Possibilities and Actions

· December 10, 2018

At the end of his Patterns of Conflict briefing, Boyd talks about how grand strategy is centered around maintaining and improving our adaptability to change. 

One of the key components of that is being able to effectively:

  1. Generate new ideas and possibilities
  2. Rapidly adapt to them

This got me thinking a little on diversity. Diversity within a group requires rewarding and incentivizing different ways of being - what Boyd calls promoting the unconventional. To generate a range of possibilities we need a range of backgrounds, a range of thinking. 

Rapid adoption of new possibilities when they work requires harmony and alignment - tight, effective groups that can “turn on a dime”. 

There is a tension there, as one of the easiest ways to get that high cohesion, high alignment harmony is to suppress diversity, and optimize for fit. This generally means a group with more similar backgrounds and cultural experience. This allows for a higher level of implicit communication, a key part of rapidity. Similarly, alignment is easier without diversity of thought - ideas are more easily assimilated when they come from similar starting points. 

A group that relies too much on background for harmony will be able to move rapidly, but will be unable to generate a really wide range of possibilities - they will be effective until they are suddenly and catastrophically unsuited for the world as it has become. 

Building a group with both diversity and harmony is significantly harder. The leader is required to have quite a high tolerance for discomfort and ambiguity - their team should be producing ideas which they are not going to like. The team will also have to find their own basis for the implicit communication and high levels of trust.

This is easier the smaller the group and the less complex the structure of the organization. Boyd describes the idea as multiple cooperative centers of gravity. 

The more a group can be introduced to a range of conditions, the more they are forced to adapt and explore new ideas. That means choosing adaptability over medium term optimisation, on the basis it results in better long term outcomes. In the medium term may well look like a bad idea, which is a risk the group has to be comfortable taking.