Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It's called OODA

In which Joel Spolsky goes out of the way to describe a concept of strategy that already has a catchy name
Here is how it works. You fire at the enemy. That's the fire part. And you move forward at the same time. That's the motion. Get it?

You're firing because then your enemy has to take cover. He can't fire back at you when he's cowering behind a wall. But firing is not enough. You also have to move forward, or you won't make any progress. Moving forward brings you closer to the enemy. And closer enemies are easier to hit. You need both -- fire and motion -- to accomplish anything. Almost every military tactic, whether it's employed on air, sea, or land, is a variation on this fundamental pattern.

That part is fine. But then he extends his metaphor and runs into trouble
What do you do if you find yourself reacting to a rival's agenda instead of setting your own? The answer is to break the cycle as fast as you can. If you're a small company, you can't afford to respond to somebody else's fire. The big guys have 10 times the ammunition. So instead, you have to lure them into a Thermopylae of your own creation, where size doesn't matter.

What he's talking about - and going on at great pains to explain - is the OODA Loop. Which is, essentially, acting on your opponent faster than they can take action; by acting on them, quicker than they can act on you, you force them into a cycle of reaction. Eventually they run out of room, airspeed and capital and they crash in flames and you enjoy the lamentations of their women.

It was articulated by Colonel John Boyd in the bad old days of the Cold War - but I suspect the bones of the matter were felt by the great Captains long before there were overhead slides. [1]

There was a great Marine Gazette article that explained it well to a grunt, way back in the 80s: When artillery is falling where you were 30 minutes ago - you're in their OODA Loop.

Thing is, Joel is a smart guy - it's hard to believe that he doesn't know about this. So why the prose to explain a concept that is already explained?

Also .. I wouldn't use Thermopylae. As last stands go, it was magnificent and heroic but ...

Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

Unless you have no choice, Heroic Last Stands are to be avoided, not embraced.

[1] Bedford Forrest was supposed to have said "git thar fustest with the mostest," which is certainly the spirit of the thing. Except he didn't, according to Bruce Catton. I just learned something, to my sorrow.
blog comments powered by Disqus