Boyd and Beyond 2012, Quantico, VA — a quickie recap


Photo Credit, J. Court Shipman

For the third consecutive year, Boyd and Beyond was held at Quantico, Virginia. This year we had a record turn-out, approaching 100 on Saturday. In fact, had we had 138 total RSVPs, and many had to cancel at the last minute. This year we were missing our traditional “law enforcement” contingent, but added speakers from areas not traditionally associated with Boydian thoughts and methods, most notably NGOs and humanitarian relief organizations and web design/marketing. Mary Ellen Boyd, one of John Boyd’s daughters, joined us for both days, and her active participation, for me, was a true highlight of the event.

Zenpundit is writing a more exhaustive post, so what I plan to share are a few highlights and will not cover all presenters:

Chet Richards, author of Certain to Win, a close associate of Boyd and the only person authorized to give Boyd’s presentations, gave a one hour talk on Boyd’s Conceptual Spiral and The Meaning of Life. Chet was kind enough to include the paper he delivered on his website Fast Transients. The paper is a fascinating exposition into “how” Boyd’s ideas developed, and the circumstances surrounding the evolution of his presentations.

Terry Barnhart, who has a new book out, Creating a Lean R&D System, walked the audience through the development of an A3, a tool used in Lean problem identification and solution, and sourced from John Shook’s Managing to Learn. Terry’s passion and depth of knowledge have been a benefit at each Boyd and Beyond event since 2010, and this year was no exception.

The remaining speakers were first-timers in both attendance and speaking:

Marshall Wallace, Director of the Do No Harm Program of the CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, gave a talk on how non-governmental organizations deal with the uncertainty of working in conflict zones. Marshall’s OODA-like approach is divided around two distinct thoughts:

  1. How do you look at context? And categorize the (1) dividers—who are inherent in conflict and (2) the connectors, who provide cohesion in spite of that conflict, but are often invisible in the heat of battle.
  2. Defining the mental models of change. (1) Change by resources (What resources are being brought in w/respect to what other groups are bringing) (2) how NGOs interact (dog-eat-dog/cooperative & collaborative) Marhall advocates a very “to be or to do” attitude with a “what can I do” to generate options and opportunities, and an important daily rhetorical question: “Are you going to do harm today?”

Marshall said the four most important components of NGO participation in conflict zones were: respect, accountability, fairness, and transparency. While a presentation from an NGO was unexpected to many who have attended these events, Marhall’s was one the best received and most discussed talks of the two days.

Venkatesh Rao, author if TEMPO, and blogger at ribbonfarm, was the first speaker on Saturday. Venkat’s talk was titled “What Does “Inside the Tempo” Mean? and he went on to provide eleven examples, but started with the classic story of the hedgehog and the hare, which illustrates Venkat’s proposition that “mental models are an addiction.” This line of thought squares with Boyd’s admonition to regularly create and destroy mental models as the need arises.

Gahlord Dewald spoke on what he called “dreadful efficiency” and spoke of the challenges presented to web designers and marketers in providing both content and advertising in media that range from a large PC screen to a mobile PDA device. While I had never considered the problem, it appears the “efficiencies” of a “super computer” in your pocket remains presents “dreadful” obstacles to our traditional methods of advertising and marketing.

Peter Turner gave a compelling talk on Transition Operations and COIN. He emphasized the “letting go” of the occupying force as it transitions out of a country, and allowing locals to “own” decisions made during this transition. (Pete co-wrote a thought provoking piece at Small Wars Journal here.)

This is just a thumbnail review, so I’ll wrap it up by saying the same mental fatigue that has characterized these two days in October accompanied this event. We’ve tentative plans for a Spring 2013 event on the west coast, and based on response this past weekend, will probably happen. Will keep you posted.

Here are some of the books recommended:

Generals, Tom Ricks

The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey

Kill Decision, Daniel Suarez (reviewed at zenpundit here)

Damage Control, Eric Dezenhall

Buck it Up, Suck it Up, James Carville

Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, Cynthia M. Grabo

This Kind of War, T.R. Fehnrenbach

The End, Ian Kershaw

The Black Tulip, Milt Bearden

America’s First Battles, Heller and Stofft

Shadow War, Tom Hayden

Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, Jon Tetsuro Sumida (I reviewed here)

Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher

Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille

Thriving on Chaos, Tom Peters

Snake Eaters, Owen West (reviewed at zenpundit here)

Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott

The Logic of Failure, Dietrich Dorner

The New Wars, Herfried Munkler

April 1865: The Month That Saved America, Jay Winik

Leading With Cultural Intelligence, David A. Livermore


4 Responses to “Boyd and Beyond 2012, Quantico, VA — a quickie recap”

  1. Cameron Schaefer says:

    J., thanks so much for the summary – obviously wish I could have been there. A west coast event in the Spring would be awesome! Also, thanks for providing the reading list…I was hoping if I pinged enough people about it someone would remember, ha!

  2. Hi Cam,

    The reading list is the gift that keeps on giving! I’m still working on the 2010 reading list.

  3. Marshall Wallace says:

    Scott, thanks for all you did to make the event so special. I enjoyed all the people immensely and the ideas changed me. The hardware was clearly good enough to keep us alive for two days but I don’t really remember it. Actually, great thanks are owed the Marines for inviting us to use their facilities. The visit to the archives was a real treat.

    The summary is great – and flattering. I won’t be shy about about sharing the link!