Special guests Mario Platt (Privacy Beacon) and Ben Ford (Commando Development) join Ben Mosior for an extensive discussion of the OODA Loop, the Cynefin Framework, and Derek M. C. Yuen’s book, Deciphering Sun Tzu.
- Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
- Thinking in Bets
- The Evolution of Wealth
- Deciphering Sun Tzu
- Loon Shots
- The Willpower Instinct
- The Cynefin MiniBook
Check out Privacy Beacon and follow Mario Platt on Twitter:
Check out Commando Development and follow Ben Ford on Twitter:
Intro / Outro Music by DJ Quads
Ben Mosior: Hello everyone and welcome to episode four of the Hired Thought Podcast. My name is Ben Mosior and I’m very pleased to be joined today by Mario Platt of Privacy Beacon, and Ben Ford of Commando Development. These two people have been amazing companions in the discussions that we’ve had around strategy, and thinking about how to be more purposeful in business. I’m really excited for the conversation that we’re going to have today. And without further ado, I’m going to ask each of them to introduce themselves to you. Mario, why don’t you get started? What’s your background, and what kind of brought you here today?
Mario Platt: So I very early, at age 13, I got interested in security, late 90s, and that’s mainly what I’ve been focusing on since then. So I started as many 13 year olds, when they get interested in security, it’s not because of the control or the governance or the strategy, because they would like to hack, right? So that’s kind of where I came from. So over the years, I’ve had a lot of different roles, so from operations, security engineering. I did assurance, did compliance, risk management, and for circa, a year and a half to two years ago, I went solo. So I’m now an independent consultant. And also a couple of years ago, I’ve not finished but I decided to compliment my security skills with a business degree. I’m almost finished with that as well, to getting a bit of a broader sense of how to apply security to different context, and that’s also when I got more purposeful in learning about strategy, generally speaking.
Ben Mosior: Awesome, and congrats on your nearing completion of the business degree, that’s awesome.
Mario Platt: Yes, thank you.
Ben Mosior: Ben, let’s move on to you. What’s your background? And tell us a little bit about what brought you here today.
Ben Ford: Sure thing. So I’ve been a software developer and a team builder, team leader for sort of 10 years or so. And before that, I was a Royal Marine commando, which for the longest time I thought, well you know, that was something fun I did in my 20s. I had a great time, but that was then and this is now. And it wasn’t until I started building my own teams, and you know, moving up the stack, I guess, if you like, into trying to make people and teams more effective that actually some of the lessons that I learned, it became apparent that actually they were quite important. Around about that time two really pivotal books came out, one was Team of Teams by Stan McChrystal, and the other one was Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. And they really sort of, I was already starting to see some parallels between my military service and the things that I needed to be more effective as a leader, and you know, a builder of teams. And those two books really just sort of, you know, gave me a bit more impetus to go study a bit more. So you know, along the way I came across Boyd’s OODA Loop. One of McChrystal’s later books, One Mission introduced Cynefin. And then from there on, obviously, you know Wardley Maps is basically where you end up, I think, when you’re banging that strategy drum. And then obviously, you know, we met a few months ago. We’ve chatted a bit and I’m in this kind of nice but confusing position where I see a lot of parallels between my military service, some of the concepts of functional programming and that, you know, very, very kind of always seeking more fundamental abstractions. And then in the middle of it, there’s all this kind of research on strategy, and you know, this is going to be a great conversation, I’m sure.
Ben Mosior: I’m really excited to have you both here. Let’s get started with Colonel Boyd. Colonel John Boyd invented a model for sense making in, I guess it was originally applied for dog fighting, right?
Ben Ford: Yep.
Ben Mosior: Ben, do you have kind of like a basic kind of history background that you are familiar with, or you could share with us?
Ben Ford: Yeah, so Boyd’s a weird one, he didn’t really write much down. So much of his kind of teachings, you know, there’s this massive kind of briefing that he gave, lots and lots of people in the US military establishment. There’s a couple of papers that he wrote, but really most of the kind of detail of what I think I know about Boyd has come from his associates. So one really good book if you want to kind of dig into his background and history is his biography, which is, I think, called Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Face of Warfare, or something along those lines. And that gets into a bit of his history and his kind of motivation, and quite important to understand his kind of, how he developed his ideas over several decades. So the OODA Loop wasn’t something that he came up with while he was a pilot, it was something that he came up with after he’d done, you know, energy maneuver theory, and you know, a whole bunch of other stuff. And he’d gone and got an engineering degree, and you know, looked into thermal dynamics, uncertainty principle. Loads of inputs into this thing that gets presented most often, you know, when you first come across the OODA Loop, it gets presented as quite superficial kind of linear loop, which as I’m sure, we’re going to get into, and this conversation is not even beginning to scratch the surface.
Ben Mosior: For anyone who’s not familiar, the most simplistic representation of it is a loop of observe, orient, decide and act, and that repeats. And usually when people explain it, they kind of accompany it with some explanation about going through that loop faster than opponents, and introducing noise into their decision making cycle because of how out of date the way their ability to orient to the situation is, relative to yours, if you’re going faster. It all kind of gets really hand wavy really quick, especially because, for most of us, we’re not flying planes. And so I think there’s an interesting way to look at this, however, from the standpoint of organizational strategy, and even individual strategy. Mario, I was kind of curious, like what’s your background, what’s your experience with using the OODA Loop or thinking about it? What has it shown you in your work, and maybe what do you think about when someone starts talking about the OODA Loop?
Mario Platt: So the first thing that hit me in the OODA Loop, which is, I have already been exposed, because there’s a lot of different people talking about it, to the simplistic way of seeing it as a circle, right? That you go around et cetera, and there are even many security offers that refer to that often. In order to appreciate the complexity, the evolving threat landscape, what we’re gonna do about it, how we’re going to plan to navigate ourselves through its cycle. Now once I started digging a bit more, it was really an ah-ha moment. I think I appreciated that I could actually try and use the loops, on my rediscovery of the concept, than I did originally. Because originally, it’s another kind of cycle type thing, right, yeah it’s interesting but it doesn’t tell me much. When you look at the extended version of the OODA Loop, what was actually drawn, then it’s different, right? It’s a completely different ballgame at that stage, because you have increased guidance, you have feedback loops, you have different ways that information can navigate. It’s not just a loop. You can find yourself in different parts of the situation, in not only that, as you mentioned, you can use it for anything. For business, for personal, right? So for instance, the simplest example that I use when talking OODA to non-technical people is really, what is your implicit guidance, right? So when no one’s looking, when you go to the fridge to get food, what you pick up, right? If you’re someone struggling with weight, or something along those lines. So the OODA Loop, the extended version of it, I think is really, really useful to think about really anything. About the actions that you take, the feedback loop you get from the world, and then how you’re going to base your next decisions, and where does the feedback loop enter? Where does it go, and how you’re going to navigate around it. So when I discovered this extended version, it was really changing for me. Now the way I sometimes use the OODA Loop is I just go to Google and open it in front of me, and think about a problem, right? I’m not writing things down. I’m not trying to be academic about it. I just look at the picture thinking about a particular problem, and I start thinking, well, is this implicit kind? I’m making a conscious decision, so what kind of loops can I expect? Or what kind of feedback can I expect from taking a certain course of action? And for me, and it is something that Mr Rivera is currently writing about. There’s also a session in the US at the end of the month. It’s about how the overlap between Cynefin and the OODA Loop. And one of the things that I really, that I still haven’t completely figured my way around it, to be completely honest, but it’s something that’s been kind of on my mind, and hasn’t moved away for the past two weeks, is in terms of the feedback loops that happen after you make decisions. So particularly, the view that you, as in poker, so I’m referring specifically to thinking in bets book. In terms of after you perform an action, you have two things, you have an outcome and you have a decision, right? That separate between the quality of the decision and the outcome, I think that’s so much to explore there. It is something that, because especially in strategy, and even the way Simon Wardley presents, Wardley mapping, right? We’re always talking chess, right? But chess, it’s a perfect information guide. You see the board, right? When you don’t see the board, I’m not sure that’s the best analogy, right? And I think a poker based analogy is probably much more useful. But as I said, it’s something that’s just been better in my mind. I need to think a lot more about it, and hopefully hear your opinions to see if you can help me move forward with this idea.
Ben Mosior: I liked the way that you described how you approach this kind of idea of using the OODA Loop. Like I’m just kind of curious, Ben, do you have a similar practice where you just kind of sit with the loop and try to understand the implicit guidance, and think about the feedback? How does using this framework look to you, especially in the work that you do now?
Ben Ford: So yeah, so I’ve come at the OODA Loop sort of a bit later, I guess. So, and I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in the functional programming world, where everything’s about recursion and hierarchy. So I’ve come to a maybe slight heretical view of the OODA Loop. I think this formulation’s wrong. I think the formulation here is a limitation of the communications medium at the time. So you know, when Boyd was drawing all this stuff out, he had overhead projectors and pen on whatever the material’s called. I believe that what we’re really looking at here with the OODA Loop is a hierarchy. So your orient bit, and your beliefs and your values and everything is in the middle. And the way you interact with the world, or the boundary between you and the world is at the outside, right? And in between, you know, what crosses the boundaries from the outside world inwards is the observations, and those penetrate that bubble to differing levels depending on how impactful they are. So for example, if you have an observation of something that’s completely familiar, you know, something that you know how to do, something that falls within the implicit guidance and control lines there. It’s not going to penetrate very high up the hierarchy of your belief system, right? It’s going to be, okay, I’ve seen this a million times before, I know how to react. There’s no decision required, it’s just an action. Now when you get something that’s perhaps a little bit more novel, then you need to start making decisions and hypothesis, and it maybe starts to change your world view a bit. And that’s where you start to impinge on that blue square there, right?
Ben Mosior: I want to make sure that I describe this for folks who maybe won’t be able to see this. So if the OODA Loop is observe, orient, decide and act, the extended version of that looks like a quite complicated diagram. And observe is about observations which is that external incoming information, which Boyd described as unfolded circumstances, outside information, unfolding interaction with the environment. And then that’s fed forward into this blue square that he was talking about, which is in the orient step.
Ben Ford: Yep.
Ben Mosior: But it looks like a pentagram of cultural traditions, analysis and synthesis, previous experience, new information and genetic heritage. And then that feeds forward into a decision hypothesis, which is in the decision step. And so that’s what you’re describing right before the action step that comes after, for different kinds of decisions, it sounds like the loop occurs differently, am I understanding that correctly?
Ben Ford: Yeah, I believe so. So the other thing that you didn’t mention there is that between the orient and the observe, and the act parts of the loop, there are this implicit guidance and control lines, right? And these are places where, you know, if I would make the analogy of martial arts, if I may, so you know I do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, not particularly well.
Mario Platt: Me too!
Ben Ford: Yeah, great. So when I roll with a black belt, they’re not in their orient loop at all, right? I do not ever force them into their orient part of this loop, because I don’t act quickly enough. I’m not fluid enough, whereas they force me into that place all the time, right? I have to think about every single action I do, whereas the black belt is bouncing between observations and actions, observations and actions, because there’s nothing that I’m, I’m not able to force them high enough up their hierarchy that I just mentioned, to require them to think, right? And that’s, I believe, what Boyd is really talking about when he’s talking about getting inside someone’s OODA Loop. It’s actually making them bounce around inside that orient step, and closing them off from the outside world. So what I was talking about earlier, you know, when you’ve got something you’re completely familiar with, your observation leads to action. You know, the action changes the world in a way that’s expected, which gives you more observations. And I love the fact that you just mentioned there’s this word “Unfold” in here, right? This calls directly into Boyd’s paper Destruction and Creation, because destruction and creation is his description of what’s happening inside that orient part of the loop. And unfold is a term from functional programming, which is the opposite of a fold. So the fold is the destruction part, and the unfold is the new possibilities part. And that’s where I first started to kind of think about this in terms of hierarchies and recursion, and you know, the OODA Loop is obviously the scale of a company or a business, is very, very recursive. So there’s, you know, constant small OODA Loops going on, you know, I’m a programmer, one of my OODA Loops is my edit compile loop, right? Edit the code, as it works, and I’m genuinely not thinking very much about that at all, right? It’s mostly procedural, it’s mostly intuition based, until I come across a thorny problem, and then I might have to go out to a longer OODA Loop, which is gonna be Google or look at stack over flow or whatever. And all of these different network of composable OODA Loops, eventually builds this massive, very, very intertwined OODA Loop of the whole company. And that’s the way I’ve been kind of thinking of this.
Ben Mosior: It feels like there is, in the way that you describe that, there’s also this connection to the complexity question, where if you’re a practitioner, and going back to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu, if you’re a practitioner who’s very well experienced dealing with frankly very, for most of us, unanticipatable actions, without extensive training, they don’t spend very much time orienting because they’ve already run all the pathways and know how that works. And so this feels really connected to the topic of complexity, and in particular, you mentioned the Cynefin framework earlier. And just as a quick overview, I’m probably going to butcher this but I’ll do my best. The Cynefin framework is five domains. It basically splits between ordered systems and unordered systems, where within ordered systems you have simple, which is kind of straight forward push button interactions. There’s one best way of doing things. There’s complicated where it’s still knowable, but it might take some expert analysis. And maybe just a long time to figure things out. And then on the unordered side, it’s between complex and chaos. And complexity is, there’s no predictable kind of interaction, but there are stable patterns. So cause and effect isn’t as predictable, and you can’t think ahead, but you can probe and poke the system and see what happens. And then in chaos, there just is no order, and so the best thing to do is to act to escape it, usually. And then the fifth domain is basically this space where you are not aware of which one of those domains you’re in. So Mario, I’m curious about your perspective of how something like Cynefin, something like making sense of a complexity centric framework like that, making sense of reality with it, how that fits into OODA, in particular given what Ben has described about how those decisions might play out differently depending on things like training, or familiarity with circumstance.
Mario Platt: Yep. So I think one of the first things that I think should be done is look at it from a historical perspective, right? So when Boyd was developing the OODA Loop, complexity thinking wasn’t what it is today. Right, so there’s been a lot of work that’s been done in the meantime, particularly the Cynefin framework, Dave Snowden, that have been, so the complexity thinking has advanced enormously since then. So I think that not having certainly read as much of Boyd as Ben did, I’m sure, but when I go through information relating to that, it seems to me that John Boyd appreciates complexity, but didn’t fully grasp the concept, or how that would relate in terms of different circumstances or situations where you could be put, okay? And I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m really excited about the work that Rivera and Snowden are doing with combining both Cynefin and the OODA, because what Ben was saying is exactly that. So when you’re in a simple domain or in a complicated domain, there’s a certain pathway you’d make around the OODA Loop, right? That doesn’t need to, so you know that you’re going to do X, you’re going to get Y, right? It’s an ordered system. There’s no need to do a lot. Going back to the martial arts example, if I’m having a match against someone that is much more experienced than I am, then I’m going to be on the complexity or chaos side of things, right? It’s going to be difficult, I’m going to be trying things. I’m not sure they’re going to work. I’m even stop doing anything, because I suddenly feel overwhelmed by the situation itself, right? For someone that has much more experience, who’s been through that OODA Loop many more times. They’ve built the implicit guidance, so that they can treat, there’s a simple problem, right? So someone put his hand over there, or his weight on a particular arm, then I know I can go around, there’s nothing that he’s going to do about it, right? Unless he knows a countermeasure against this particular thing that I did there. So not only the different applications, depending on the complexity, going back to Cynefin, depending on which domain you find yourself in, there’s this, to me, what attracts me the most is that this is about going through the loop many times over, as a personal development activity, right? You know that the more you can get yourself out of thinking something is complex, in doing the things that you need to do to get you from an unordered complex system to a complicated problem, you’re going to become much more efficient. Relating this to worldly terms, it’s going to give rise to higher level order systems, right? So you’re going to be able to do things that you didn’t know you were ever going to be able to do, because you’ve mastered some components to a degree. Now you have available to you much more complex activities that were even unimaginable, or you could even figure out there were things, a year ago, five years ago, whatever may be the case.
Ben Mosior: Yeah, so thinking about just like what it’s like to have experiences in life, and develop skills, and to develop capabilities. And actually, in a very deliberate way, perhaps, think about what skills you need to be anticipating that you need to build in order to be able to navigate that OODA Loop in that way, in your own domains of expertise. Ben, I’m curious what your response is to that, like how does this show up in your life? And how do you play that game of thinking about what capabilities to build, what to think about in that sense?
Ben Ford: Yeah, so that was a really great summary actually, Mario, it’s kind of sparked a few things off for me. So I think that the bit in the orient bit, what you’re really doing there when you’re building a skill is you’re building structure, or maybe sometimes discovering structure, right? So with things like chess, with things like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, people who are good at it are good at it because they’re able to cognitively compress. And the only way you do that is by allowing this massively parallel processing thing we have between our ears to do that for you, right? There’s nothing really that can do parallel processing and pattern recognition quite like the human brain. So I think that this idea of going through the loop multiple times, it’s a familiar one to me, because that’s exactly what we do in the military, we drill, we drill things, right? We drill how to advance to contact, that’s a drill, right? It’s a drill that we practice over and over again, in very different circumstances. The other thing that we do, as part of the orders process, is we have a very, very structured system, almost like a ritual, in fact, because it gets you into the right mind frame. And one of the parts of that ritual is actions on, which is, okay, we’ve set out our happy path, this is what we want to do, this is what we want to achieve, but we recognize that we’re not in the obvious or complicated domain, more than likely. We’re probably going to dip into the complex and chaotic. Sorry, dip into is not right. I believe, and Mario maybe can correct me afterwards if I’m wrong, but I think the lines in the Cynefin framework are supposed to represent phase transitions, right? So you’re in a phase, you know, like a liquid going into a solid. The actual nature of the way things work changes when you go across one of those boundaries. So what you do with actions on, in the military orders process is you just sprinkle over a little bit of what if thinking. So if something bad does happen, you don’t have to go into this orient phase. You’ve already got a next action picked, so that you can just move forward and get yourself out of that introspective downward spiral, which is exactly what Boyd tries to create in his opponents. The whole point of what Boyd was saying about fast transience, and getting inside somebody’s OODA Loop is, it’s not going through the loop quicker. It’s actually, if you’re in a competitive situation, is actually stopping your opponent from having that check with reality. It’s moving their concept of what’s happening in the world further and further away from reality, until exactly what Mario described in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When you’re rolling with a black belt, eventually you’re just going to go, there’s nothing I can do right now, right? I am so disoriented, I’m so far away from knowing what the next right thing to do is, I’m done, and then you get choked out and then you go again. And then constantly you’re building your structure up.
Mario Platt: There was something that you mentioned, that I think is really key also when dealing with complexity, which is because when you’re in the unordered domain, one of the things that you need to do is you’re not going to get checklists, right? That’s not going to work to deal with a complex problem. It’s based on heuristics, right, that people can remember, they can relate to, and then within a complex situation, they can refer to that heuristic to help them get out of the complexity of the situation.
Ben Ford: Yeah, absolutely.
Ben Mosior: So what I’m hearing too is this kind of interesting thought around training, and preparation, and learning, and all of that work that goes into it. So maybe switching gears to the Wardley mapping side of things. What comes to mind with all that, when I hear those words, is the doctrinal principles step in the five factors in Wardley mapping. So purpose, landscape, climate, doctrine and leadership. And doctrine is focused in on universal principles that you choose to apply, as in, in your organization, you choose to do these things. And the other way I’ve heard that framed is the training. It’s like, not to use examples that I’m in no way qualified to use, but the idea being that if you’re in the military, you learn how to shoot and clean your rifle and all these kinds of things, before you get deployed onto the battlefield. So from the standpoint of organizations, and preparing organizations for engagements, not even with opponents, because I think a lot of organizations are struggling, like they’re their own worst enemy, in a lot of cases. So how does an organization start to train, how do they start to develop capabilities to enable them to better execute, even just in the sense of getting out of their own way?
Mario Platt: So I think, to me, there are two aspects to that, but the first one is, most organizations probably create problems with checklists, not necessarily on how to deal with complexity, right? So that bit doesn’t help. There’s another aspect to it, which is one thing that I love, and sorry just referencing to Deciphering Sun Tzu book, which is, I completely understand and agree, and it really rings a bell everything that I read on the book, but we also need to appreciate that the world between 2500 years ago was much less complex than what it is now, right? So I think that sometimes, something that we need to not forget, right, because we didn’t have as many identities, we didn’t have as many distractions. We were able to focus on doing something, and that was it, right? Right now, I don’t think that any of us can have that type of luxury, right? I’m not Mario the security consultant, I’m Mario the security consultant, I’m the bad jiu-jitsu guy, I’m the father, I’m the husband, right, there’s a lot of identities to all of us, right? And I find that really difficult to believe that there was so much personal complexity in dealing with daily life 2500 years ago, than it is now, right? But going back to the original question on OODA, I think one of the big reasons why organizations struggle is really on the individual side of things, right? Because there is one thing that only, probably for the past year have I actually, it dawned on me, which is one thing that I think I’ve done much more consistently than mostly everyone I know so far is repetition, right? I don’t read a book once, I read a book 10 times, right. When I go through something of learning material, that’s why I really value getting, generally I don’t do classroom led training, because yeah it’s going to give me something to do, but if I don’t get something that I can physically go through over and over again, until my implicit guidance lets my brain go into that type of decision, or frame that I can actually be effective with the knowledge that I’ve supposedly acquired. It’s not going to do much for me, right? If I’m talking with a customer, we’re assessing a situation, and I constantly need to go back, “I think I read a book “a decade ago that mentioned something along those lines, “I’ll get back to you.” It’s not that it’s a problem, we all take things back a bit further, but I’m not going to be effective, right? I become effective when ways of dealing with complexity are embedded into the way I operate. You can only achieve that through repetition. And if you go tell anyone in the street, look, yeah that book that you said you really enjoyed, yeah, you’re going to have to read it at least 15 or 20 more times to actually get it, right? I’m not going to be very popular.
Ben Mosior: One part of me wants to challenge you on whether things are more complex, but then I immediately think about, oh right, we have the internet right now. When we consume information, I think we’re finding that a lot of it comes down to like volume. Like how many different books can we consume? And there’s a value to consuming a diversity of content and material, to basically calibrate your understanding of what’s possible in the world, but to actually learn something, to actually learn how to apply something, you have to have experiences that help you apply that material, not once but many, many, many times. And so hearing you describe how you read the same book multiple times, that sends me back. Like one of the things, this is such a youthful male thing, like such a funny kind of thing. I read and re-read and re-read and re-read the Art of War time and time again, when I was in circumstances that were frankly oppositional. And it wasn’t because I wanted to just destroy the competition or anything like that, it was really because this one phrase, “Only someone who’s acquainted with the evils of war “can understand the profitable way of carrying it out.” And that quote to me says, so yeah you could fight everybody, yeah you could find a way to destroy your opponents, but actually it’s probably just going to be better if you find the lowest energy way to avoid conflict, but still achieve victory. And that was my entire motivation around that, was trying to understand that material. And it was only when we started, I think all three of us are really into the Deciphering Sun Tzu book. It was only when I read that book that I realized how little I could even understand the Art of War based on reading it and re-reading it and re-reading it, because I was re-reading one translation. I was reading the Lionel Giles translation of this material. And what’s awesome about Deciphering Sun Tzu is that it tries to contextualize that material in culture, in time, in history and in frankly philosophy. So I am just floored to hear that you also read and re-read and all that kind of stuff, but I’m kind of curious if we can move in this direction of Deciphering Sun Tzu, and sort of exploring that material a little bit, and how that impacts each of us. Ben, this is something that you’ve read as well, right?
Ben Ford: I haven’t actually, the only thing I’ve read is your notes.
Ben Mosior: I’m honored, I’m so glad that you read my notes.
Ben Ford: So I have a slightly different approach to reading and learning, I guess. So one of the things that I had to do was re-read a lot of academic papers when I learned my functional programming weapon of choice, which is a programming language called Haskell. Very, very academic, you know, many of the ideas are an academic paper and you either read the paper and understand the paper, or tough, basically. Which has certain similarities to my background in the Royal Marines, and in any kind of armed forces training, but they’re kind of semi-elite, or elite units. Much more so, there is a standard, and we’ll do everything to help you get to the standard, but if you don’t meet the standard, tough s***, basically, you go back a step and you go again. So I have had to take that approach to learning material before, which is, you bang your head against it, no I’m an idiot, I don’t understand it. Go away, maybe read something else, come back, oh actually there’s a little chink in the armor here that now I can understand just that little bit more. And you slowly move up the hierarchy, and you build your mental models as you go.
Ben Mosior: Yeah.
Ben Ford: But there’s one thing that I think is actually quite important, especially given the really somewhat, I mean I think they’re very fundamental, but we’re talking at quite a rarefied level here, maybe a little bit divorced from reality. We’re trying to extract principles, and fundamentals from everything that we talk about. And one of the things that I’ve found, as I read more widely, rather than read the same stuff again and again, is that I start to recognize the fundamentals a bit more. So one of them is, you know, the OODA Loop, I think, is a fundamental. I just read a book, and this could be me over-recognizing many, many things, but I’ve just almost finished a magnificent book called The Origin of Wealth, which looks at our ecosystems and our economies from an evolutionary point of view, and treats it like a complex adaptive biological system. And when you get into the loop of evolution, and how things evolve new capabilities, and explore their environment, I mean that was all screaming OODA Loop to me, so. I think we’re all at the stage where we’ve covered enough related but not the same material that we start to recognize the fundamental building blocks, and I think that’s a real breakthrough. When you look at being in that position versus say, I don’t know, reading if you want to become a better software engineering manager and your read a book on agile, right? The book on agile is not really about fundamentals at all, it’s about practices that have been proven to work somewhere else. And if you’re in that linear environment, what works somewhere else is more likely to work for you now than if you’re in that complex environment, and you take a set of practices that work somewhere else, and you try and apply them to the context that you are now, and all of a sudden, no actually they’re not that effective anymore. And that’s when you need to go back and you need to understand the fundamental building blocks, and how they interact. So in software development terms, that is how they compose, and how they decompose, or destruction and creation in Boyd’s world. So it’s really important, I think, when you come across a new piece of knowledge, to try and pull it apart. You know, this is Boyd’s game of question mark and question mark, where he has the several different pieces of machinery, and he makes a snow mobile. It’s really important to, you know, when you’re not in that operations phase, and the operations phase is all about doing what you know and being effective, it’s really important to take that step back and remove yourself from operations, and think more expansively, and try and pull apart and put together the concepts. So that when you do read a book, I don’t know what’s a good example, I’ve got a book up on my shelf there, Traction, a business book talking about systems and talking about how to build systems. And you could read that book, and you could think, okay this is the system they describe, I will use that system. But actually when you look a bit deeper, what they’re really describing is the process of discovering a system that’s right for you, not taking something off the shelf. That was a bit of a ramble, sorry about that.
Ben Mosior: No, no, that was excellent, and amazingly on point, and it makes me want to ask a different question, like Mario, thinking about all the different reading you’ve been doing to apply things to information security, what are the fundamentals that you’ve noticed on all the different materials that you apply across domains? Because Ben described some really interesting ideas, I think, the Deciphering Sun Tzu book, for example, like for me that brings up conditions consequences thinking, which is all about paying attention to indirect factors, and gardening, and all this metaphor stuff. And I’m finding all the different ways that pops up, but I know you in particular, Mario, are doing a lot of reading across a lot of different boundaries, and so I’m curious what’s come up for you so far.
Mario Platt: So I think with regards to the OODA Loop, and the mention of agile and all those other things, is that I think, generally speaking, and this is something that Derek M. C. Yuen also talks in Deciphering Sun Tzu, is the west has been very good, superior perhaps, in developing operations and tactics, because we are very logic driven. That’s how are brains operate, right? Dialectics is key here, right? Because a big part of the reason why us in the west don’t fully appreciate a lot of the Chinese strategic thinking is exactly because that’s not how we’re wired, right? Our dialectics, based on Hegel, Hegelian dialectics, which means that when we are trying to make sense of things, we explain them, and the objective of communication is to ensure that we all agree on something. In Chinese strategic thinking, that is not the case. Contradiction is expected. You’ve got yin yang, right? So one part of the thinking with regards, in answering more specifically your question regards to cyber security. One of the things that’s been on my mind, but I need to kind of sit down and think about it properly, and write an extended version of it, is I believe the yin yang of cyber security is the dualism between resilience and fragility. I’m sure this has something, I’m sure this will, this is making me rethink about how I think of capital in worldly maps. Because if suddenly you believe that the capital is not just the money flowing up and down, but there’s actually a dualism of something, of whatever capital that you’re thinking about. There exists a dualism there, then things work slightly different, right? It’s no longer just something flowing down your valley chain, and effecting the things underneath. It’s how they mutually support each other in different types of capital that you can think of, right. So I haven’t completely made my mind on what that means, but that’s where my head has been going in my recent reading. But I think mainly, but the key point I think is really the difference in dialectics, right? That we don’t, in the west, we always need to resolve contradictions, otherwise we will not finish the conversation, right? That’s usually how it goes. Well we’re going to schedule a meeting for next week, right, and then to resolve the contradiction, we have no way of communicating and moving forward, right. And the Chinese, they don’t get encumbered with all of that, because they deal with paradox in a natural way, it’s yin and yang, right? It’s part of the cycle. Both are true, right? A and not A can both be true at the same time, as you can, we having a conversation. Right, they’re not having to argue. I think that’s been affecting how I think about security, generally speaking. Some other aspects on Deciphering Sun Tzu that have been coming in my mind a lot is also regarding, let’s say the history, and the actual ebook where Sun Tzu wrote Art of War, which was kind of around the same time that Tao Te Ching was. We now know that they influence each other. But one of the things that also jumps out to me is that Derek M. C. Yuen also mentions in the book that it was around Sun Tzu’s time where there was a separation, a bifurcation in how government was dealing, in that officials got separated from the military strategy, from the colonels. And I think that’s really interesting, and I think that’s why Derek Yuen mentioned that there was this need of Sun Tzu focusing more on the military aspects of it, and left an empty space for Tao Te Ching to address the more political, and the military aspects of Chinese strategy. So one of the things that Derek M. C. Yuen says is that the works compliment each other, because they deal with parts that weren’t completely addressed by either of the authors. What I find is that once that separation is done, I think it led to a lot of things, particularly, I think, Clausewitz then comes much, much later and develops his own theory of war, that is much more, again going back to what I said previously, much more grounded on operations and tactics, right? But not so much something that unites dualism, that deals with contradictions, right? That deals with not being an expert, right, because one of the things from Clausewitz’s is the concept of, he doesn’t call it really like that, but Derek M. C. Yuen mentioned the concept of genius, right? So the non-democratization of strategy, right? In that there is the trinity of war, but there’s the bit in there that is just for some, right? You know it’s part of genius, it’s going to require something that many people may not have. It’s the colonel, it’s the experience, what he brings to the table. So not necessarily something that is accessible to everyone. And I think that’s a really key point as well.
Ben Mosior: Yeah, not to conflate rank with genius, but it takes me back to the metaphor of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it’s like that is not just someone who just spend a lot of time doing this thing. That is a learned, trained behavior, and that same concept can exist there as well. The dualism seems like one of the most important takeaways for me from Deciphering Sun Tzu. I think that’s just because I have lived in a world where there can be no contradiction. I’m very used to that kind of thinking. And allowing paradox into my life, and being willing to say, A and not A are both, they can both be true, that’s fine. And in particular the interplay between them where, take any set of opposites, any direct action, indirect action, or strength and weakness, and the idea of each one leading to the other, as in strength leading to weakness and weakness leading to strength. There just being this constant interplay of accessible options and accessible manifestations of this. And those interactions of those two things becoming one idea, one concept, is just immediately transformative. The problem for me is I have to work really hard at doing it, because I’m so used to the way that I think.
Mario Platt: And there’s a particular concept in the book, in Deciphering Sun Tzu that I think is, I’d call it almost the essence of the OODA Loop, which is the concept of absolute flexibility. So it doesn’t matter what types of operations or tactics that we get a lot from the west that we’re doing, that we have, as are available with full view of ways we can deal with the situation. There’s always this concept of absolute flexibility, right? Even if, look, if you find yourself in a situation, there’s nothing in the book where you can make it a simple or complicated problem, right? It’s not an issue, right? You know that it’s embedded in the framework, let’s say, the absolute flexibility. It doesn’t work, you try something else, and you keep at it until, yeah, until make it work.
Ben Mosior: Ending without breaking, and flowing like water, these metaphors keep cropping up.
Ben Ford: This is reminding me of a book that I read some time ago, I think it was called something like Becoming Superhuman. It was about elite performance in mostly sports. And there’s a bit in that book describing Laird Hamilton, and doing his big wave surfing. And he was surfing, I think it may have been a wave that had never been surfed before, or it may have just been something that was super, super gnarly, scary wave. And it was very steep, I can’t remember the exact story, but basically what happened was he started to fall down the face of the wave and he did something that nobody had ever done before, least of all had he ever done it before, and it was something like he reached across and he grabbed the opposite side of the board, which stabilized him, and enabled him to ride this wave out and not die, essentially. And that’s this, I mean that’s the idea of accessing a state through having just supremely developed intuition, that I think was what Mario was talking about genius there. You know, you’ve never seen a situation before but you’ve got enough pattern matching in your experience, and it has to be very, very deep and broad experience, I think, that you just intuitively make the right call at the right time, and you know, it’s a pivotal moment that either, super high stakes usually as well. And it just drives you into this sort of, you know, to do with the flow state as well, but it drives you into this state where you’re able to access the right, incredibly multifactorial action at the right time. And I think that’s what sprung to mind when Mario was mentioning genius. And the other thing is this duality thing, this is something that I’ve come across as well in a lot of my reading. I did quite a bit tweet storm a few months ago. And it’s, you know, I’ve got something here that, you know, you’ve got something that looks an issue, like completing your contradictory goals, or practices are actually an essential symbiotic dance between different complimentary systems. So you know, you’ve got discipline and freedom from Jocko Willink. Destruction and creation from the OODA Loop, which is what’s happening in the second O. Survive and thrive, double and single loop learning, thinking fast and slow, and they’re all abstract and concrete, kind of bouncing off each other, melding into each other, and this duality is kind of like a phase transition from one state to another, in some ways. And I find it incredibly fascinating, and probably will find it incredible fascinating for the rest of my life, because it’s not something that anyone’s ever going to get to the bottom of, probably.
Ben Mosior: Imagine getting to the bottom of a paradox.
Ben Ford: Yeah, exactly.
Ben Mosior: Yeah, I am looking forward to spending the next few years of my life really diving more deeply into this material, and into these ideas and concepts. And I love particularly the idea of pulling fundamentals out of multiple works, and also reading and re-reading and practicing, and exploring the same material in new ways. I want to thank you both for being here, and for having this conversation with me. This has been absolutely fascinating. Before we go, I was wondering if either of you have recommendations of reading for people to do. We’ll start with Ben. Do you have anything that you think our audience should be reading and looking into that might, if they’re interested in this material, they might appreciate?
Ben Ford: Oh my God, how many more hours do we have? Yeah, so I mean two, so the stuff that we’re talking about, I believe there are actually people with a rigorous scientific background looking into this kind of thing now. So physics is obviously very, very interested in the micro level. Slowly these people, so one of the books I’m reading at the moment, as I mentioned earlier, is The Origin of Wealth. And there’s a bit in there where they talk about the origins of economics, and then about 20 or 30 years ago, so really very, very recent, physicists got involved, and they started to actually apply some rigor and some science to economics. And that book, I’d heard of it before, and I started reading it, and I was like, where did I hear of this book? Where did I hear of this book? And it’s actually Ryan Petersen, the CEO of Flexport, has it as his number one book, right. And Flexport is this company that has basically taken over an industry that’s centuries old, which is shipping, and it’s managed to seep in, and they’ve grown to like 900 people in a few years. And there’s absolutely no way that he’s done that in a traditional, western management style. Just definitely not happened. In fact, in his podcast he says it’s not happened, or his interviews. So The Origins of Wealth is one I would definitely recommend. Unfortunately there’s going to be a lot of recency bias in a lot of these, but whatever, bad luck. Another one that I read recently, which calls out this kind of duality, and it’s bio guy with a physics background. So he doesn’t call it duality, he calls it phase transitions, is Loonshots, which is about how you can maintain this kind of open, questioning mindset as a company, as you pass over something which in traditional companies would be a phase transition, about 100 to 300 people. How you can cross the boundary and still remain in the more open phase. And I could go on for hours and hours, so I’m just gonna leave it with those two, I think.
Ben Mosior: We’ll start with those. Mario, what about you? What would you recommend folks look into?
Mario Platt: So obviously in the spirit of the conversation, I think Deciphering Sun Tzu would definitely be one of them. The other big book would be one that I mentioned at the beginning as well, Thinking In Bets. I think there was, it got me to see things a bit different as well. I think it really helped some people, and especially myself, and other people who like to think that I got this because I did that, right? Sometimes it doesn’t help in not getting a big ego when things actually turn out well for you, right? But I think it’s always good to keep in mind that there was chance, right, there was did do, I may have done a lot of the things that are to get me, to give me good odds of getting a good outcome, but it could have gone horrible wrong without me having done anything different than what I did for it to be right. So I think there’s thinking in that manner also brings a bit of humility back into it. On one hand, for high achievers, it brings a bit of humility into it, and for people who may not perceive themselves as high achievers, or they are go-getters, it gets them to think, are they making the decisions that will improve the likelihood of the outcome that they’re looking for, right. So I think that was definitely a book that I would highly recommend. And another book that I’ve been, it’s about the second or third time, no second time that I’ve read this year is Will Power. And it goes into kind of similar things. And I actually connect the information a lot with Cynefin, on the appreciating that we have multiple identities, and understanding that will power has a reserve, and if you’re trying to tackle seven or eight problems at the same time, you’re probably going to fail at all of them, right, because there’s just too much going on. So having those two books combine with Cynefin, I think, makes it really powerful. And it’s not a book yet, but I’m hoping that in the next five years or so that Cynefin will makes it’s way more into mainstream thinking, because I think at the moment it’s still a bit in the realm of the academics, on people dealing, that are at the edge of things like resilience, and government space where it’s being used to see problems at scale. But I really welcome the day where these things are distilled down more to the common person, because I think there’s tremendous potential in the regular person understanding the difference between a simple, complicated and complex problem, and how they should try, and strategies they can employ to deal with themselves whenever they’re in a different problem space.
Ben Mosior: I’ll take that as a cue to recommend a book that I do know exists about Cynefin called The Cynefin Mini Book and–
Mario Platt: Interesting.
Ben Mosior: I’ll make sure that there are links to all of these materials, and also to Ben and Mario’s Twitter handles and websites, you can find them and reach out to them. Thank you all for listening, and thank you Ben and Mario for being here today.
Mario Platt: Thank you.
Ben Ford: Thanks, that was awesome.