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Getting it: Pundita on John Boyd

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I’d like to thank Pundita  for her marvelous review. Not because it was laudatory, though that aspect is much appreciated but because she was not, prior to reading The John Boyd Roundtable , particularly familiar with the theories of Colonel John Boyd beyond a few passing references. She instantly “got it” and drew a wonderful analogy in her piece with one of Boyd’s contemporaries who also thought deeply about conflict. This is exactly what we had hoped the book would do – be a gateway to insight:

Colonel John Boyd and the revolution within

The book is the perfect gift for friends and relatives who complain that you spend too much time on the blogosphere. The Roundtable book arose from a cooperative effort by bloggers from a variety of disciplines and who analyze what is arguably the best book ever written on Boyd’s ideas — Colonel Frans Osinga’s Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd.Because this era is one of unrestricted warfare you can’t really understand the times unless you understand something of Boyd’s thinking and contributions to military strategy. So the book reflects the blogosphere at its most useful because Boyd’s ideas can be difficult to approach, even for those versed in military history.

…Boyd’s Thunder and Lightning shop profoundly influenced the U.S. military’s approach to warfare. He died at the age of 70, a year before al Qaeda’s one-two punch in 1998 against U.S. embassies officially launched the era of unrestricted warfare.The U.S. government’s lumbering and wholly ineffective response to the attacks underscored that the “business as usual” mindset in Washington had confined Boyd’s ideas to narrow parameters. It took almost four years of the U.S. military stumbling around in Iraq before men steeped in Boyd’s ideas were finally let loose on the situation.

I venture that John Boyd was the closest the modern U.S. military ever came to Bruce Lee’s view. But as with Lee it was easier to understand Boyd in person — in Boyd’s case, in marathon lecture sessions and the give-and-take of dialogue and debate.

…The ideas couldn’t be approached from the comfortable armchair of the intellect; they had to be wrestled with in the alchemy of personal transformation, through pushing the boundaries of one’s experience, instincts, and knowledge.This process helped develop some great military thinkers but also limited the applicability of Boyd’s ideas. If there’s one thing that the top military command and its funders don’t like to hear it’s the words, “It depends.”

Read the review in full here.

Early Returns

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

On The John Boyd Roundtable:

Shlok Vaidya:

It has the uniqueness of both being able to touch off debate, but still offer a framework with which to talk about the future of warfare (or more appropriately, decision making) – in other words, it demonstrates exactly how to approach Boyd.

Michael Tanji:

The point, made in a side-discussion between myself and the editor, is that this is yet another way in which TT 2.0 works, and perhaps is an indication that the transition to a 2.0 model is well underway:

  • Virtual discussion (Time? Distance? Ha!)
  • Serious discussants (So much for online not being ‘legit’ or ‘real’)
  • Digital delivery (for the digerati)
  • Dead-tree format (for those who like it like that)

Tanji is correct. One objective here was to bridge the gap between symposium, blog and book. One set of ideas, many modalities.


Sam Liles:

As a book about a book it should also be noted that this not much different than the literary critique found in most academic journals. The bonus is that it isn’t nearly as dry. The article penned by Chet Richards discussing “The origins of John Boyd’s A discourse on winning and loosing” is the kind of in depth research that is hard to find. I am fascinated by his discussion of how the specific philosophies were brought into alignment and filled in the gaps of Boyd’s theories.

I have always been interested in how like some Greek philosopher John Boyd effectively portrayed his ideas and communicated them so diligently and never wrote a book. This is antithetical to today’s world where you write the book then get to convey your ideas if the book sells well.  Lexington Green in “Why didn’t Boyd write a book?” discusses the interactive nearing on Socratic method Boyd used with audiences. The points conveyed provide a true insight into what may be the instantiation of John Boyd’s true genius. The reason Boyd likely didn’t write a book may be so that people could continue to discuss and adapt his ideas into the future. A  point Lexington Green discusses and points out eloquently.

Lex’s essay is one of my favorite parts of the book too.


TDAXP  and TDAXP II   HG’s World    DNI

NEW BOOK – The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy and War

Monday, September 22nd, 2008


        The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War

This post has been a long time coming.

A while back, we had a a symposium at Chicago Boyz to discuss and debate the superb book Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Colonel Frans Osinga ( Softcover edition available here). It was a great discussion from which I learned far more about  the ideas of the iconoclastic military theorist John Boyd than I had ever previously considered. Not everyone involved was an admirer of John Boyd, a few were initially skeptical and we had one certified critic ( though I had tried to recruit several more). Overall, it was the kind of exchange that makes the blogosphere special as a medium when it is at it’s intellectual best.

Shortly thereafter, via Dan of tdaxp I was approached by the publisher of Nimble Books, W.F. Zimmerman, who happened to be a military history buff and who was interested in working our loose online discussion of Dr. Osinga’s prodigious tome into a book. Initially, I was somewhat dubious but I warmed to the project at the urging of tdaxp and Lexington Green, and agreed to serve as the Editor and “herder of cats” in a project that would involve a large number of contributors with very different backgrounds and some fairly dense and esoteric material on strategic theory to digest and make comprehensible to a general reader.

A wonderful experience.

We had an excellent roster of contributors for The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and WarDr. Chet Richards, Daniel Abbott, Shane Deichman, Frank Hoffman, Adam Elkus, Lexington Green, Thomas Wade and Dr. Frans Osinga, who contributed several essays. Dr. Thomas Barnett sets the intellectual tone in the foreword after which the authors brought a wide range of professional perspectives to bear – cognitive psychology, military history, physics, strategy, journalism and, of course, blogging – in a series of articles that tried to explain the essence and dimensions of John Boyd’s contribution to strategic thought.  Hopefully, we succeeded in creating an interesting and useful primer but the readers will be the ultimate judges, free to dispute our conclusions and offer contending arguments of their own.

I’d like to think that Colonel Boyd would have wanted it that way.

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