Moral Warfare:: a fight that the “pure of purpose” can win


OODA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I gather that “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu has, once again, become a popular read. If you have read it, this may come as no great surprise as it is fair to say that, despite some “iffy” translations prior to 1910, it has stood the test of time.

But, since beheading people to establish one’s authority is frowned-upon in these politically correct times(!?), I would recommend seeking out a latter-day “master strategist” by the name of John Boyd. You may have heard talk of AGILE BUSINESS [the embedded link is for anyone in insurance] and wondered “what the hell does that mean” or dismissed it as yet another creation of fee-hungry management or IT consultants!

But hold your horses…stick around and you might learn something that could serve you and your business VERY well indeed.

John Boyd was perhaps the most prolific fighter pilot the US has ever known. He was an unusual character, a self-described maverick with an aversion to authority, which didn’t always work in his favour in the military. His nickname was 40 seconds Boyd because he would bet any pilot $40 that he would be on their tale in 40 seconds. But he was also an intellectual, who studied the history and theory of warfare. He was one of the main architects behind the F16 which was smaller and lighter than its predecessor the F-15. It was the most agile plane of its time and agility, as Boyd had shown, was all that mattered in warfare. After Boyd finished his work on the F-16 he devoted most of his time to developing a framework for agility which he called the OODA loop.

OODA stands for Observe/Orient/Decide/Act and to Boyd it was more than a simple summary of the steps human beings go through to make fast intuitive decisions. He thought of it as a general framework for gaining competitive advantage. If you constantly run through your OODA loop you can outmanoeuvre your competition by getting “inside their OODA loop”. Your decision and action become their observation and by making fast decisions you can essentially control their OODA loop.

OODA bears more than a passing resemblance to Dave Snowden’s “Cynefin Framework” with its strategies for changing environments. I would certainly suggest that, if you are unfamiliar with Dave Snowden’s work and are in a leadership role, you address that forthwith!:


Business is war…and vice versa!

The events of the last century, in particular, should leave none of us under any illusion that war is best avoided: “friend only to the undertaker”. BUT, war has evolved since the times of Sun Tzu, even, in the years since Boyd’s death. We live with the global threat from financial “weapons of mass destruction” that have been created and deployed in recent decades.

Business is competitive but perceived as “war” by a certain type of leader. Bizarrely, the man and woman in the street are both customers and “enemies”, at least enemies of the type of margins that glorify the abilities of the “manager-cum-leader” variety!

Although war in business is rarely about hand-to-hand combat it is, nonetheless, extremely competitive and sometimes bloody (expensive). Particularly when business models or strategies clash.

Boyd divided warfare into three distinct elements:

  • Moral Warfare: the destruction of the enemy’s will to win, disruption of alliances (or potential allies) and induction of internal fragmentation. Ideally resulting in the “dissolution of the moral bonds that permit an organic whole [organization] to exist.” (i.e., breaking down the mutual trust and common outlook mentioned in the paragraph above.)
  • Mental Warfare: the distortion of the enemy’s perception of reality through disinformation, ambiguous posturing, and/or severing of the communication/information infrastructure.
  • Physical Warfare: the abilities of physical resources such as weapons, people, and logistical assets.

But, with genuine leadership, in the Digital Age, there is even less need to resort to “physical warfare” when, particularly in Finance & Insurance, there are multiple opportunities to seize competitive advantage by “exploiting” areas of “moral warfare”, long since abandoned by competitors who were no longer worthy to utilise the moral high-ground….want to know how?

If so, get in touch.

Here is a link to an “original” presentation on strategy from John Boyd:


A final point that may be of interest to keen observers of business management. Apart from OODA and Cynefin did it strike you that there are similarities with “Cybernetics” (Viable System Model)? To me these reinforce the ability to learn and apply the lessons from nature i.e. the behaviour of biological systems…

As Ontonix have already ably demonstrated, the ability to map and measure interactions within dynamic, non-linear, systems offers unrivalled insight, “anticipatory awareness” and a means to out- think and outmanoeuvre would be competitors!!!

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2 Responses to Moral Warfare:: a fight that the “pure of purpose” can win

  1. David thank you for providing this link. It’ s a very interesting read…I enjoyed it a great deal!

    • You are most welcome Phil and thank you for the kind words. He was quite a guy. Thinker, exponent, leader with an appreciation that an understanding on the nature of complex systems could be applied across disciplines and industries.


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