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Oprah time: Science, Strategy and War by Frans P.B. Osinga

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Science, Strategy and War isn’t a book that would have normally made it on to my reading list, but we’re living in strange times. The book is an analysis of the history and strategic theory created over time by John Boyd.

Boyd’s thinking led to the development of post-Vietnam, pre-stealth fighter aircraft that dominated the world’s skies. Boyd employed his experience and the insight that a ‘Swiss Army knife’ approach seldom provided an adequate design solution. A lesson that the US failed to learn when it created the F-35.

Boyd was also responsible for creating the ideas that encouraged the US to move war into the IT space. Boyd’s thinking on strategy has shaped military thinking on tools, structure, integration and responsibility. What military-types call network-centric warfare. This seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into a competitive advantage.

We saw the potential of this thinking in the first Gulf War when sensors, missiles and satellite imagery changed the face of modern warfare. What was less appreciated at the time by commentators is that this form of warfare was uniquely aided by Iraq’s flat terrain; which aided remote sensors and wireless networks. But the network-centric aspect really came into its own with William Owens’ paper on the system-of-systems which was emerging as the military followed Boyd’s approach.

Ok, whilst there is some crossover with technology concepts such as Kevin Kelly’s ‘mirrorworld‘; where AR knits together networked information with location this is all pretty arcane stuff.

Boyd breaks out of military circles

John Boyd is particularly famous for a model called OODA which has broken out from its military origins. Probably the most high profile fan at the moment is Dominic Cummings – the special advisor to Boris Johnson and political activist.

Cummings has talked about Boyd in terms of disruption and marketing of his political messages – through getting inside their OODA loop.

Boyd’s ideas have also been picked up by sports coaches and even litigation teams in the US.

OODA

OODA or observe–orient–decide–act, is often described as a ‘loop’ and shown that way. However this deceives the audience of its true nature. As Osinga correctly points out; observe and orient are continual flows of information that feed into the decide and act functions. Strategists talk about ‘getting inside the enemies OODA loop’; that is disrupting their intelligence, understanding of their situational awareness and ability to act.

Osinga’s critique of Boyd

In Science, Strategy and War, Osinga sets out to do achieve a number of things with regards John Boyd’s ideas.

First of all Osinga provides context, by providing a history of Boyd’s career in military service and as a retired service member and academic. Osinga brings a great deal of understanding to this part of the book as he also served in an air force and is an academic.

John Boyd Climbing out of F-86 Cockpit, circa 1953
John Boyd standing up in the cockpit of the F-86 Sabre that he few during his military service.

Secondly, he explains how Boyd developed and honed his ideas over time. Boyd’s OODA model was borne out of empirical experience as a combat pilot. It was first used to change fighter pilots about engaging with the enemy. Use of it then expanded to encompass bigger strategic outlooks.

Boyd read widely and had a deep understanding fo scientific principles due to his engineering background. He applied meta analysis to the great strategies and military campaigns of history and the literature describing them. He drew on his understanding of science to try and provide analogies for the many areas of uncertainty in implementing a strategy. He drew on the social sciences and concepts like post-modernism.

Whilst Boyd was technical; Science, Strategy and War makes it clear that he wasn’t technocratic in nature. Boyd was keenly aware of human factors including the different aspect of moral power. I think that this one of the least understood aspects of Boyd’s thinking.

I don’t think that Osinga’s book is essential reading for marketing. It was never meant to be. Instead, it provides a good insight into how many of our thinkers operate only at the surface level without truly understanding the concepts they talk about. Boyd was not a surface player, he thought deeply about things and read widely. In that respect I think he can be an example to us all. Osinga did a really good job at bringing this to light in an accessible way.

More on strategy here, more strategy related book reviews here.

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Oprah time: Megatrends by John Naisbitt

Reading Time: 2 minutes

John Naisbitt’s Megatrends was on the New York Times bestseller list when it was first published in 1982. Naisbitt outlined some big long term trends that he’d found as part of a decade of research. Hence the mega in Megatrends; though one could argue that macro may have been a more accurate term to use.

I wasn’t that familiar with the work of Naisbitt; but came upon it by a circuitous route.

My circuitous route to Megatrends

I was introduced to the works of futurist Alvin Toffler in college reading Future Shock, The Third Wave and Power Shift. At the time these were cited on the technology degree courses my friends were on; as well as the marketing course I was studying.

My house mate and I would talk about Toffler’s books as much Robert Pirsig or Emmanuel Kant, on the sofa of an evening sipping really bad instant coffee. I wouldn’t say that those were particularly happy days for me, but they did give me the time to think and read. Something that is much more of a struggle now.

As I became more interested in Asia in the late 1990s; l read about how Toffler had influenced technocratic leaders from Singapore to China. I also started to read about John Naisbitt. Like Toffler, Naisbitt had done the Asian speaker circuits, met senior officials and conducted projects in-country through the 1990s. The management consultancy Toffler Associates eventually operated in China on government and private sector briefs.

Compared to Toffler; Naisbitt seems to have become much more personally committed to China and central Europe. He has alternately lived in Vienna and in Tianjin, China. As the dot com boom kicked off I was reading this book. It fitted right in with similar writings from publications like Gilder Technology Report, Wired and Upside.

LONDON
Megatrends by John Naisbitt

Back to the Megatrends review

In Megatrends Naisbitt sets out X large scale long term trends that he sees in society

  • Information society and the rise of the knowledge worker
  • High tech / high touch – Naisbitt saw that roles would focus more on technology, or on ‘high touch’ sectors where humans aren’t easily replaceable like nursing care
  • Globalisation – a move in focus from the national economy to the world economy as the world becomes more interconnected
  • A move in strategic focus from short-term planning to long term planning.
  • Decentralisation of power and structures
  • A move from institutional help to self-help
  • Bottom-up governance across government and other organisations as a channel for public opinion
  • The move from hierarchies to networks
  • The population shift in the US from north to south
  • Increase in consumer choice

At the top line we can still see much of these changes. I can see how Naisbitt’s vision of globalisation would appeal to the likes of Singapore and China. I am less sure about how Chinese technocrats would have made of bottom up decision making or as Naisbitt puts it ‘participatory democracy’.

Naisbitt failed to take the next logical step; to look at the interactions between the trends. Instead the chapters remained siloed, rather than in context.

For instance that the decline of hierarchies and rise of knowledge workers saw layers of management shed by organisations. Or the link between consumer choice and the rise of globalisation.

Conclusion

Megatrends has value in the way that looks at trends without looking at the how (usually mentioning digitalisation or some similar vehicle of transformation). This is something that we probably wouldn’t be able to do now; given that our mindset is about big data and agile processes. More book reviews here.

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Oprah time: Eat Your Greens edited by Wiemer Snijders

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Eat Your Greens is a selection of articles curated by Wiemer Snijders on all things that come up for discussion amongst account planners. Branding, marketing, some home truths about innovation and the value of creative. Much of it recycles the stuff that account planners know from reading Sharp or Field and Binet. In addition there are a few that specifically address diversity, inclusion – but excludes ageism in terms of the ways it talks about these as an issue.

Where’s the value in Eat Your Greens? The answer to that question depends on where you are in your career. As someone who is established in my career, I found it valuable in a few different ways.

Some of the essays from the likes of Phil Graves, Mark Ritson and Ryan Wallman, Rose and Faris Yakob, Byron Sharp and Amy Wilson are strong enough to make Eat Your Greens worthwhile in its own right. For instance here’s some of what Ritson had to say:

“The modern marketer has created an entirely stupid dichotomy between ‘digital communications’ and ‘traditional communications’… There are just tactical tools, and they can only be valued and selected once a target and a position and a strategy are in place. What’s more, it’s clear that most successful campaigns combine multiple channels for optimum success. Most studies suggest that the more channels a campaign includes, the better the ultimate ROI.”

Mark Ritson in Eat Your Greens

Going through the essays allowed me to come up with recommendations of new reading materials referenced in the essays – I have been using it to bulk up my Amazon list.

Essays that I would particularly recommend:

  • What Ails Marketing by Mark Ritson
  • Post-Truth Telly by Tess Alps
  • To Target Or Not To Target, That’s Not The Question by Shann Biglione
  • Everybody Lies – The Importance of Psychological Validity In Consumer Insight by Phil Graves
  • The Devaluation of Creativity by Bob Hoffman
  • Biting The Hand That Feeds Us? Why Advertising’s Love Of Novelty Is Doing Brands A Disservice by Kate Waters
  • Why Innovation Isn’t As Sexy As Business Books Promise by Costas Papaikonomou

For busy marketers or junior planners, Eat Your Greens is a nice introductory point for a number of issues in marketing, such as the corrosive digitisation of marketing.

I think it fulfils an important role. Particularly for junior planners as many agencies now rely on an army of freelance talent. Eat Your Greens isn’t a substitute for having senior staff developing younger account planning minds on the job. But given the current state of agencies, its probably one of the best options that we have. More book reviews here and my slowly updated bookshelf here.