For microorganisms to fighter jets - what does it take to thrive?
Col. John Boyd would like a word.
I was thinking about ‘Agile outside the agile box’ (what I’m calling for now “organizational fitness”) and the weird librarian part of my brain brought this up.
It’s a slide from Col. John Boyd’s ‘Patterns of Conflict’ briefing, which is a kind of mad genius two-day PPT presentation that covers almost everything human, while anchoring on military strategy and fighter design.
Back in the early 1970’s, I recall reading an article about ‘The Fighter Mafia’ and the procurement battles in DC over the F-111 and successor aircraft. It was fascinating but I knew nothing about the subject and most of it was over my head. It was the first place I saw John Boyd’s name mentioned.
Col. Boyd was a fighter pilot and strategist – most of the folks who know me here know who he is at least superficially – as the inventor of the OODA loop (usually seen in a vastly simplified form).
He was a real fighter jock – and what would today be known as a Powerpoint Ranger. His medium was a long briefing, accompanied with dozens (or hundreds) of slides on an overhead projector.
It’s absolutely worth it to read Patterns of Conflict (pdf) - but for most of us mortals, it’s something we’ll scan 20 times and pull different nuggets and patterns from each time.
This particular nugget has been on my mind for a few months, as I’ve been working on my take on agility. It highlights four essential characteristics of a successful organism / organization:
Variety – not a One Trick Pony, can rapidly develop alternatives (think: Design Thinking, good Product Management);
Rapidity – can quickly adapt between different paths (agility/adaptability)
Harmony – moving all the aspects/elements in a coordinated, mutually supportive way (this is the rub with Deep Agile models, and usually leans on leadership or even management)
Initiative – not just responding to the environment, but taking advantage of the environment in order to act intentionally (Strategy / management / leadership figures here).
I’m hard-pressed to imagine other broad-brush characteristics that would make up organizational fitness. I need to do some work and map real-world organizational capabilities / skills / structures to these.
But if we set out these four things as ways of judging our organizational North Star, I think we’d be advancing the game quite a bit.
My other favorite quote from this slide deck is on guerilla war (which I see transformation as a genuine analog of) -
Undermine guerrilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of people—rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.*
Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots.*
* If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides!
Col. Boyd first gained notoriety as “ Forty Second Boyd” as he trained jet fighter jocks at the end and after the Korean conflict. He would put the trainee aircraft behind him and could reverse the alignment in less than a minute. Out of this capacity to reverse the fighting position of our pilots in combat, while working on a PhD in physics, he developed his theory of “fast transits” maneuvering. Boyd was remarkably perceptive about the interrelationships within and between “structures” whether human, aircraft, military forces, or business organizations. From Boyd, I gained two inferences that I used. One is that “We are all in transition. Everyone of us. All the time.” The other is that once it is clear that a change is necessary, make the change, don’t look back because the process of transition will present the next change sooner than expected. In a sense it is like turning the OODA loop inward as a process of self-development. Thank you for featuring Col. Boyd in this post. He is one great unheralded minds of our time.
I'm assembling a an analysis of the necessary conditions for any agile technique framework. I like the fitness for agile concept. we just had a brilliant war fighter analysis on our product on these lines. analogies included video games. and yes, this might be outside the agile box; but it shouldn't be. it's time to move beyond the One Trick Pony approach. I'm using yes, and ... it even works for waterfall and agile. I had a dim awareness of this; but didn't really see how mixed the cultures and fitness for agile is until I experienced the complexity of government agile. where we can acknowledge the train wreck ahead and pull out the powerpoint with detailed instructions on how to drive us to the cliff. I'll link to this blog when I post the results of my analysis. (and no, this is not another assessment framework, we've had enough of those. These are the necessary conditions for agility. Agile Method/Framework Relative Bias Bias Examples Psychological Conditions Social Conditions Structural Conditions Systemic Conditions Technological Conditions Environmental Conditions Cultural Conditions (Laloux Model). I'll extend the analysis to practices techniques and finally technologies and busienss models. I'm looking at a holistic approach. thinking like functional medicine. and that works quite well, what did the agile transformation guru say to the CEO? Take two training sessions and call me the next day. ... One trick pony? cynefin? ... oh, that's another necessary condition....