"Certain to Win" is an interpretation of how to apply John Boyd's warfighting principles to business, written by someone who worked with Boyd. If you are a member of a group or team in competition for something, this book is a must-read.
I learned of John Boyd after his death in 1997. At that time all I knew was that as a fighter pilot, Boyd had developed an Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) theory to explain how some pilots and aircraft were more successful than others. I also learned that very little of Boyd's work was captured in written form - he preferred to deliver his message via marathon briefings.
When Robert Coram's biography "Boyd, the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War" was published in 2002, I immediately snapped it up. Little did I know this would set me on a path which has helped me immeasurably as I grapple with life in corporate America.
Boyd is the modern day analog of Percy Scott and William Sims, two men who revolutionized gunfire at sea in the early part of the twentieth century. Many parallels exist in the methods these three men used to effect change in large bureaucracies - insights which are immediately applicable today in large corporations which struggle with innovation and growth amid the presence of lithe, agile, often unforeseen threats to their very existence.
In Coram's biography of Boyd, he spends a great deal of time describing Boyd's acolytes: Chet Richards, Raymond Leopold, Chuck Spinney, Jim Burton, and Pierre Sprey. These men worked with Boyd. They inspired and drew inspiration from him. Many continue to evangelize and expand on Boyd's ideas. One of the most prolific of Boyd's acolytes is Chet Richards. Chet has extended and reinterpreted Boyd's work in a business rather than military setting. His most recent book, "Certain to Win", demonstrates how organizations can achieve their goals through application of Boyd's concepts.
Coram's book and Richards' book are two important signposts on a journey of exploration which reveals connections amongst contemporary and historical thought leaders as diverse as Clayton Christensen, Sun Tsu, Brian Goodwin, Werner Heisenberg, Eli Goldratt, Mohan Sawhney, Niccolo Machiavelli, Michael Porter, Jaclyn Kostner, Gary Klein, Alistair Cockburn, John Kotter, and Tom Peters. Coram sets the stage, and Richards delivers the prescription for success in achieving fast OODA loops in organizations. "Certain to Win" shows how time can be exploited as a weapon for competitive advantage. Richards debunks the myth that "size matters" when it comes to modern competition. He makes it clear that business strategy is not a "super plan" to be plotted our far in the future and then executed with unfaltering mechanical precision. He shows that bureaucracies are inflexible and rigid at the top, while organisms are agile and adaptive.
Central to the value of "Certain to Win" is a detailed description of how to institute Boyd's organizational climate, a climate exhibited in elite organizations such as the US Marine Corps, Southwest Airlines, and Toyota. Consider the following:
1) Focus and direction
2) Mission responsibilities
3) Intuitive competence
4) Mutual trust
Like most of Boyd's concepts - OODA loops, energy maneuverability theory, destruction and creation - the simplicity of these four concepts belies the complexity and profound insight in creating them and the challenges in instituting them. Easily shrugged off as platitudes, they cry out for the detailed insight on how to apply them within a complex organization. With these four elements in place, organizations are able to operate at higher tempo than their competitors in the face of a rapidly changing set of environmental and competitive circumstances.
If you can get inside your competitor's OODA loop - whether you're a fighter pilot, a member of a sports team, or a business person - you will win every time. The key factors which enable this higher organizational tempo are focus and direction, mission responsibilities, intuitive competence, and mutual trust.
Boyd will one day be remembered as a man who not only changed the art of war, but through extension of his acolytes such as Chet Richards, the art of business and even the art of team sports. If you haven't read Coram's book, do so. Next, pick up "Certain to Win", which describes the steps individuals and organizations can take to move closer to their goal.
Basically, "Certain to Win" demonstrates how Boyd's principles can be applied wherever humans band together to improve their capacity for independent action. Highly recommended.