· October 21, 2018

I’ve been making my way though the Marine’s Warfighting paper, after finishing Coram’s excellent biography of John Boyd. One of the topics is addressed is the advantage of speed, with this note:

Since it is relative speed that matters, it follows that we should take all measures to improve our own speed while degrading our enemy’s. However, experience shows that we can-not sustain a high rate of speed indefinitely. As a result, a pattern develops: fast, slow, fast again. A competitive rhythm develops in combat with each belligerent trying to generate speed when it is advantageous. 

Despite having read quite a bit about tempo (including vgr’s very good Tempo) I hadn’t fully grasped this idea before: that no matter how fast you can go as an inidividual, team, or organization, you can always go bit faster. However, that bit faster is (inherently) unsustainable. Most of the time we end up pushing into that faster pace not due to our own initiative but due to external factors, prompted by the situation. We go in to crunch mode at work when a deadline is approaching, we clean the entire house when we realise we have relatives unexpectedly coming over the next day, etc. The importance of tempo is because these peaks and valleys are inevitable, even if the average pace is good. 

In combat, where the consequences of the inevitable lull after a high pace of operations can be deadly, managing the tempo of operations is vital. In the rest of life though, my impression is that taking control of tempo is rare. 

Given that the situational pressures will happen regardless, this will often involve pushing at times where we don’t have some clear forcing factor: this feels hard enough to do individually, even more challenging organizationally. 

The ability to shift into high gear opportunistically rather than reactively requires having the awareness to spot the opportunities, which adds additional difficulty. I wonder how much of the performance of high performance groups is because of these elements - rather than their average being higher, they are operating at a higher rate when it really matters.