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CEO Notes - News and Articles on Generating Competitive Advantage - June 27

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Sales | Revenue | Compete | Partner | Thrive

======CONTENTS ======
1. Sun Tzu, John R. Boyd and Fast Cycle Times
2. Boyd Cycles (also known as "Blitzkrieg")
3. Using Boyd to Outmaneuver Bigger Competitors

"Those who establish adaptable formations will survive - even if they are small. While those who establish unadaptable formations shall perish - even if they are large. So it has been since the beginning of time." From The Ancient Book of the Huainan Masters (a 2000 year old Chinese war text)


1. Sun Tzu, John R. Boyd and Fast Cycle Times

This is a special issue on the business application of maneuver warfare to generating competitive business advantage.

John R. Boyd

Colonel John R. Boyd, USAF was the first modern military strategist to conduct a systematic study of recorded military history to identify strategies that were associated with either success or failure. He has been referred to as "the most influential military thinker since Sun Tzu wrote 'The Art of War' 2400 years ago". His most significant work involved the application of fast cycle times to deliver massive competitive advantage to small forces facing larger adversaries.

What his research uncovered contradicted modern conventional wisdom, which assumed that the larger and stronger force should generally prevail against the smaller and weaker force. A careful analysis of military history showed that this just wasn't quite what was happening. Instead he found that it was the quick and the agile who generally prevailed over the slow and unfocused. It turned out that focus, aggressive agility and speed were far more important than size!

Boyd found that Maneuver Warfare, and the resulting competitive advantage of fast cycle times, was the one consistent theme running from Sun Tzu's ancient war text "The Art of War", through Alexander the Great, Ghenghis Khan, Japanese samurai philosophers, Heinz Guderian (the inventor of the German Blitzkrieg), Israeli desert warfare strategy and Vietnamese military strategy. Maneuver warfare continues to prove its mettle in the generate success evidenced in the success of the Mujahadin battle tactics employed to rout the Russians from Afghanistan and in turn the success of the US battle tactics used to rout the Taliban from Afghanistan.

Boyd pioneered the adoption and application of Maneuver Warfare by the modern US armed forces... and is generally considered to be the father of modern Maneuver Warfare by most respected military institutions in the world.

Boyd is the founder and leader of the Military Reform Movement. His pioneering work has recently born fruit in the results from the US Military's campaign in Afghanistan. Don Rumsfeld is now using the field proven success of Boyd's strategies to impose their adoption throughout the US military.

Non-Military Applications

The applications of Boyd's techniques are not limited to military conflict. As a lawyer I discovered how effective they were in litigation against stronger adversaries with greater resources. By rapidly accelerating the pace and tempo of recalibrating strategy and tactics while escalating the level of uncertainty in (and between) opposing counsel and their clients, I have been able to outmanuever and defeat stronger and larger opponents. These tactics have permitted me to do this even in situations where the opponents have had both the law and the facts on their side.

I was discussing this issue of CEO Notes last week with one of the pioneers of quality assurance at Motorola (which is now considered one of America's preeminent practitioners of six sigma quality assurance). He said if he had it to do all over again, he would have focused on reducing cycle times... that improving cycle times invariably improves quality but the vice versa is not true.

More and more, the application of Boyd's military thinking is being applied to non-military situations. The April issue of the Harvard Business Review had a controversial article about it titled, "Maneuver Warfare: Can Modern Military Strategy Lead You to Victory?" And Fast Company, in their June issue did a feature article on Boyd and his theories.

The Two Articles in This Issue

The first article is from retired Air Force Colonel Chet Richards, an associate of John Boyd's from 1973 who helped review and edit most of his major works until his death in 1997 and a leading advocate of Boyd's research, strategies and techniques. Back when Chet and John first met, John was known as "40 Second Boyd".

Back then Boyd was no academic. He started his military career as a hard driving fighter pilot's "fighter pilot". He was one of the best in the world. He had a standing challenge to any fighter pilot that he could start with them on his tail and place himself on their tail... all in 40 seconds or less. If he failed, he would pay them $40. He humbled the top guns throughout the US and from many foreign militaries with this challenge.

It was in the cockpit where Boyd first started developing his strategies and techniques. His "The Aerial Attack Study" articulated how he obtained such advantage in aerial dogfights. It was quickly adopted by the Air Force as the bible of air combat, and after declassification, by other air forces around the world. Even as a junior officer he was already changing how air forces around the world conduct air combat.

Later, taking inspiration from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, he developed his famous Energy-Maneuverability Theory... but I'll let Chet tell you the rest of the story from his first hand perspective.

The second article is about the practical application of Boyd's military strategies and techniques to real life business to business competition. It's written by Michael Smock. Mike is the founder of Vsente, a boutique San Francisco Marketing Consultancy. He has been applying Boyd's techniques to marketing campaigns for over 20 years... and is the person who taught them to me. Theory is great, but there is no substitute for practical experience. This article is derived from real practical experience.

If you want to go beyond the content in these articles, here are some good links you can use to learn more about Boyd's work:

1. (OODA Revenue Engines based on Boyd Strategy and an on-line briefing on "FIRSTmaneuver" vSente's proprietary implementation of Boyd techniques to customer acquisition and the capture of market share against larger and entrenched competitors.
2. (rated as one of the top 5 defense sites by the National Journal)
3. (Fast Company Article on Boyd and OODA loops)
4. (a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Selection in December 2001).

Curt Sahakian


2. Boyd Cycles (also known as "Blitzkrieg") by Chet Richards

A Better Strategy "Dislocate and Exploit"

Beginning at about the time of the American Civil War, the range and destructiveness of weapons began a dramatic increase. Commanders, using traditional tactics, incurred frightful losses. What was worse, the smaller and less technologically advanced sides often won... a situation continuing to the United States experience in Vietnam.

After Vietnam, a small group of US strategists led by John R. Boyd examined why this should be so. They started by examining air combat, where rigorously maintained statistics showed that the fastest and most maneuverable airplanes failed to win far fewer engagements than theory predicted they should.

Colonel Boyd and his team then expanded the study to data from a wide range of recorded conflicts from 500 B.C. to the mid 1970s. The study included in depth interviews with surviving participants of the more recent conflicts.

The team found that the side that could operate in a more ambiguous manner, that could better generate surprise and deception, and that could more quickly exploit opportunities on the battlefield - the more "agile" side - most often won.

"Dislocate and Exploit" Predates 500 B.C.

The first recorded instance of the use of the "Dislocate and Exploit" strategy was found in an ancient War Treatise, "The Art of War" authored around 500 B.C. by the famous Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu.

Boyd's analysis confirmed that throughout military history, even into today's high tech era, armies operating according to these principles were continuing to triumph over otherwise more superior adversaries.

The basic formula for success has been, and remains "dislocate and exploit." Not "confront and overpower" or even "outsmart."

This strategy was most recently employed by the US to flush out and destroy the Taliban forces in Afghanistan in the first round of the war on terrorism. An unexpected military triumph that has shaken up military thinking throughout established Eastern and Western military institutions.

The OODA Loop (observation, orientation, decision, and action)

Colonel Boyd synthesized, from the study, a concept he called the "OODA loop." It was, he said, as if the opponents were cycling through stages of observation, orientation, decision, and action, although not necessarily in such a clean, sequential order.

The side that could consistently work the loop faster would begin to appear ambiguous to its opponent. The faster side could set up surprises and deception more effectively and expose those of the enemy sooner.

After a while, the morale, cohesion and spirit - the bonds that distinguish an army from a mob - would begin to shatter, presenting opportunities the other could exploit. Boyd called this: "Operating inside the opponent's OODA Loop." It was an analogy from his fighter pilot days.

Principles of the Blitzkrieg

Boyd had 2,500 years of evidence on his side, but his new theory left open one crucial question: How do you do it? Does it take a commander of genius? An iron discipline? An all-knowing command and control system?

Again, Sun Tzu provided a clue to the answer: It starts with harmony and mutual trust: forces so fundamental that Master Sun simply called them "The Way" of armed conflict. Sun Tzu had written that armies that tap these elements develop a "momentum" that sweeps up even the least motivated of its soldiers.

Boyd took this as a starting point, and from his studies of later campaigns and his interviews, derived three other attributes of organizations that successfully apply his theory. He called them: intuitive competence, the mission concept, and focus-and-direction.

1. Intuitive Competence - the "Zen" element in strategy: a "feel" for how the operation is going. This comes only from extensive experience and training applying maneuver warfare to increasingly fluid and ambiguous situations.

2. Mission Concept - the delegation of all decision making out to the most decentralized points as possible, kept focused and coherent by a shared understanding of the end results to be obtained: "The Mission".

3. Focus-and-Direction - this is the mechanism through which the front line troops are guided in their exercise of the decision making that has been delegated to them. When the situation changes, commanders can shift the focus and direction of all the front line decision makers. In turn, they all shift their individual decisions in unison.. The decisions remain decentralized, but their focus and theme remaines coordinated and centralized. The German term for this is "Schwerpunkt".

Boyd identified these principles as the "Principles of the Blitzkrieg." They apply to any type of operation by any organization in any form of competition, in particular to business.

Chet Richards, 1-404-842-0179 For more information contact

Please send any comments you may have to

(Curt Sahakian here: If want a simple tool to help you use "Schwerpunkt" and apply the "Principles of the Blitzkrieg" to your business competition, send me an email to asking about "The One Page Strategy Sheet").


3. Using Boyd to Outmaneuver Bigger Competitors by Michael K. Smock

We've used Boyd cycles for almost 20 years to generate competitive advantage as measured by revenue increases of 50% and the reduction of sales and marketing budgets by 20%, typically in less than 18 months.

Boyd Cycles are the foundation on which we implement a decision model that allows competitors to both identify answers, and then measure the speed and effectiveness of their responses. They are composed of competitive cycles or activities that are used as the basis of a competitive decision model.

A business initiative based on Boyd Cycles differs from traditional initiatives based on planned chains of causation. A traditional business or marketing plan assumes predictable chains of causation. It assumes that it is possible to some degree to see through the "fog of war". And, it incorporates an implicit or even express codification of actions "if this happens, then do that".

The Boyd Model takes an entirely different approach. Rather than attempt to provide the answers, it provides a decision framework. It is a decision-making process as opposed to a static compilation of answers.

This approach permits a fundamental improvement in measurability. We don't measure success at the end of a campaign... after it's too late to alter our course in response to real time feedback.

The Boyd Cycle is a looped decision system in that it accepts and processes feedback from prior actions. It allows competitors to better understand cause and effect relationships, and provides the coordinates necessary to enhance performance and recalibrate activities in future cycles.

The four components of the Boyd Cycle are - Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

1. The first step of a Boyd Cycle - Observation - can be compared to a competitor's need to acquire tactically actionable intelligence. Intelligence is what organization1s use to observe their competitive environment.

2. The second Boyd Cycle stage - Orientation - requires a technique for competitors to orient the implications of intelligence to their specific situations.

3. The next stage of a Boyd Cycle - Decision - necessitates a process for organization's to make decisions based on their orientation to the competitive environment.

4. And the final stage - Action - implies the need for methodologies to allocate resources and execute on tactical plans.

The Boyd Model permits competitors to accelerate competitive activities and impact through systematic, repeatable processes.

In order to generate and control the periodic tempo that drives competitive Boyd Cycles, a "timing" mechanism is required. This mechanism must cause intelligence to be acquired and oriented to the competitor1s situation, and then stimulate decisions and actions based on that heightened understanding.

The faster this is done the better. This is the cycle time that drives the competitive process. It turns on its ear the traditional convention that it is "the big that eat the small". And replaces it with "the swift that eat the slow".

Here is how the Boyd Model might be implemented in a FIRSTmaneuver campaign to acquire market share.

It is foolish to engage in a struggle unless (a) it's worth it, and (b) you can win the fight. Before expending the effort we make sure the object of the campaign meets these two criteria. We would first assess and select the terrain for the battle to make sure these criteria are met.

There are four classes of terrain (try to envision a map drawn in four quarters):

1. Expeditionary Terrain - High revenue, High profit (companies like eBay where both revenue and profit continue to grow)
2. Mercenary Terrain - Low Revenue, Low Profit (companies such as start ups or near death business units that need to be repositioned)
3. Provisionary Terrain - High Revenue, Low Profit (traditional "Cash Cow" commodity types of businesses)
4. Exploratory Terrain - Low Revenue, High Profit (niche boutique businesses)

It's best to view these four classes of terrain as four points on a map, with various blendings of these characteristics. As you go North to South , you go from high profit to low profit. As you go East to West, you go from high revenue to low revenue.

There is actually a fifth type of terrain "Intersecting Terrain". - This is terrain that is right plum center in the middle of the map, equidistant from the extremes at the edges.

Generally the terrains with the highest value targets fall in the following order: Expeditionary, Intersecting, Exploratory, Provisionary, and Mercenary.

What we do is plot all the targets on the map for each competitor operating in the mapped area. For each potential target we look for gaps between its intrinsic value, the resources we have available to take the target, and the resources dedicated and/or available to defend the target.

From this we select our targets, allocate resources then launch the campaign (the "Revenue Engine"). We use a Revenue Engine to power the campaign across the terrain map. The Revenue Engine is composed of four key functions, each with its own cycle time: Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence. (each key function is itself composed of 4 Boyd Cycle processes):

1. Command - The Leadership Function, involving the allocation of the resources to the fight (30 day cycles)
2. Control - Tactical Execution of programs and initiatives (7 day cycles)
3. Communication - Communication of directions to the troops as well as the shaping of the battlefield through marketing communications (1 day cycles)
4. Intelligence - Collection of market place data in order to drive the campaign (1 hour cycles)

Michael K. Smock, 1-415-457-8449 For more info contact

Please send any comments you may have to


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