Trump, OODA Loops, and Chaos

Michael Walsh wrote a column in The New York Post last week. It’s a good one. A couple excerpts.

And yet, the economy is humming, hosts of regulations have been rolled back, the unemployment rate is down, job openings are soaring, taxes have been cut and black joblessness is at an all-time low. Prototypes for the wall along the Mexican border are being tested, raids by ICE are rounding up dangerous illegal aliens and the “travel ban” against several Muslim nations was argued last month before the Supreme Court, where the president’s authority over immigration will be upheld.

In foreign affairs, the two Koreas are talking to each other, with a summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un slated for June in Singapore, the ISIS “caliphate” has been effectively destroyed and just last week Trump yanked the carpets out from under the Iranian mullahs and canceled the nuclear deal negotiated — but never submitted to the Senate for ratification — by the Obama administration.

Indeed so. As I said in a comment last week, when you write with your finger on the beach, you have to hold back the tide.

The truth is, as much as they hate Trump’s policies, the president’s enemies hate the man even more. Donald Trump offends the establishment on a personal, visceral level. His opponents are the same folks who idolized Adlai Stevenson and thought Ike was just a dolt who somehow won World War II. Who worshipped John F. Kennedy (but were repelled by LBJ), hated Nixon, thought Reagan was an amiable dunce and erected shrines to Obama. They are the Ivy Leaguers, the credentialists, the Georgetown establishment for whom there is only one right way to conduct a presidency, and that is the Harvard-Democratic-groupthink way.

What Trump understands, however, is what many great leaders have understood: that “chaos,” not consensus, is the way ideas are tried and tested. That if someone or something isn’t working, scrap it and try something else. Results are what count, not consistency: Trump’s ability to morph from saber-rattling lunatic to charming glad-hander infuriates them because they see it as phony.

To me, this isn’t so much chaos, as it is the president’s learning curve and getting the right people in the right slots to make his vision work. George Marshall all through the thirties kept lists of officers he thought could lead American armies in war. Of the men on that list – well only Fredenhall who lost at El Guettar didn’t work out. The rest, well, you know the names as well as I do, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Hodges, MacArthur, and many more, thanks to Marshall’s superb planning. Trump didn’t have that opportunity.

Nor was he especially familiar with international diplomacy, any more than you and I are, so there has been a steep learning curve for him, not helped by the hostility here and abroad, which he shares with Eisenhower and Reagan. Pretty good company, I’d say.

Over the course of my life, I picked up the concept of the OODA Loop. It was developed by an Air Force officer, Colonel John Boyd, and it defines the lifeblood of competition, not only in the furball of aerial combat, that was COL Boyd’s milieu but in American business. I wrote about it here, but here are some of the basics.

  • Observe: This means mostly that you’ve been paying attention to all sorts of things. You know what’s going on in the world and what your opponent might be up to.
  • Orientation: This is your background, specialized knowledge and genetic make up and all sorts of other things that your mind uses to filter information. For instance, if you tell me on the phone that the light in your kitchen doesn’t work and that there is a burning smell; I’d tell you to turn off your electricity , and if the smoke smell persists, call the fire department. And since that’s my business, I’ll be there as soon as I can. If my specialty was something else, I’d likely tell you something else. A lot of orientation is experience. To use the Air Force again, if memory serves during WW II they found that if you survived 5 missions you were far more likely that the gross statistics showed, to finish your tour.
  • Decide: Make a decision, define the mission or whatever you choose to call it. This is where a lot of problems happen. It seems that it rarely happens that we get to make a decision on our own anymore. We have so much support infrastructure and it cost so damned much, that we think we always need more information or to consult or whatever. In my Doolittle example above; that’s the message to Pearl or Washington or a council of war. Any of these slow you down. One of the problems our opponent’s have (either big businesses or in the military realm) is that they usually have to get permission to act; often at a ridiculously high level.
  • Action: Do it and do it fast and then do something else. Keep doing things so fast that the opposition can’t ever keep up.

If you read that article, and the ones referred in it, you’ll know that is why America is so formidable, in business and in war, it’s the reaction time, multiple things going on so close together that they all run into each other. In other words, from outside, when done well, it looks like chaos. It also looks like Donald Trump’s America.

What is the Washington way? Well, Jessica once wrote about The Council of Florence, which was attempting to heal the Great Schism between the East and the West. That post made me fall off my chair laughing because for us it was about something else, something contemporary. It also describes ‘the Washington Way’ very well. This is too long already, but I’ll give you a taste.

There was a crisis, that was why they were meeting. Unless action was taken, then something unpleasant, and possibly worse would happen. It had taken time to get to this point. Those present were, of course, only protecting the dignity of their offices, and no one should think that any asperity in their conversational ripostes was anything to do with personal pride or arrogance, these men were, they all agreed, humble men, servants of the servants of God – and as such it behoved them to guard fiercely the dignity of the office of which they were but stewards.

So, talks about talks had produced a meeting in which there would now be an opportunity for all those present to talk.  As one might have expected from such educated and even intellectual men, the talk was of high quality; had there been an olympiad for such things, giving out the gold would have been a very difficult task; it would certainly have involved more talks to ensure that the criteria established were so finely tuned that they would be able to pick up the echo the nuance of the inference which would surely bring the prize. Still, there was not, so at least there was one less thing to discuss.

Do read it all, and see if it sounds familiar to you. How did that council work out? Well…

In this way, seven months passed most pleasantly in the Italian city of Ferrara. Unfortunately, money was running out to pay for all these hungry thinkers, and there was plague in the area. So they decamped to the even more pleasant city of Florence in January, and seven months later came to an agreement on a formula of union between Rome and Constantinople. But when the Easterners got home, they were reminded that no one voice, indeed not even so many learned theologians and bishops, spoke for the Orthodox, so after all that, there was no union. Still that was fine, as the Westerners deposed their Pope anyway.

Fourteen years later the Ottomans massacred thousands of inhabitants of Constantinople and sold thousands more into slavery. A century later Western Christendom began to splinter into many fragments.

It’s the American (although not the Washington) Way

Lead, Follow, or get the Hell out of the Way

Advertisements

The Rhymes of History: OODA Edition

156635-ISIS-largeThis is pretty interesting, and we would be well to file it in the “Rhymes of history” file. Whatever happens-it has before, probably often. Here’s Thomas Fleming bringing advice from George Washington to our present problems.

Another way to phrase this, that I use, it was developed by an Air force officer, is the OODA Loop. It’s a good guide to gaining and maintaining the initiative. I wrote some about it here. The problem here is mostly with the ‘Observe’ part. our NCA seems to be totally oblivious to anything except fundraising, and when he does do something it is too little-too late, and often the wrong thing anyway.

Channeling George: Regaining the Initiative

“By the spring of 1972, President Nixon’s decision to ‘Vietnamize’ the war was in full swing. He had withdrawn almost all our combat troops. Only a few hundred advisors remained behind, working with various South Vietnamese divisions. The overconfident North Vietnamese launched an offensive aimed at ending the war. It was a disaster for them. They were defeated everywhere. Their worst humiliation came in the town of An Loc, where a South Viet force, outnumbered five to one, held out while American airpower pulverized the attackers. Suddenly we saw a way to seize and keep the initiative without recommitting large numbers of American infantry.”[…]

“Like President Truman in Korea, President George W. Bush found a commander who knew how to deal with the situation. General David Petraeus saw that the real problem was our inability to retain control of towns and cities where we had defeated the enemy. As we moved on to other embattled sites, the enemy, in standard guerilla fashion, infiltrated men and weapons into the supposedly pacified territory, and resumed their destructive tactics, with the help of the intimidated local population. Petraeus’s answer to this was “The Surge.” With forty thousand reinforcements, he was able to keep the places we pacified under our control, and the peace-hungry majority soon turned pro-American. That is how we regained the initiative in Iraq and won the war.”

“But it hasn’t stayed won, alas.”

“That’s because President Obama, pressured by the left wing of the Democratic Party, withdrew too many troops too soon, and there were enough guerrillas still in the game to take advantage of it. When a President listens to domestic politicians instead of to his generals, we have a veritable formula for losing the initiative.

– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/156635#sthash.cTIYFW28.dpuf

via History News Network | Channeling George: Regaining the Initiative.

He’s indisputably right, of course. What he doesn’t talk about is the parallels with Carter as well. Especially the utter inability to see that not everybody in the world is like them, some are far more ruthless, and likely motivated by things that we do not even start to understand.

To me, our biggest problem here, though is that we have utterly lost the initiative to a bunch of rabid barbarians, and the Iraqi minorities are paying a horrendous price for out cluelessness. Obama can blame the intelligence agencies all he desires, it’s an utterly transparent lie. It has been obvious for months, if not years, even in the middle of the country. The only reason for not seeing it, is an unwillingness to face reality.

Unless, and until, we regain the initiative, it is going to get worse, maybe much worse. This is not the mostly rational Soviet Union we are (sort-of) fighting here.

Cavafy comes to mind again.

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution

Leadership; the OODA Way

A B-25 takes off from Hornet.

Image via Wikipedia

Ok, yesterday we looked at how not to lead. If it rang as true with you as it did with me, you understand the people at your DMV better now, don’t you? That’s pretty much how government, big business and big unions all do it.

Occasionally, it works, I think it’s accidental when it does though. Usually, it leads to things like Fast and Furious and Solyndra, and now you know why it is so hard to figure out whose fault it is.

Old Murphy has a role in it too, and the longer you give him to play with your project; the bigger his role is going to be.

Back in August, I mentioned having met GEN Jimmie Doolittle, it was just something I mentioned in passing, here. A couple of lessons I learned that day though are pertinent.

GEN Doolittle said he was never afraid; I didn’t disbelieve him but if anybody else had said it, I would have. Incidentally, if you have never met a person in uniform wearing their Medal of Honor ribbon you would not believe how far away you can recognize that little pale blue ribbon with stars on it. Also, he was a little guy, about 5′ 4″ to 5′ 7″ or so but, when he entered a room, you wouldn’t have noticed the Green Bay Packers offensive line. He had that much charisma, or whatever one calls it.

I hope none of us ever has to lead another Doolittle raid however, there are applicable lessons to be learned from it.

  1. If you remember they were spotted by a Japanese fishing boat before dawn on 18 April,  it was sunk, but it did get out a radio broadcast.
  2. The raid was planned to be launched at 400 miles range but , because of #1 they launched at 0800 on 18 April, at 600 miles range. This ensured that none of the aircraft would make the prepared bases in China.
  3. Neither the naval force nor the air raid encountered significant opposition.
  4. GEN Doolittle fully expected to be court martialed (if he survived) for failure.

What are the lessons we can draw from this exercise?

  1. Decisive leadership. Doolittle, Halsey, and presumably Mitscher decided and acted. They didn’t send a message to Pearl Harbor or Washington asking what to do.
  2. They continued the mission. They weren’t insensitive to casualties amongst their own men, but the mission came first. Additionally, they undoubtedly realized that if the Japanese caught Hornet and Enterprise out there, the casualties would be far worse.
  3. They led (not from behind, either) Doolittle’s plane was the first off of the Hornet and if you watch the film, it looks like if it had come down another six inches it would have crashed.

No steering committees, no finger-pointing, and most especially no regard for their own fate. One of the few times in history when: When all was said and done, more was Done than Said.

The other thing is, if the Japanese had guessed right about what our task force was doing there, they had maybe six hours to prepare from a standing start, and they didn’t even come close. In other words, the Americans were way inside their decision loop and obtained both strategic and tactical surprise.

Now let’s apply that to running a small business, or a TEA Party, or a church group, or if you don’t mind risking your career, part of a big business.

First, lot of this is instinctual, if you are leader, or an entrepreneurial type, you probably do a lot of this normally. But a few years ago US Air Force Colonel John Boyd developed what he called the OODA loop. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act.

Let’s take these one at a time.

  • Observe: This means mostly that you’ve been paying attention to all sorts of things. You know what’s going on in the world and what your opponent might be up to.
  • Orientation: This is your background, specialized knowledge and genetic make up and all sorts of other things that your mind uses to filter information. For instance, if you tell me on the phone that the light in your kitchen doesn’t work and that there is a burning smell; I’d tell you to turn off your electricity , and if the smoke smell persists, call the fire department. And since that’s my business, I’ll be there as soon as I can. If my specialty was something else, I’d likely tell you something else. A lot of orientation is experience. To use the Air Force again, if memory serves during WW II they found that if you survived 5 missions you were far more likely that the gross statistics showed, to finish your tour.
  • Decide: Make a decision, define the mission or whatever you choose to call it. This is where a lot of problems happen. It seems that it rarely happens that we get to make a decision on our own anymore. We have so much support infrastructure and it cost so damned much, that we think we always need more information or to consult or whatever. In my Doolittle example above; that’s the message to Pearl or Washington or a council of war. Any of these slow you down. One of the problems our opponent’s have (either big businesses or in the military realm) is that they usually have to get permission to act; often at a ridiculously high level.
  • Action: Do it and do it fast and then do something else. Keep doing things so fast that the opposition can’t ever keep up.

Here is a chart from Wikipedia that shows COL Boyd’s OODA Loop.

COL Boyd's OODA Loop Courtesy of Wikipedia

You are aware that I am a great admirer of our military. Part of the reason for that is that the military learned long ago to push decisions down the chain of command. One doesn’t need a colonel to command a squad, a sergeant can do it and almost always do it better, if for no other reason than he is there, where the action is. Lots of the military’s problems in Vietnam were caused by communications links that worked too well and let people in the Pentagon and even the White House micromanage things happening at the front.

The way that I apply this and your mileage may vary is that I pretty much expect my Journeymen to decide how to fix problems with their projects themselves and in a timely manner, too. I always try to be available for advice and guidance but, I always try to guide and not decide for them. Does it always work? Nope, but it does more often than not.

The key to making it work though is this. When you give someone a mission, whether it’s to wire a steel mill or bring cookies to the party, back them up. If they need help, help or find it for them. If they screw up (and they will) chew them out (in private). Do not ever blame them for anything to your superiors (at least until you are ready to fire them), but do praise them in front of your superiors. For this to work, they have to believe, really believe, that come what may, you’ve got their back. If they are spending half their time checking six; you might as well do it yourself, they’re at 35% efficiency, at most.

So there you have it. How to lead like your name is Doolittle. You won’t be that good but, you’ll be better than most.

%d bloggers like this: