusion that Tempo resonates with the Boydian spirit of decision-making. I don’t entirely get out of jail free though:

Perhaps his unfamiliarity with the original briefings, however, led him to  make one characterization that is incorrect, although widely believed:

The central idea in OODA is a generalization of Butterfly-Bee: to simply operate at a higher tempo than your opponent. (118)

Guilty as charged. I didn’t spend enough time exploring how OODA gets beyond merely “faster tempo” to “inside the adversary’s tempo.” That’s something I hope to explore in a more nuanced way in a future edition. Over the last 6-8 months, I think I’ve come to understand the subtleties a lot better, and the challenge is to now spend more time thinking through clear definitions and examples….

I think everyone who has explored the OODA Loop concept, including John Boyd himself, initially gravitated to the aspect of cycling “faster” than one’s oponent because it is a natural assumption that resonates with our own experiences. We have all seen competitions where one player or athlete was “quicker” in reading situations and arriving at the right intuitive decision – usually most of us have been both the faster as well as the slower and more hesitant person. It’s the first scenario that springs to mind and being “faster” gives an obvious comparative advantages. Obvious does not mean “only” though.

What made the “faster” interpretation of OODA Loop really stick in the culture though, IMHO, was this unfortunate but easily understood graphic:


As a result, we get critical arguments that the OODA Loop is really something germane only to binary situations similar to the high pressure aerial combat that Boyd experienced in the Korean War or as a tactical fighter pilot instructor (or Musashi’s sword fighting) and not something generally useful in military strategy. An odd argument, given that Clausewitz liked to use binary metaphors to describe the nature of war.

The next graphic, which better illustrates the simultanaeity and dynamic nature of the OODA Loop, with other potential avenues of exploitation than just going “faster” (which will swiftly hit diminishing returns in any event) does not lend itself as easily to nearly instant comprehension:


With these cognitive relationships operating continuously, mostly subconsciously with automaticity and in an iterative fashion, a different set of meanings to the phrase “inside your oponent’s OODA Loop” than just going “faster”, like a formula one race car zooming around a track.

OODA and “Strategy Making Process” for Business

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Handbook of Research on Strategy Process by Pietro  Mazzola and Franz W. Kellermans (Ed.)

Dr. Chet Richards has contributed to an important new theoretical book on strategic applications to business enterprises. For those newer readers, Chet is an authoritative source on strategy, particularly the theories of Colonel John Boyd and is the former proprietor of the late, great, strategy website DNI. I have learned a great deal over the years from Colonel Richards and heartily recommend his Certain to Win to anyone looking for the strategic edge.

For readers with a corporate credit card or departmental budget ( the book is *really* expensive) and a deep, academic or professional interest in strategic theory and thinking, this book is for you. I may require Inter-Library Loan. 🙂

As Chet describes it:

Deep stuff – very academic – but covers the waterfront of the research (i.e., as distinguished from the speculation) on the process of strategy.  As the co-editors describe it:

While strategy content focuses on the subject of the decision, strategy process focuses on actual decision making and its associated actions.  Strategy process research examines the process underpinning strategy formulation and implementation. … Although aimed primarily at the academic community, many of the contributions speak to a wider audience.

Expensive, but if you’re into this sort of thing, probably indispensable.

Fingerspitzengefühl, Jawohl!

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Dr. Chet Richards gives a concise and practical explanation of the intuitive strategic-tactical skill, Fingerspitzengefühl.

Developing the touch

Ibis raised an interesting question in one of his comments:  If Fingerspitzengefühl can be taught, why do so few people have it?

Two points:  First, Fingerspitzengefühl is a skill, so although most people can get better at it, some are going to get a lot better.

Second, it’s a strange kind of skill, not for performing complicated or even dangerous tasks mystically well, but for sensing what is going on among groups of people in conflict and then influencing what happens.

….The first problem in learning Fingerspitzengefühl is that you can’t learn it by yourself.  You have to have at least two groups of people to practice with – your team and some opponents.  And to develop this skill, you have to practice a lot, because people, unlike clubs, don’t obey laws as simple as f=m•a.  And you have to practice influencing your own team – call that “leadership” – while also influencing the opposition – call that “strategy.”  And you have to learn it in increasingly unstructured and even threatening situations, under varying time constraints. This is the concept behind Vandergriff’s adaptive leader methodology, which I’ve referred to before….

Read the whole thing here.


My thoughts on fingerspitzengefuhl.


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

For those interested in .mil theory…..

First, SWJ Blog reported today that the old, now defunct, DNI site of Dr. Chet Richards is being preserved as an online archive:

DNI alive again. Sort of…

Thanks, Mandy, for the info and for your role in bringing DNI back to a state of suspended animation.

DNI had a ten year run, closing its doors at http://d-n-i.net last November. There’s a site of loosely the same title there now, but it’s not the same site.

The Project on Government Oversight was involved with the start up of DNI, and is behind its Lazarus reincarnation. No new content is being posted, but the archives are alive again now for those who want to explore them. The new site is http://dnipogo.org/

In a recent email exchange, Dr. Richards indicated to me that he wanted everyone to be aware that he no longer owns or controls the old domain name for DNI which has been purchased by an unrelated company; those interested in the treasure trove of DNI articles on strategy, John Boyd, military affairs, 4GW or other concepts should go to the Project on Government Oversight page indicated above. Chet, by the way, can be found blogging at Fast Transients and his post follows:

DNI Relaunches

Defense and the National Interest, the real one, not the faux site now at d-n-i.net, has relaunched courtesy of our friends at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

For the time being, it’s an archive – new content isn’t being added – and we’re still in the process of tracking down some of the original files.  Please let POGO know when you find broken links.

When DNI launched in 1999 it was unique:  The only site devoted to furthering the concepts originated by the late USAF Col John Boyd, and its original mission was to house Chuck Spinney’s commentary that applied Boyd’s strategy, and his own insightful analysis, to issues concerning national security.  Today, there are any number of sites that provide cutting edge commentary, including zenpundit, John Robb, Tom Barnett, and Fabius Maximus.  Please visit them and contribute.

POGO’s press release announcing the reposting of DNI follows after the fold…..

Secondly, in a more esoteric vein, those interested in 5GW can reference this resource put together by Curtis Gale Weeks that contains about 95% of what has ever been written on the subject of “Fifth Generation Warfare” by a wide variety of authors including TX Hammes, John Robb, Thomas PM Barnett, William Lind and many others ( hat tip to Dr. Dan  Dr. tdaxp, who has edited the soon to be released by Nimble Books,  The Handbook of 5GW ):

5GW Theory Timeline

Nixon the Liberal

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Dr. Chet Richards argues the case.

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