The Strategic Worth of John Boyd

A new book is out about John Boyd: The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy and War. I wrote that first chapter of the book, so obviously I am pushing it. The book is itself a collection of responses to Col. Dr. Frans Osinga’s book on Boyd, Science, Strategy, and War, which itself follows two book-length biographies: Boyd and The Mind of War. There is a yearly conference on John Boyd: Boyd ’07 was at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, while Boyd ’08 will be on Prince Edward Island.

Roundtable has brought out critics too. Galrahn at Information Disemmenination is unconvinced:

If you are a Boyd “disciple” please leave a comment, and tell me how you think Boyd applies to the strategic discussion on this blog. I’ll be unconvinced by your comment until I do my homework, but nonetheless I was talking to a very smart guy in the Pentagon last month, and we were discussing naval strategy for small wars and small ships. During the conversation I got unnerved when he brought up John Boyd in his arguments. He didn’t introduce anything I had not previously heard about Boyd, but when talking strategy I intend to always be the guy well rooted in history and study.

The Small Wars Council is home to similar opinions:

What continues to puzzle me is the almost Jesus-like devotion to the man by certain groups and organizations, like DNI and others. Reading some of the fanboi material I am wondering what he has done besides develop the OODA loop that makes him worthy of such reverence.

Boyd’s contributions come in two main forms: The Energy-Maneuverability Theorem (EMT) which is a technical model beyond the scope of this blog, and the OODA dual-processing model of human behavior. EMT is useful, but beyond thsoe who buy, use, and shoot at jet fighters has limited relevance. OODA is true, but perhaps not useful.

John Boyd’s OODA model beat mainstream psychologists to the punch by one or two years. Boyd’s problem is that (a) he did not present his work in a way that allowed it to be integrated into the social science mainstream, (b) did not provide a method for crticisism or overturning his conclusions, and (c) “reinvented the wheel” by using new terminology to describe old views of war.

Zenpundit has more. As does HG’s World and Selil.

4 thoughts on “The Strategic Worth of John Boyd”

  1. Dan,

    I think the think most people miss is Boyd’s PISRR model and it’s implications for organizational change. When Boyd talks about “non-cooperating centers of gravity” everyone who has ever been in an organization of more than 3 people can relate. I have a bunch of notes that I need to coalesce and publish on this topic (as usual).

    Take care, and my condolences on your grandmother.


  2. Dan,

    I need to read my copy of Osinga’s book. But I’ve been busy and every time I pick it up I get daunted by the sheer length.

    I think the real problem is the concept/context problem. The concepts are laid out well enough. Now somebody needs to apply them in a common context to show concrete results.


  3. Mike,

    I had the same problem after I received my copy. It’s a great work of scholarship, but clearly aimed at scholars who are interested in Boyd’s intellectual history. It does not focus in book-length depth on any of the components (such as psychology, and military strategy, and so on), but of course, that is for future research.

    I think the Roundtable book is a good step in bridging the gap between Osinga’s work on Boyd and other areas, though I agree with Mark’s thoughts on how it could be improved [1] (perhaps for a second printing?).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *