Advanced OODA Loops, PISRR, and Implications for Change Management

In a comment to our OODA post, PurpleSlog referred us to Dan the Man's 'tdaxp'. A visit to Dan's blog can feel a little like a trip down Alice's rabbit hole, but I highly recommend it. His writings have fascinating implications for success in organizational change.

Let's begin with PurpleSlog's original link. The OODA loop in the original OODA post looked like the one in this diagram. PurpleSlog's comment was that in the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act loop, we spend most of our lives without the "Decide" step. We're running O-O-A loops on autopilot. We only employ the "D" step of creating hypotheses for how to deal with a new situation and evaluating them to decide on the best alternative when our current set of Orient-Act patterns don't work. Then the fun of modifying our Lattice of Orientation models begins.

If you review the contents of Boyd's Orient step, you'll see that it involves a complex set of interactions of various factors:
  • Genetic Heritage
  • Cultural Traditions
  • Analysis/Synthesis
  • Previous Experience
  • New Information
The big challenge is that each one of us has our own unique Orientation Machine, and they are definitely complex, not complicated. Most of our O-O-A loops are subconscious, using patterns we did not consciously create.

At this point you may be thinking: "Implications for change management?

"Abandon all hope; here there be monsters!"

Not so fast. Boyd didn't stop with OODA. He wanted to understand how to win not just the battle, but the war - and the ensuing peace - and that requires cultural change management. Through studying successful guerilla and counter-insurgent campaigns, he began to develop a model for doing just that.

Note: I am interpreting a lot of material. The original Patterns of Conflict in PowerPoint is here. A PDF of the real Patterns is here in PDF format. If you want to understand the full thought process that went into these ideas, I suggest you read them for yourself. It's a unique education.

Boyd realized that corrupt governments held onto power by employing menace, uncertainty, and mistrust among the population (think of the latter years of the Saddam Hussein regime). These heavy-handed tactics work to subdue the populace (for reasons we'll discuss in a subsequent post), but provide the proverbial "Achilles' Heel" that a guerilla force can use to defeat the regime.

Here is Boyd's reasoning beginning on page 123 of "Patterns of Conflict"

  • The essence of moral conflict, as presented, seems to be one-sided and emphasize the negative or dark side of one's moral make-up.

  • How do we bring out the positive side? In other words--if courage, confidence, and esprit represent the positive counterweights to fear, anxietyr, and alienation-what are the positive counterweights to menace, uncertainty, and mistrust?

  • In addressing this question we find that the counterweights to menace and uncertainty are not at all obvious unless we start with mistrust and work in reverse order. Proceeding in this way we note that:
    • The presence of mistrust implies that there is a rupture or loosening of the human bonds or connections that permit individuals to work as an organic whole in harmony with one another. This suggests that harmony itself represents an appropriate counterweight to mistrust
    • In dealing with uncertainty, adaptability seems to be the right counterweight. Otherwise, how can one adjust to the unforseen or unpredictable nature of uncertainty?
    • Finally, with respect to menace on cannot be passive. Instead, initiative is needed otherwise menace may obliterate the benefits associated with harmony and adaptability. Intuitively, this suggests that initiative is the right counterweight here.
  • Using these ideas, together with the previous ideas already uncovered, we can modify and enrich the essence of moral conflict as follows:

[Click on image to enlarge]

That slide points to the guerilla solution: create menace/uncertainy/mistrust among your enemy while simultaneously fomenting harmony/initiative/adaptability among yourselves and the populace. One key to success is adaptability, which Boyd categorizes as a combination of variety and rapidity - getting inside your opponent's OODA loops!!

Boyd later created a presentation entitled "Organic Design for Command and Control" which begins:
The past few years have seen the fiascos associated with Nifty Nugget and Proud Spirit C+C exercises together with the real world fiascoes epitomized by the evacuation of Saigon, Desert 1, and others.

The institutional response for overcoming these fiascos is: more and better sensors, more communications, more and better computers, more and better display devices, more sattelites, more and better fusion centers, etc.--all tied into one giant full informed, fully capable C+C system. This way of thinking emphasizes hardware as the solution.

I think there is a different way--a way that emphasizes the implicit nature of human beings. In this sense, the following discussion will uncover what we mean by both implicit nature and organic design.

  • Need Insight and vision to unveil adversary plans and actions as well as "foresee" own goals and appropriate plans and actions.
  • Need focus and direction, to achieve some goal or aim.
  • Need adaptability, to cope with uncertain and everchanging circumstances.
  • Need security, to remain unpredictable
  • Why insight and vision? Without insight and vision there can be no Orientation to deal with both present and future.
  • Why foucs and direction? Without focus and direction, implied or explicit, there can be no harmony of effort nor initiative for vigorous effort.
  • Why adaptibility? Adaptibility implies variety and rapidity. Without variety and rapidity on can neither be unpredictable nor cope with changing and unforseen circumstances.
  • Why security? Without security one becomes predictable, hence one loses the benefits of the above.
Boyd integrated these insights into a model known as PISRR:
  • Penetrate
  • Isolate
  • Subdue/Subvert
  • Reorient
  • Reharmonize

Here I take great license and propose that the PISRR model really breaks down into two pieces:
  • Penetrate-Isolate-Subdue
  • Subvert-Reorient-Reharmonize

The Penetrate-Isolate-Subdue portion is focused on disabling the enemy's ability to generate menace, uncertainty, and mistrust; in fact, it's designed to turn the tables and generate MUM in the enemy. Once that is accomplished, the second part of the solution - Subvert-ReOrient-Reharmonize - can take place. BUT ONLY ONCE SECURITY HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED!

In short, successful insurgent/counter-insurgent operations depend upon both military and non-military activities. The war is won in the minds and hearts of the populace. But a force designed for P-I-S work is unsuited for S-R-R work.

Here I must recommend that you read Dan's

description and analysis of PISRR for yourself. It'll only take a minute. I can wait.

Pretty interesting, isn't it? Especially this:

It suggests that there is a general model for seizing the initiative in effecting organizational change. It also implies that designing a "grand plan" for change in advance of implementing the plan is a folly. The S-R-R portion cannot be precisely modeled before it occurs.

Dan's writing gets really interesting when he shows that one of history's greatest example of these principles was the rise of Christianity within the Roman Empire!

[Note to Troy Worman: If you think I'm a little out there, you're going to think Dan's Jesus-Paul series is so far out there it's back around inside from the other direction. But you won't think of the world in the same way after you read it. And you'll know what we need to do to win the War on Terrorism.]

Now before I subject you to another picture of my less-than-attractive-visage (ugly mug), let me address the question of how these war examples relate to corporate change management efforts. Menace, uncertainty, and mistrust come in many forms. Some of those forms are policies and procedures. Some of them are the accumulated eons of corporate culture (1000's of employees x "we've always done it this way"). The common factor is that there are beliefs in your target population's brains that are stongly influenced by the M-U-M of the existing situation, and that to effect change you will need to P-I-S the limiting beliefs and S-R-R enough existing beliefs to make your employees embrace and internalize the new world view.

And yes, I've got specific tips on how to do that...in the next post! But you don't need me. How can you start using these principles now?

[Hint: Overlay these ideas on John Kotter's "See-Feel-Act" and 8-step change process. Any light bulb moments? Look harder!]

Boyd Style:

The force used to administer P-I-S is generally not the same one that will effect S-R-R. How does this realization align with the concept of change networks in organizational change management initiatives?

posted by Mike at 11:11 PM


Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

Wow! Amazing work!

I saw you found Belisarius -- very good. Chet Richards has another site too (DNI) which is also very much worth-while.

On the Jesusism-Paulism series, when you say:

But you won't think of the world in the same way after you read it. And you'll know what we need to do to win the War on Terrorism.

What solution comes to mind? I wonder if we are thinking of the same won...

(And a weird PS: For some reason, my blog host keeps chopping up Part II: Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better. I am trying to restore it to its original condition.)

2:15 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


I very much appreciate your compliment, because I hold your work in very high regard!

As far as the War on Terror goes, the thing that strikes me is that we need to focus way more on planning and executing the SysAdmin/S-R-R aspects of the conflict. Take the current situation in Lebanon. The IDF can subdue Hezbollah and even Syria, but without someone to reorient/reharmonize those populations, Iranian proxies will return bigger and badder than ever.

I'm looking forward to your upcoming discussion of the Christianity - Islam clash that you hinted at in Part 3 of Jesusism-Paulism!

2:46 PM  
Blogger Dan tdaxp said...


Mad props again -- your words make me very happy. :-)

Exactly right on the importance of the back-half SysAdmin/SSR work. War is really just a tool to set-up the SSR work. If Israel is playing it smart, for instance, the War in Lebanon is just solidying the Western influence of the Catholics and the Sunnis.

I intended the discussion on Christianity and Islam to immediately follow Part III, but now a year has past with no progress... Perhaps you could begin that discussion?

Dan tdaxp

6:12 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Amen to the Christian/Sunni influence!

9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Thanks for a nice blog.


Master Precision Machinist

5:52 PM  
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