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Visualizing Strategy


Is it right? Horribly wrong? Missing variables?

Fire away in comments.


Joseph Fouche offers up his graph of schools of strategy at The Committee of Public Safety. Note that unlike me, he has placed them in terms of “Influence…..Coercion…Violence”:

Dr. Chet Richards, in his turn, kindly drew my attention back to graph he created -if memory serves – around the time he wrote Neither Shall the Sword, but I am still trying to figure out how to convert the file to something I can post here. Until I do, go to slide 89 in the link below:
4GW and Grand Strategy

36 Responses to “Visualizing Strategy”

  1. Ed Beakley Says:

    Really quick take: worth thinking about.  Missing Confrontation->Conflict-> either back to  confrontation OR War -> confrontation.  I.e., Rupert Smith

  2. Larry Dunbar Says:

    So, your triangle is wider at the top, and vanishes to a point at the bottom. What units of measure is the top of the triangle in? Is it wider because it is constructive, while the bottom is destructive? So the units would be in resources, although it takes resources in war. Then perhaps it is measuring the velocity of those resources, as they move slower in competition than in war. Or velocity’s cousin acceleration, which when multiplied by mass (resources) becomes force. So it then appears you have a force triangle with three vectors as well as vertical divisions. Or two resultant vectors, giving the top length and one vertical force component in the middle (not shown). The two resultant vectors are building a structure from the past to the future that makes a wider gap between the two as it moves towards competition but that disappears to a point upon fear or honor (lack of) moving downward between the past and future. Nice. I have no comments on it. It looks fine to me.

  3. YNSN Says:

    Why a triangle to illustrate this?  As a gradation from specific, to general and back to specific?  

    Also looking at the graphic, it almost seems to illustrate where gaps in thinking lay.  As there is a rather significant gap between Clausewitzians and the bottom of the graphic.

  4. Fred Leland Says:

    Just had a discussion yesterday about the role interaction and an attempt to understand "Whats going on" relates to "What do we do" plays in our strategy and hence the tactics we utilize. From your diagram i sense its understanding that they are all linked and that the wider end of the triangle takes this into consideation? The narrow end is focused on attrition or force? As i look at the diagram it looks as though the colors are blurred to together or blended in an effort to show the dynamic nature of strategy and the various theories on it, through visualiation?

    These were my initail thoughts and questions as i looked at the diagram. It got me to thinking, which shall continue!

  5. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    A quick, early thought:
    Most of the xGW thinking comes out of the US. The US has an overfunded, bloated Department of Defense that is absorbing functions that should be located in other parts of the government. Mission creep, anyone?
    Or, in slightly longer form, is the reality "on the ground" of the DoD being seen as the only agency that can do various functions affecting the various forms of strategic thought to extend the definition of warfare to "what the DoD does/can do"?
    Or don’t we need a real revolution in thinking to encompass many actions that may deal with conflict/war in ways other than shooting and bombing?
    We can groan about the dysfunctionality of other parts of the government, like the Department of State, but funding just might have something to do with that. Isn’t State’s funding something like 1% of Defense’s?

  6. PurpleSlog Says:

    I would flip 4GW and GGs.

  7. deichmans Says:

    I’d move "Boydians" down between "Global Guerillas" and "4GW".

  8. Joseph Fouche Says:

    There needs to be an additional layer on top entitled "MORE TOYS!!!". The corresponding strategic school on this layer would be "Pentagon".

  9. Joseph Fouche Says:

    The top most strategic school should be "Beltway Consensus" and the corresponding layer level should be "THERE MUST BE A PONY IN HERE SOMEWHERE".

  10. Strategy to War or Peace « The Image Says:

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  11. PurpleSlog Says:

    So, the set of possible strategic approaches is : Competition, Conflict, Warfare, and War.

    The horizontal axis could be seen as the range of options for a given approach. Could it also be the effective timeframes for the approach? For examples, there are lots of ways to compete with another Actor compared to ways options if taking a "war" approach.

    The vertical axis seems like it would be some sort of function of the kinetics and/or destruction involved with high at the bottom.

    I am not sure about the placement of the other labels.  What separates COIN/Hybrid from 4GW? I would have thought them to be broadly be the same thing as far as tactics go.

  12. Critt Jarvis Says:

    If you snip off the topmost corners with a good eye, you end up with a really cool logo for Superwar… Put ’em on skins for a really, really Hot Dummy 😉

    What’s missing? Not sure; which color is SysAdmin?

  13. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    I might flip Boydians and 5GW — but also add a new layer to the wide top of the pyramid, colored as an unending phosphorescent blending of the red toward brilliant, luminescent white although pure white would not be displayed, and call the new layer "Cooperation."    5GW would sit precisely between the red and the white; since the pure white of pure cooperation is never achieved, 5GW would hover somewhere in the transition.

  14. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Come to think of it, such a change as I’ve proposed would open the door for placing SysAdmin on the diagram.  Problematically, the strategy of SysAdmin also has within it the reality of Leviathan.   This has me wondering if Barnett’s strategy might be characterized as somewhat Boydian, since obviously SysAdmin-Leviathan would sit somewhere near the top of the pyramid:  Leviathan operates much like GG strategically (with kinetic hits to sensitive areas of a system) before the SysAdmin moves in (and operates much like 5GW; it has been called "5GWish").   I suppose the Barnettian strategy would have Leviathan sit just on the top edge of GG and SysAdmin just on the bottom edge of 5GW, spanning those sections of the pyramid.  It is a cycling strategy, so is it Boydian?  OTOH, it could be drawn with SysAdmin just below but touching 5GW, Levaithan sitting just above GG, and a line drawn between the two to show that the Barnettian strategy spans those sections of the pyramid?

  15. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "OTOH, it could be drawn with SysAdmin just below but touching 5GW, Levaithan sitting just above GG, and a line drawn between the two to show that the Barnettian strategy spans those sections of the pyramid?" –Obviously there is another triangle that sits above this one who has at its point the word Peace written across it that Zen hasn’t drawn yet. You could put SysAdmin in that triangle.

  16. zen Says:

    Curtis and Larry,
    Would the "top pyramid" be:
    Ladies and Gents,
    Gracias, all! Very helpful.  I am not settled on what I am attempting to express yet, nor am I sure where I’d put PNM concepts either – at least around GG or 5GW, or "above" in a hypothetical mirror image pyramid.
    Purpose here: I am shooting for creating a simple graphic aimed at quickly explaining contemporary views on strategy to a newbie audience, so it can’t look like it was slideware produced by the DoD to explain COIN strategy in Afghanistan 🙂 I also have an interest in showing theory as a continuum, again for purposes of simplification

  17. zen Says:

    Specifically, for those advocating moving GG or Boydians, why? I see Boyd’s trajectory as a strategic thinker as having moved gradually from being a tactician to a strategist to a theorist of a Darwinian process governing fitness and adaptivity operating at all levels as we struggle not with just an adversary or the environment but our own perceptions of reality.

  18. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:


    Still not entirely sure of Boydians, 5GW, and PNM, and will wait to see what develops from this exploration.  But I do like your divisions/labels for the top pyramid.  Not sure though if it should be a reverse pyramid creating a diamond, since the movement from war to peace seems expansive (thus just create one larger pyramid).  OTOH, this depends on what you are trying to show overall.  If you are trying to show entry levels and general force/player numbers, a diamond might be good; if you are trying to show expansiveness and general complexity of all factors involved, the one large pyramid might be better.  Ha well as I said I’ll wait and see how this develops over the next few stages!

  19. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    (The above was just off-the cuff.  Naturally, we your readers will eventually want the essay or explanation behind the diagram, whatever the final diagram will be, just as your newbie audience will want that!)

  20. PurpleSlog Says:

    "Specifically, for those advocating moving GG or Boydians, why?"

    I see GG as more "kinetic" then 4GW. I see GG as a different form of 3GW. That is what I was thinking.

  21. seydlitz89 Says:


    Yours shows the similarities, but not the distinctions.  While I too would put Clausewitz close to war and "classic COIN" (following Galuga) next to warfare, the pyramid doesn’t allow for a spectrum of violence going from total destruction to lesser destruction, to armed coercion all the way to total cooperation on the other extreme.  I would argue that Clausewitz’s general theory can deal with the full range, but within the limits of strategic theory . . . although it’s about a general theory of war, it’s flexible enough to accept non-violent strategic approaches.  I would argue that Martin Luther King’s use of non-violent coercion fits within a larger Clausewitzian framework.

    What about a Cartesian coordinate graph with the "y axis" as "strategic doctrine" and "strategic theory" and the "x axis" as "individual" and "plurality"?  If you then plotted the different approaches, the simularities, but also the distinctions would be clearer.  For instance Clausewitz’s general theory would be very close to the strategic theory end of the y axis and the plurality end of the x axis, in effect equa-distant from those ends of y & x and esstentially in that corner of the graph.  This due to the specific Clausewitzian idea  as to what strategic theory entails, as well as all the usual strategic concepts (victory, defeat, strategy, tactics, defense and offense, ect.) all pertaining to collectives, not individuals.

    Sun Tzu for instance would go more in the center, where the two axis meet.

  22. J. Scott Says:

    Zen, Dumb suggestion perhaps; if you’re aiming for a continuum try seydlitz89 suggestion of a Cartesian like approach. When establishing your way points on the continuum, check the accuracy using dialectic logic. The current depiction doesn’t say continuum to me—looks and reads more like a summation (that was my first thought on seeing yesterday).

  23. Visualizing Zen « The Committee of Public Safety Says:

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  24. tdaxp Says:

    GG is just a term for 3GW light infantry.

    COIN can encompass many different technologies, including 5gw, 4gw, 3gw, etc.

    Didn’t Clausewitz talk about the moral aspect of war?

    I’m not sure I understand Cheryl’s comment.

  25. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "Not sure though if it should be a reverse pyramid creating a diamond, since the movement from war to peace seems expansive"When peace is reached the gap collapses just like war, because the past and future become one. In fact they both have to collapse together or the gap doesn’t change. In other words, ultimate peace is ultimate war. I suppose as competition opens the gap for war then cooperation should open the gap towards peace. Then convergence would close the gap towards peace as conflict does towards war.  As, we are in world conflict now, if we are to remain in conflict or move towards convergence (towards peace or towards war) is still anyone’s guess. My guess is, of course, warfare instead of cohesion.

  26. zen Says:

    Hi seydlitz89,
    " While I too would put Clausewitz close to war and "classic COIN" (following Galuga) next to warfare, the pyramid doesn’t allow for a spectrum of violence going from total destruction to lesser destruction, to armed coercion all the way to total cooperation on the other extreme….What about a Cartesian coordinate graph with the "y axis" as "strategic doctrine" and "strategic theory" and the "x axis" as "individual" and "plurality"?  If you then plotted the different approaches, the simularities, but also the distinctions would be clearer."
    Excellent. Thank you.
    I have noticed something in showing this graph to ppl that either they see a spectrum/continuum implied in the color gradation or they don’t see it at all ( as Scott said above) and want it to be explicit with a line or in your suggestion, a cartesian graph, which will as you said, sharpen the presentation of distinctions.  The difference between the two groups is not level of strategic knowledge either as I have had experts go both ways on the preferred visual format. This makes me wonder if I should not have two slides running back to back that present the same "comprehensive" information in a radically different ways to ensure the wide range of audience members/students will "get it".
    Hearing the need for the inclusion of "cooperation" now from many ppl. Need to think about this some more.

  27. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:


    The easiest way to get the Chet Richards images is a screen capture!  I wasn’t sure which of two you were looking for, so I uploaded both to Flickr — temporarily, because I’m not sure how he would handle the copyright issue…



    Still curious to see how you’ll revise your diagram.  I still like adding "Cooperation" to the top level, transitioning to white, w/ the suggestion I gave for flipping Boydians and 5GW.  Past Cooperation the strategies become even thornier; I would suppose you’d get into diplomatic strategies (such as alliances, various world bodies, and so forth) and….well, as I said, thorny.

  28. seydlitz89 Says:


    It’s my pleasure. 

    I am saying that two graphs would be necessary, although that wasn’t so clear I guess.  First the Cartesian graph showing the distinctions between the different approaches.  I think that the distinction between "strategic doctrine" and "strategic theory" explains why Boydian critiques of Clausewitz and Clausewitzian critiques of Boyd don’t really go anywhere, since we are actually talking about two distinct types of strategic thought.

    As to the spectrum of violence/cooperation, are we not dealing with applications of power?  So the application of power by political communities (using the plurality perspective) would extend the whole spectrum from absolute war on one end and absolute cooperation on the other (consider that Weber’s definition of power is close to Clausewitz’s "rational" definition of war).  But would not absolute cooperation have to include the possibility of a political community undercutting their own interests to maintain the alliance with another political community?  I’m thinking here of Svechin’s argument that Czarist Russia in 1914 acted against their own interests to support those of their ally France.  So at the farthest extreme of cooperation we meet again destruction, in terms of political communities that is?  There’s a certain symmetry to that . . . 

    Also a general theory of war would have to include the entire spectrum in order to be a general theory, as I think Clausewitz’s does. 

  29. Purpleslog Says:

    I like Internet crackpot Joseph Fouche’s graph. It is a worthy goal to have simple but usefull graphs to aid in thinking/explaining. I have seen that Pentagon COIN slide – it was worthless.

  30. Larry Dunbar Says:

    I realize we are just talking GUI, but what are you going to tell them when they ask you, "what is the strategy of war?" Obviously, as Fouche shows, Boydian is only the magnitude of change in velocity and, vertically, competition is the number of events (with war having greater velocity at, proportionally, greater magnitude), so the strategy follows the power-law of the distribution of energy, and that distribution is competition/Boydian =5/2 at the different levels. So there is really only one strategy of war, because war is generational by nature, it’s one generation’s who is in command of the events divided by the magnitude of those generationally in control of the events. Strategically, whoever is able to achieve this exponent for the greatest amount of time wins.

  31. J. Scott Says:

    I’ll admit that I’m out of my league in this thread, but I believe you are on to something Zen when you include peace, cooperation, etc—and that’s why I believe your model will be more Cartesian in nature when complete. Try approaching each element with dialectic logic (take the opposite to the extremes and examine the characteristics); war, peace; cooperative, adversarial; free-will, coercion etc, and your continuum will include the way points in between.  I’m working on some material using derivatives of Boyd’s vision ideas in POC, and have found the dialectic exercise to be thought-provoking (actually, I believe there is a book in the material, but don’t want to speak to soon).

  32. Fred Leland Says:

    Guys this is gting more and more interesting. I enjoy watching this work evolve.

  33. onparkstreet Says:

    That’s sort of cute.
    – Madhu

  34. Shlok Says:

    There’s an infographic to be had here. An accompanying graphic: I’d flip the triangle to show scale. Boydian with minimum (only need one mind navigating an environment). Then increasing scale with GGs, 4GW,COIN, C. 

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