Sunday, 14 October 2012

Boyd and Beyond - Initial thoughts

Well, Boyd and Beyond is over. I’ll be writing a lot on the topics brought up over the coming weeks and months, including a full paper on the ways Boyd can be used to sharpen or even wholly shape political campaigns. With the impressions still fresh in my mind I wanted to put a few thoughts to paper before the intensity fades. This may not be my most coherent blog ever, as it's fair to say I'm as mentally exhausted as I've ever been.

I owe a special thanks to the organisers, particularly Stan Coerr and Scott Shipman for allowing me to speak and helping me put my trip together.

In terms of the event itself, I need to put it in the context that I found it. I know about 3 people who I can mention John Boyd to and have them know who I mean, so coming to the conference was special in and of itself. It was also gratifying to meet some other Brits there, JB and Michael Moore, who both spoke on their specific areas of expertise. Having so many people there who have immersed themselves in the concepts was hugely exciting.

The calibre of all the speakers was extremely high and the range of topics as diverse as could be expected. It was particularly good to have so many Marine speakers in attendance, since for a civilian it’s sometimes hard to conceive of how Boyd’s ideas get used in the military context. I don’t want to call out particular speakers as being better than others. Some were more resonant to me but all had a perspective which was interesting and valuable.

Getting to visit the Boyd archives was also a very special experience, and Mary Ellen Boyd was kind enough to take the time to talk to some of us about her father on a more personal level. I now have a copy of a hand drawn version of the OODA loop which we found in a draft of one of Boyd’s presentations. I also received audio copies of various of Boyd’s briefings which I can’t wait to listen to when I’m back in the UK.

Overall I felt the strength of the event wasn’t in the questions that it answered, but in the questions that it raised. It’s easy to become navel gazing when you’re coming up with ideas in isolation, and I don’t think anyone who spoke got away without someone asking a sharp question or two which challenged what they were saying. I know from my own experience that I need to go back to the drawing board.

Although the focus of the conference is on Boyd there was healthy discussion of ideas which are only loosely connected to Boyd, or are implimentations of his ideas which could not be predicted. It’s a chaotic field, which I imagine is how Boyd would have wanted it to be, with people spinning off his ideas to unexpected places. 

Something else I took away was a sense of momentum. The group doesn’t represent everyone who is thinking about Boyd, but rather some of the most passionate and the most connected to his works. I think the goal for most people who attended the meeting is to sharpen their spears and go back to their careers and lives to continue to try and find ways to implement them. In the background on Twitter it was fascinating to watch people submitting ideas and responding to things which were being reported online. ZenPundit did a great job of live tweeting the event. 

Ultimately that’s the primary value. As one attendee said to me, Boydian ideas can lead to an valuable end state, a self examining and constantly improving system, and I hope that in years to come the conference and surrounding discussions will be that for everyone interested in Boyd and ensure there is an opportunity to take our assumptions and hold them up to the scrutiny of others, and to continue to examine Boyd’s ideas to ensure that insights remain fresh.

On a personal level - Thanks to everyone for organising the event, attending the event and making me so welcome. I look forward to seeing you all next year.


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