I first read of John Boyd in 2007, and quickly became enamored with the man’s ideas, his bigger-than-life persona, and the tales of his exploits in the Pentagon. Though, in mentioning his name to just about anyone would only result in blank stares and uneasy, one-sided conversations; most only knew of him as ‘the OODA-loop guy’. Because of this, I started to feel a certain sense of being alone in my ideas and interests.
Slowly, I’ve became aware of others who had as much a passion for the ideas of Boyd as I do. To make a long story short, finding these kindred souls has culminated in attending the Boyd and Beyond conference last weekend at Quantico.
One such soul, Scott Shipman (Retired FTBC) has written two good accounts of the conference here and here. So, I’ll forego recanting the actual events and presentations of the conference and offer instead my thoughts arising from the conference.
The conference spent a lot of time on the first half of the OODA-Loop, Observing and Orienting. At some point I became convinced that the type of Sailor we need is one that is a “situational autodidact”. Major Marcus Mainz, USMC, during his presentation made the brilliant comment that “training is for the known, education is for the unknown” in this sense, the spirit in which we must educate our Sailors must be towards making them capable of educating their self as needed when the unknown presents itself to them.
I’ve never been actively educated by the Navy in the sense of what the Major is talking about; I’ve always had to do that on my own. In doing so, I know that I am the exception rather than the rule on the deckplates. The Navy does not prepare their enlisted Sailors for the unknown directly, rather it trusts experience during the natural course of a Sailor’s career to do that. This makes sense, and indeed it is the best teacher there is. However, I believe the Navy could prepare its enlisted Sailors to take greater advantage of their experience.
For Sailors to take greater advantage of their experiences, they need to actively question their actions. By this, I mean that a person analyses a question more than they do a statement. But, it has been my experience that when someone recants an experience they had, it is a rare thing to hear someone say anything in terms of ‘why’ they did something. Much more often someone only tells the ‘what’ of their actions. Think of the Socratic Method, where Socrates would answer his students questions with another question. A Sailor who has internalized such a ‘Socratic process’ would be in a position to provide more cogent feedback as well as learn from their mistakes more often than we do today.
What I am saying is not that the training we offer Sailors falls short of its objectives as they stand today. But, that the spirit of the training is not where it needs to be—we focus our objectives too much on acting rather than orienting. The training our Sailors receive are based on concrete and testable objectives that can be measured, quantified and turned into metrics, that fit well into powerpoint. We do no help Sailors to become autodidactic—we are not training them to become students of their environment, but rather students of their school house.
We start to approach training Sailors to be autodidacts of their environment in the Operational Risk Management training we receive (One thing about ORM: It is Boyd’s OODA-Loop operationalized. The Navy has totally ripped off Boyd, and yet we never mention his name outside of the Warfare Universities—shame on us). We need more and deeper training on ORM and how this method applies to everything we do, whether we consciously realize it or not. In giving this deeper level or ORM, we should also find Sailors able to be more articulate of the process they’ve gone through. Thereby becoming able to better train others of their experiences.
In this, it is my hope that with an improvement in how articulate our Sailors are we also will improve the Navy’s ability to self-synchronize. This improvement in self-synchronization will then lessen our dependence on a hierarchical organization structure—flattening decision-making and decreasing the time it takes to move from orienting to acting, and culminating in giving us a decided advantage over any opponent.
Forgive me for not delving into this further. But, I have 15 minutes of battery life left and no outlet at the coffee shop here on Q street in DC to charge my computer. In talking about Boyd and Beyond and my thoughts, I wouldn’t be topical if I posted tomorrow, or later. Please, as I bleieve that such ideas are fleshed out via discourse, comment on this post, and as I have time I will respond and delve deeper regarding my thoughts here.
Lastly, I hope to see you all at the USNI Honors night on the 19th!