Twin Sons of Different Mothers – part 1

What is so similar, coming from such different backgrounds? I will first briefly describe the parallels in our work, then highlight the importance of this resemblance.

NW unnumbered 150

DFCS: Cognitive Load in a System of Systems

This network diagram is the tool I developed from my martial arts background to frame my thinking. By tracking a training dyad’s iterative and interactive journey through this miniature world, I defined 4 Performance Dimensions that I called Diversity, Fluency, Conformity, and Speed (DFCS). I demonstrated that individuals distribute their cognitive resources among these four Dimensions quite differently, showing cognitive approaches (strategies) to a problem each was most comfortable with. The currency I saw participants exchanging in a strongly economic fashion was Cognitive Load (CL). I defined action options according to their cost to a particular individual in this currency on a scale I called CIAO (Continue, Initiate, Accommodate, Overload), which I later expanded to RAICO (Repeat, Accommodate, Initiate, Counter-Initiate, Overload). Including events of Overload was important because there were at least three distinct variations seen, and the specific processes of Recovery from Overload told a lot about the person. This much clearly gave a view of individual differences—a field of great interest to me as an educator. One of the last additions in this original burst of creative energy was the concept of “Interactive Differences”–a result of two people becoming a “System of Systems” in the emergence of their unique one-time dynamic. We do indeed present different faces depending on who we are interacting with, influenced by many circumstances.

Boyd’s VRHI

Boyd’s four Attributes are very parallel to mine, though he was not trying to quantify them as I have.

  • “…variety/rapidity/harmony/initiative (and their interaction) seem to be key qualities that permit one to shape and adapt to an ever-changing environment.”
  • “It is advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly to gain sustenance, avoid danger, and diminish adversary’s capacity for independent action.”
  • “To shape and adapt one cannot be passive; instead one must take the initiative.” (all from Patterns of Conflict, slide 13, highlighting his)

The First Three: Quite Similar

Variety, Rapidity, and Harmony, we closely agree upon. For Variety, I use Diversity. For Rapidity, I use Fluency (ability to switch effortlessly and quickly from one action/tactic to another). Where Boyd used Harmony, I have variously used Cooperation or Conformity. I could also see Coherence working there.

The Fourth Quality/Quantity

I did not define Initiative as the fourth quality/measured quantity. I chose Speed—literally the clock-time passing “in the background” as each exchange of action takes place. It is the baseline unit against which we can measure the “stretching or compressing of time” that Boyd refers to 1. This helps to clarify that Fluency refers to something other than clockspeed. In the personal combat domain, how quickly, in outside-world terms, you can deliver a hit, especially the first one, has to have significance.

“Seize initiative at the outset by attacking enemy with an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of (strategic) moves and diversions in order to upset his actions and unsettle his plans thereby psychologically unbalance him and keep initiative throughout.” (Patterns of Conflict, slide 53, highlighting his)

So where is the Initiative?

Since my model world allows me to quantify my four Performance Dimensions, I can generate from them a cumulative score called Initiative. Basically, Initiative is the commodity we acquire by good investment of the currency I call Cognitive Load. Very early in the learning of the LinSao activity, people quickly realize how much effort it costs to mentally push aside the immediate threat, making room for the alternative of Transitioning the activity. When a Transition is performed, the other person is given a short-term crisis that skyrockets his/her Cognitive Load 2 until coped with. This gives the first person a short relief in which to produce another Transition, putting the second person under even greater pressure. Accumulating Initiative in this way transmutes it into the Gold Standard of any contest: Dominance. In Boyd’s words:

“He who is willing and able to take the initiative to exploit variety, rapidity, and harmony–as the basis to create as well as adapt to the more indistinct – more irregular – quicker changes of rhythm and pattern, yet shape the focus and direction of effort–survives and dominates” (Patterns of Conflict, slide 174, his highlighting removed, mine added).

My Deepest Respect

Boyd’s work greatly impresses me. I had to “go miniature” with my LinSao activity over about a decade to define my 4 Performance Dimensions, their interactions and implications. He worked out his 4 Attributes and other factors in the “way-too-big-and-complex” real world of aircraft and ground combat. I have read numerous researchers over the years who have tried to do something like that with modest activities like soccer games, producing nothing like the striking results. Kudos, Colonel!

Getting the Ideas Across

In the decades of Boyd’s own effort, and the nearly two decades since, of efforts of various writers, Boyd’s ideas are still not generally understood. Boyd took increasing numbers of hours of verbal massaging/pounding to draw an audience into a mental space where they could hear his thoughts–“create among his audience a way of thinking, a thought process” 3.. My general experience in 40 years of teaching is that getting people to do something once does more than hours of talking at them. Fourteen years prior to my hearing of Boyd or his work:

  • an anonymous War College instructor told me: “In two minutes you have shown me what we hope our cadets will learn in four years.”
  • an anonymous researcher commented on my conference presentation: “Fighter pilots would LOVE this.”

What I have come to understand in just the past month is that they were talking about Boyd’s work, and the very mixed esteem 4 Coram and Osinga describe it receiving. The latter explains why both persons refused to give me introductions, or to discuss the subject further. The whole topic was a “hot potato”.

Boyd did historic work in describing the re-engineering 5 of combat aviation, then expanding the concepts requiring that re-engineering, into a general theory of combat. But, as Coram and other authors point out, it is too easily over-simplified and misunderstood. To date, it has been expressed only in verbal/written form. An intellectual comprehension is not preparation to apply it–for many, no reason to trust it. Application requires a skill set, which can only be developed by doing something. “Think-aloud” or pencil and paper exercises are not the same as doing, and if doing requires the risk of lives and millions of dollars of equipment, there will not be much doing to develop the understanding that leads to trusting an idea.

I Have Not Duplicated Boyd’s Work

By coming from a different direction, I offer a “lab exercise” to match with reading/lecture/discussion, that allows two people to experience the complexity that Boyd described, instead of having to imagine it. By gradually increasing the pressure of time, complexity and consequence 6 on each other, in a matter of seconds two people get a literal feel of what Boyd was talking about. They get to:

  • “Exploit operational and technical features to: Generate a rapidly changing environment”
  • “Inhibit an adversaries [sic] capacity to adapt to such an environment” (Both: Fast Transients, slide 22)

They also get to value the effect more highly by being on the receiving end of it some of the time.

Initiative is not an easy thing to inspire in trainees. Boyd described it as an “Internal drive to think and take action without being urged. (Patterns of Conflict, slide 145). A lasting motivation might be developed by repeatedly experiencing the reward of doing so, and the disappointment of being overrun (in an exercise) by not doing it. An embodied understanding of the tangible value of taking Initiative through frequently and Fluently expressing Diversity in a Coherent manner is both undeniable and memorable.

Boyd expressed a concrete value for such partnered learning, to Leadership and Communication:

“A similar implicit orientation for commanders and subordinates alike will allow them to: Diminish the friction…” (Organic Design for Command and Control, slide 23, highlighting his).

Distilled Essence

Osinga wrote:

“He developed the ability to see air combat as a contest of moves and countermoves in time, a contest in which a repertoire of moves and the agility to transition from one to another quickly and accurately in regard to the opponent’s options was essential. He managed to develop the intellectual and analytical toolkit to translate his insights from practice into better weapon systems.” 7

The LinSao Activity appears to distill the essence of what Boyd wanted us to understand into a do-anywhere-anytime activity at the speed of a knife fight.

copyright Herbert N. Maier, Ph.D. 2015

Thanks again to Chuck Spinney for making John Boyd’s briefings available here.

Your responses are welcome.
1 In Boyd terms: stretching the other’s time and compressing one’s own (examples: “Patterns of Conflict”, screens # 8, 79, 87, 153,178,185)

2 In Boyd’s terms: increases friction, (Patterns of Conflict, slide 43), “drives him bananas” (Coram, “Boyd”, p. 332)

3 Osinga, Frans (2007). Science, Strategy and War. New York: Routledge. page 7.

4 Boyd did not make it any easier. “He deliberately embarrassed the leadership of the US military…” Osinga, ibid. page 50.

5 From engineering of hardware to “engineering of cognition” (my phrase) versus “cognitive engineering” (engineering of systems to support cognition).

6 Fundamentals of “Naturalistic Decision Making

7 Osinga, ibid. page 28. Highlights mine.

Who is John Boyd?


…and why is he talking about my work???

My son is Air Force, so I had heard of the OODA loop several times and thought it boring—too simple! I ran into this book 51dU1i1+AiL._AA160_at a used book store. A quick glance through the chapter titled “OODA Loop” convinced me that it sounded too simple because others had made it simple by linearizing it.

Over the next couple days, I have read that chapter four times, both marking it up & taking notes. That gives it 5 stars on my scale. Then a quick Google search brought up 5 blogs and pages (example) that should give me starting points. I’ll be spending some time with this, and writing up points I think I understand.

What genuinely struck me on the first reading was that, decades before me, he was describing the same four qualities as I had described in my dissertation (2004) and later conference papers. The difference is that I defined them as measurable Performance Dimensions. That will be my first topic, because I’m feeling a bit like Mandelbrot when he asked “How is it you have my illustrations up before my lecture?”

As a late-life grad student, I was not interested in starting a faculty line, or really even a corporate career, so I continued designing and teaching. I had always felt like my work was obvious enough that others had done much of it, though I could not find evidence of that. I see here that I did not find Boyd’s work in academic forums for the simple reason, as Coram says, he never really wrote anything. Thank you, Robert Coram, and Chuck Spinney, for offering me a thread!

Copyright Herbert N. Maier, 2015