When a colleague relationship becomes difficult

A friend wrote me about a colleague relationship that has become quite difficult and threatens the future work together.  My response:

Fatigue and pressure has a strange effect upon people. I see it all the time. There is nothing worse that financial pressure in the midst of a project. So much invested, yet so fragile. I think that is why we need to build relationships first, and institutions second. The relationships are the only thing that can really last. As I say that I think of the long list of people whom I called at the time my closest friends who basically abandoned the relationship for one reason or another. I don’t think I just contradicted myself, just recognized that relationships in business and life are still difficult.

There is a guy named John Boyd whom I’ve been studying recently. He was an Air Force colonel who Ooda_loop transformed the art of fighter combat, and is the thinker whose ideas are at the heart of the Surge in Iraq. He has this simple notion called the OODA Loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

In combat, the idea is to continually orient to your opponent’s situation faster so that you can keep him confused and off stride. In human relationships, I see it being the constant recognition of the context that we are in, and what needs to happen right now to make things better.

This is one of the keys to adaptation. We need to be very aware of the circumstances that we are in and of those with whom we work. Following Boyd's OODA process, we can learn how to serve people in ways that greatly benefit them as well as move projects and situations forward

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act - Boyd's Strategy System

Thinking strategically is an important skill for a leader.  If you are a reactive thinker, then you are forever doomed to being dictated to by your competitors.  Or, if you are a  strategic military thinker, you will constantly be putting your troops in increasingly vulnerable situations. 

One of the great contributors to the process of strategic thinking is John Boyd. His story is told by Robert Coram, in a fascinating book of a maverick thinker who transformed the modern Air Force and the practice of miliatry strategy. Here's part of an interview that Tom Peter's had with Coram.

He did a number of things. He was the first man to codify the arcane and hitherto unwritten rules of aerial warfare. He reduced it to a mathematical formula. Then, as a student at Georgia Tech, where he went to get his second degree, he discovered Energy-Maneuverability, which forever changed aviation. Those things alone would have made him worth writing about. But his greatest contributions came after he retired, when he went into seclusion for a year or 18 months and adopted this daunting course of self study. Out of that emerged a briefing called "Patterns of Conflict. ... It made Boyd, in the eyes of many, the greatest military thinker since Sun Tzu."

Boyd's strategic system is straight-forward, but requires a kind of mental similation that is integrative, rather than linear. 

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

Boyd's insights originated with his experience as a fighter pilot.  His purpose was to develop a system of strategic thought that could be done quickly and lead to decisive action more effectively.

From his briefing book entitled Patterns of Conflict, an historical review of the patterns of battle that point his perspective.

· Need fighter that can both lose energy and gain energy more quickly while outturning an adversary.

· In other words, suggests a fighter that can pick and choose engagement opportunities - yet has fast transient (“buttonhook”) characteristics that can be used to either force an overshoot by an attacker or stay inside a hard turning defender.

Idea Expansion:
· Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries - or, better yet, get inside adversary’s Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action time cycle or loop.

· Why?  Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries - since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.

Most strategic planning is an abstract process looking at tomorrow. That is not to say it isn't a valuable process. It is to say that it does not help in dealing with change brought about by disruptive forces in an environment or industry.

Boyd's OODA loop thinking / acting process is designed to address, in particular, conflict situations where those who hold power and exercise control determine the rules of the game. Boyd's process disrupts that process by acting more quickly to disrupt a practiced process of decision-making.

Boyd's philosophy assumes that organizational decision-making is war, whose purpose is to win. The OODA Loop allows for more effective decisive judgments in the midst of high stress, pressured situations.  Most leaders of organizations that I know live daily in high stress environments where decision-making is a critical aspect of success or failure.  The OODA Loop provides a way to see both the big picture, and how that picture is constantly changing. Practiced as a learned skill it becomes second nature.

The OODA Loop also provides for a strategic advantage in being able to better anticipate what your competitors or clients are going to do.  When I began conducting strategic visioning projects over twenty years ago, they would take a long time to conclude.  The process was not about speed, but about thoroughness.  Now, speed is of the essence, and short term is long term, and long term is a fantasy.

As leaders, we all want to be considered as an industry leader. If so, then you need to look into how to think as Col. John Boyd has outlined.  Read the Coram book and interview and then go here where you will not only find many of Boyd's briefings, but also strategists who are using Boyd's system to look at global issues.  It is fascinating material that requires a bit of work to provide any leader a valuable method for strategic thinking. This is not pop leadership psychology. This a revolutionary way of thinking that can change every aspect of the decision / action process.

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