War, Chaos and Business


A mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts
  • as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world
  • of many bewildering events and many contending interests

— John R. Boyd

Editor's note:  We have just finished moving Belisarius.com to a new hosting service and apologize for the inconvenience. Please let us know if you encounter any problem.  And if you have a story about applying these ideas to your business, please consider publishing it on Belisarius.com.

March 12, 2006

This site features articles and presentations on agility and time-based competition with a focus on their application to business strategy. The unifying theme comes from maneuver warfare—or more broadly, maneuver conflict—as was described by the late American strategist, Col John R. Boyd, USAF, in his briefing "Patterns of Conflict" (1.6 MB PPT document on Defense and the National Interest.)

In armed conflict, maneuver warfare requires the ability to operate "inside opponents' observe- orient- decide- act loops."  Such mental and physical quickness generates ambiguity, confusion, and panic in the opposing side.  The idea is to penetrate the enemy, isolating him into non-cooperative elements which pump up his friction and impede any vigorous response. Commanders who can achieve these effects often gain victory without bloody and "decisive" battles.  For more details on OODA loops in armed conflict, please consult our sister site, Defense and the National Interest.

In business, the idea is not so much to confuse competitors, although that is always satisfying, but to get customers to buy whatever it is that you're selling.  Competitors are hostile and sometimes agile features of the environment, but "defeating" them is not the main idea.  It turns out, though, that OODA loops can shape customer desires just like they shape opponents' conception of the conflict in war.  Companies that operate "inside their competitors' and customers' OODA loops" typically turn customers into fanatical loyalists.  Details in my new book, Certain to Win.

In business as in war, the ability to employ these maneuver concepts rests on an underlying cultural foundation. Sun Tzu, writing sometime before 400 B.C., made the earliest known identification of the elements of such a high-performing culture. 

Chief among these is trust, which is so fundamental that he simply called it, "The Way." Mutual trust is now recognized as essential by every successful practitioner of maneuver concepts from the US Marine Corps to Japanese industrialists to General Electric.  The destruction of trust as a result of corporate short-sightedness or lack of integrity among senior managers is the single most significant cause of business failures in the early 21st century.

Many of our articles explore the relationship between trust – along with Boyd's other cultural attributes, including "focus and direction" and "mission orientation" – and quick OODA loops.  You will also find advice on specific actions you can take to create this culture in your organization.

We invite you to browse our site and return often, as new material is added on a regular basis. We would also welcome contributions from readers who have applied these ideas to their own companies.

For information on arranging seminars or consulting at your organization, please visit our Seminars page.

New on War, Chaos, and Business

3/12/06 Boyd's OODA "Loop" - greatly revised and slightly expanded version.  Slide show, with some notes.  (155 KB PPT).

10/1/05 Protecting Intellectual Property in China, by Thor Feilberg, Thomas Andresen & Thor Møller, Copenhagen Business School.  Ordinarily, principles from warfare do not apply to business.  Protecting intellectual property from pirates, however, has a lot in common with war.

9/24/05 The Belisarius.com review of The Radical Elements of Radical Success, by Dan Ward.

8/06/05 Check out Maj Dan Ward's (see previous item) new book, The Radical Elements, at http://www.rogueprojectleader.com/

7/01/05 Doing less with more, by Maj Dan Ward, USAF. "The Defense acquisition community today has too much money ..." from Defense AT&L Magazine, Nov-Dec 2004 (535 KB PDF).

4/02/05 Version 1.2 of Certain to Win (2.9 MB PPT)  Designed to be played as a slide show, but also has extensive notes.

3/17/05 Got a Second? A Journey into the OODA Cycle, by Ken J. Good, Strategos International.  Step-by-step with a veteran weapons and tactics instructor. (76 KB PDF)

3/14/05  OODA Applied to Individual Combat or Martial Arts Training By J. Mark Hord.  Application of the OODA loop in the school of Russian martial arts, Systema.

3/06/05 "... an excellent primer for those new to Boyd and a catalyst to those with business experience ..."  Chuck Leader in "A Winning Combination," a review of Certain to Win in the March 2005 Marine Corps Gazette. [After leaving the Marine Corps, Chuck Leader established a career as a strategy consultant and CEO of a leading IT company.]

1/27/05 The best customer service needs strong leaders, F. Paul Karres.  Certain to Win in action. Examples of improving service, revenue, and profits.  Quickly. Originally published in the Las Vegas Business Press.

1/11/05  New Management Approach for the Department of Defense, John C. F. Tillson.  A challenging paper on the applications of Eli Goldratt's Theory of Constraints to the problem of recasting DoD for the 21st century.  Will provide insights into the art of the possible in any large organization.

9/27/04 Training first responders in OODA loop techniques, D. von Lubitz, et. al.  Presented as a key-note speech at EMISPHER 2004 "Best Practice in Real-time Telemedicine". Istanbul, Turkey, September 16-18, 2004. (350 KB PDF on Defense and the National Interest.)

8/05/04 Second part of the Interview with Belisarius.com Editor Chet Richards on LocalTechWire.com.  More Boyd, Sun Tzu, business strategy, and the inevitable plugs for Certain to Win.

6/28/04 Press Release for Certain to Win.

6/24/04 Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business, by Chet Richards, Editor of Belisarius.com. Order online, direct from the publisher— click here, or call 1-888-795-4274. Now available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

6/24/04 How to Win When Everybody's in the Same Boat, By Lane Desborough.  Everybody races the same boat, but some crews consistently do better than others.

5/26/04 Interview with Dr. Chet Richards on Sonshi.com.  Exploring how Boyd's strategy derives from Sun Tzu and a few places where it differs.

5/26/04 An Alternative OODA "Loop."  For Boyd's legacy to survive, people must continue developing his ideas. Here's an interesting new suggestion for interpreting the orientation phase of the OODA Loop.

5/19/04 Striking at the Achilles Heel of Integrated Marketing - Careful planning, coordination, and integration of all company resources is the key to success, right?  Only if you don't have competent competition, argues Matthew Syrett, VP of Grey Interactive.



Sun Tzu believed that the moral strength and intellectual faculty of man were decisive in war, and that if these were properly applied war [ed. note: and business] could be waged with certain success.

—Brig Gen Samuel B. Griffith, USMC

What is the aim or purpose of strategy?  To improve our ability to shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances, so that we (as individuals or as groups or as a culture or as a nation-state) can survive on our own terms.

—John R. Boyd




CERTAIN TO WIN: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business
By Chet Richards More...
Advance Reviews
Available on Amazon and B&N



The Radical Elements of Radical Success
By Dan Ward. Life is more than success. Belisarius.com review.


Boyd:  The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War


By Robert Coram
Paperback now available at Amazon & B&N.

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