John who?

25 pages in: Haven’t yet unfurled a single sticky tab.

50 pages in: I’m concerned the mighty tome I hold in my hands isn’t going to offer the rich vein of insight and knowledge I had hoped for, and I’m beginning to doubt Ryan Holiday’s recommendation.*

100 pages in: Surely by now there’d be signs of the lessons I’d hoped to uncover?  Perhaps they’re in the next Chapter….?  I shall press on, because this is turning into something more that I had expected.

150 pages in: Can’t put it down.  I’ve abandoned hope of uncovering any specific leadership lessons, but am engrossed by the story of this relatively unknown fighter pilot and his campaign against the US Armed Forces, with whom he served from 1944-1975.

200 pages in: My previous fears are unfounded.  It appears I’ve unknowingly stumbled headlong inside the mind of one of the most influential military theorists since Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz, and there are lessons galore.

It’s like The Matrix.  There is no escape.  I’m a believer.

I can sense John Boyd is smiling…

Took you a while tiger, but you got here”

* note to self: never doubt Ryan’s book recommendations again.

I first heard of John Boyd while reading Ego is the Enemy.  It contained a small piece about a US Air Force Colonel who is considered by some to be one of history’s most prolific military theorists, but remains firmly in the darkness when it comes to notoriety.  In one of his recommended reading lists, Holiday pointed to a book on Boyd, noting it as “required reading“.

It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in the design and function of fighter jets (which I’m not), or the military or military theory (which I am).  The lessons to be learned in the Robert Coram book Boyd: The fighter pilot who changed the art of war go far beyond his influence on aircraft design, and extends into an unwavering campaign of self-belief that spanned 15 years and took on the entire might of the US Air Force.

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It is simply not practical to try and explain the history and detail contained within the book.  Distilling the 504 pages into a short blog post would not do justice to Coram, the book, nor to Boyd himself for that matter – who was a stickler for detail.

So apart from recommending the book, and suggesting you buy it, here are the Top 5 things I learned from Boyd: The fighter pilot who changed the art of war:

Manoeuvrability  it isn’t just sheer thrust, or speed, or fire-power that meant success in the air.  It was the ability of a plane, and pilot, to transition between manoeuvres, turning defense into attack, or attack into slaughter, or defense into retreat.  His Energy-Manoeuvrability (E-M) Theory is still the foundational piece in many elite military, business and sporting programs, and suggests that your ability to adapt and re-adapt is crucial to not just survival, but sustained success both in warfare, business, and in life.

‘Are you Being or Doing?’ – Boyd is perhaps most famous within the US military for a speech he gave young pilots who faced a cross-road in their career.  I won’t do it the disservice of paraphrasing it, so have provided an excerpt from the book directly.  In true Boyd fashion, it needs no explanation.

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The OODA Loop – Boyd spent years developing not only ways to better design fighter jets and methods of waging aerial warfare, but ways to understand how decisions are made, and the cycle within which they live.

Search for John Boyd on Google and you’ll inevitably come up with reference to the OODA Loop.  Management theorists see it as his defining piece of work, and many have since written complicated and detailed thesis papers on it.

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Fundamentally it looks to explain the process that a person consciously, or sub-consciously runs when making any decision, big or small.  The above diagram is lifted directly from the book and while there’s an obvious mountain of potential explanation behind it, this distillation of a complex process that takes place within your brain is particularly elegant, and better left to you to digest the detail.

I believe the trick here is not to try and actively interfere with the process, but simply be aware that it exists, and that if it exists for you, then it likely exists for every other human you interact with.  Understanding that everyone makes different observations, and based on those observations orients themselves differently, and then decides and acts in accordance with those differences, makes for a much less stressful work or home environment during conflicts.

Jocko Willink has a similar approach for those who like their leadership strategies in 6 words or less.

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Thinking strategically – Boyd’s ability to out think, out manoeuvre and simply out play entire arms of the United States military, from the outset looks to be the work of The Prince himself.  Again, you don’t have to subscribe to military might, or even agree with the way the US handles waging war to appreciate the way Boyd moved the chess pieces to play out what he thought, no, believed, to be simply more important than anything else.  His vision of the outcome allowed him to position those pieces better than his opponents, and there were many, very powerful opponents.  He understood that in life and business, as in chess, you need to be thinking not just of your next 5-steps, but of your opponents next 5-steps too.

You can’t do it alone – Boyd had his Fighter Mafia, his Reformers, his Acolytes – a core group of people that believed the same as he did, that, in their own differing ways, sacrificed individual glory and fanfare to do what they thought was right, what was necessary, to protect the lives of US fighting forces.  They worked symbiotically, centred around Boyd, sure, but collectively they changed the way the entire US military fights both air and ground war campaigns in a post-WWII era.

So to summarise my summary….

When you’ve found something you believe in, and are dedicated to seeing it through, find a bunch of like-minded people, think ahead, assess the threats, and when faced with uncertainty, don’t be afraid to make a call, act and understand the entire thing is a cycle.

All that from a loud-talking, cigar-smoking fly boy self-proclaimed “Ghetto Colonel” who grew up rough, and was told he’d never amount to anything.

Seems like sound advice to me, and really, isn’t learning from the everyday what it’s all about?


Do you have something you believe in?  Something you sacrifice glory for in order for it to be realised?  Have you read the book?  What did you think?  So many questions, so many opportunities for you to answer them!

Leave a comment below, or find us on the Contact page.

The Obstacle is the Way

If you follow this blog, you’ll hear me mention three people on a regular basis.  Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss and Jocko Willink.  I credit them as the majority shareholders in my recent learning investment portfolio.  They themselves are prolific in their teachings, and I recommend you read and listen to them all as much as possible.  Along with the resources they recommend, they form a 3-person Advisory Council that’s hard to beat.  I must note that I’ve never met any of them – although I did once get a Facebook response from Jocko – but reading their books and listening to their podcasts has been as good a schooling as you’ll get anywhere, and I’m thinking of making a trip to Jocko’s Musterin 2019.  Side note: Ant, I’ll be crashing at your joint so get that air bed pumped up.

Today’s post is a review of Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way.  For reasons unknown, I read the first 3 chapters of the book back in early 2017, and it then sat on my shelf for almost a year.  Why?  It wasn’t boring or poorly written.  I suspect it was because I wasn’t really ready to absorb the message it spruiked on the dust jacket and those early chapters, and I was possibly a little apprehensive, or maybe even blinded by my ego that the lessons would even apply to me.

“It’s impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows”
– Epectitus

For reasons even further unknown, I picked it up again recently and simply devoured it.  Perhaps I was ready for what he had to say, perhaps I needed to hear what he had to say, but regardless of the reason, it’s certainly made an impact.

The book is set out similarly to his others (Ego is the EnemyThe Daily Stoicboth are highly recommended), in that it looks to break down huge, mind-bending concepts into tasty bite-sized pieces.  Similar I’m told, to the way you should eat an elephant.  These tasty brain nuggets make the concepts infinitely easier to retain and even more importantly, easier to implement.

Simplify.
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So what are these concepts, these principles?

Holiday doesn’t just look to, but succeeds in, cleverly detailing a personal operating system to help you perceive, act and persevere in the face of obstacles.  I write that, but actually it’s more – it’s providing a way to entirely refocus your approach to obstacles, great and small.  Redefining them in your head so that they no longer appear as obstacles, but opportunities for growth, learning and improvement.

He does this by providing a way to visualise obstacles in the same way Stoicism teaches an approach to life.  Three basic principles.

Perception – See things for what they are.
Action – Do what we can.
Will – Endure and bear what we must.

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Photo credit: author

Fundamentally, these principles, or maxims, are what have guided the Stoics for centuries.  From the teachings of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and beyond, Stoicism provides us a framework for re-configuring our perspective on life, with the ultimate aim of a simpler life.  Simpler doesn’t necessarily mean living like a pauper or foregoing pleasure, but that whichever path you choose is chosen for sound reason.  Apart from the seemingly obvious benefit of this, it then ultimately provides you with more time and focus on doing what it is you need to do in this life.

I’ll be sharing a post in the coming weeks on how reading and learning, and practising Stoicism has had a huge impact on my life, but for now you might be asking “What does any of this have to do with leadership?”

I’ll be honest, it’s hard to provide a specific answer to this.  If I could, it would have been be me that would have written the book.

But alas.

What I can tell you is that since trying to implement the fundamentals Holiday writes of, I’ve noticed that what would have previously pi$$ed me off for hours or even days, seems to have shrunk to minutes, or not at all.  Is it because I’m older, wiser (ha!), or maybe it’s having two kids who are growing up too fast?  Do all these things mean I’ve mellowed with age?

Perhaps.  I’m not saying I’ve reached a Zen-level calmness, far from it, but with the stresses and obligations more pronounced than ever before, you’d think this would be offset by any mellowing and I’d still be pi$$ed off.  I truly believe that the combination of Stoicism and the teachings of this book have made me a better father, better leader, and a better human.

Yeah right, I hear you mutter under your breath.  Check out this sucker caught up in yet another self-help cult.  I understand your scepticism.  I felt it myself before I started learning again.  Just read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

Holiday’s fundamental principle is that the obstacle you face, whatever it might be, is unlikely to go away simply because you want it to.  You stub your toe on a table.  You then shout at the table, and while you’re at it, you shout at your toe.  Neither of these are going to upset the table, nor you toe for that matter.  You stub your toe on the table and then take a chainsaw to the table.  This is also not going to upset the table.  I recommend not taking a chainsaw to your toe.  The table is a simple example, but illustrates the point.  It is your response to an obstacle which causes the reaction, not the actual obstacle itself.  More importantly, it is only your response to an external stimulus that you are able to control.

He’s mindful of not wanting to sound glib, which is difficult when you consider some of the obstacles people face every day.  A sudden and unexpected death of a loved one?  Hard to see how that’s a good thing, and while grieving is a natural response, Holiday’s approach is to limit the impact that that grieving has on your life, by understanding that there’s nothing you can do to change what happened, and that being paralysed by that grief serves no one.  To take it to the next level, the person that’s dead doesn’t care at all.

On a lighter note, the approach can be applied to your work (and home) life almost every day.  I’ve stolen from Jocko Willink a method of changing your perspective, whose standard response to members of his SEAL team when things didn’t go as planned was “Good!

Good!
– Jocko Willink (when something went wrong)

Good?  Yup.

Same approach as Holiday describes, but provides a tactical method that you can implement today.

Ammunition re-supply didn’t arrive?
Good!  Opportunity for us to practise hand-to-hand combat.

Our operation got cancelled?
Good!  Opportunity for us to run through the plan a few more times.

Now unless you’re in a combat zone, these may not seem particularly relevant, but in our normal, ‘not being shot at’, lives, the approach still works.

Got a boss that micro-manages you?
Good!  Now’s your opportunity to work on methods in dealing with this type of person.

Got looked over for that promotion?
Good!  More time to get better.

Got dumped?
Good!  Now there’s more time to spend with your family who you’ve ignored recently.

“If you can say the word Good!  Guess what?  It means you’re still alive.  It means you’re still breathing.  And if you’re still breathing, guess what?  You’ve still got fight in you.  So get up.  Dust off. Reload. Recalibrate. Re-engage.
And go out on the attack.”
– Jocko Willink

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Jocko Willink – Good shirt.  Note how it’s written mirrored?  The message is for YOU.  Visit jockostore.com

Your response to the obstacle is the only thing you can control.  Re-visualise it and see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop, and you’ll suddenly find that everything is a lesson in leadership.  Even the hard sh!t, in fact, especially the hard sh!t.  It’s an uplifting revelation to have.

Obstacles in whichever form they take, are a vast majority of the time, not placed in your way deliberately, or with malice.  Obstacles are life’s way of reminding you that you’re alive, and that while you think you may have mastered her, that Mother Nature still runs this show so and you’re really just a passenger.  Each time you conquer an obstacle, you’ll learn something.  Each time, you’ll develop strength, wisdom and perspective.  Each time, a little more of the competition falls away.  Until all that is left is you: the best version of you.

“Lose money?”
Remember, you could have lost a friend.

Lost that job?”
What if you’d lost a limb?

“Lost your house?”
You could have lost everything.

Perception.

So we’ve covered off Perception and we’re already at 1,600 words.  There’s enough meat on this bone to warrant more posts, so we’ll stick with just Perception today and cover off Action and Will in a few weeks.

Of all the stories in the book about Perception, the one that stuck most in my mind, and the one I’ve reflected on the most, is a story about a factory fire at Thomas Edison’s laboratory which destroyed almost all of his life’s work.

Now it’s statistically unlikely that any of us will ever reach the heady heights of Edison, but if he can approach the razing of his factory as a spectacle to behold, who told his son with childlike excitement as the fire raged, fuelled by the strange chemicals in the various buildings, “Go get your mother and all of her friends.  They’ll never see a fire like this again”, and calmly state afterwards, “It’s alright.  We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish”, we can surely re-frame having a difficult boss or poor Wi-Fi reception as an opportunity.

Side note:  Edison’s factory was up and running again in weeks, at full production some 3 months later, and almost tripled its output and profit within a year.

Good!

Make no mistake.  It’s hard work trying to implement the approaches outlined in the book.  It’s easy to see every obstacle as another reason to rest.  Another reason that explains why the other guy is succeeding when you’re not.  Another reason to give up.

But that’s the exact reason why you should try.  Why you must try.

The only person you should try and be better than…..
is the person you were yesterday

I promise you that you only need to do this exercise a few times to see the benefit.  But I promise you will, as the effect is immediate.

The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.
– Marcus Aurileus

As I promised in my first book review, I’m happy to send through a copy of my index in Excel format.  Leave a comment below, or get in touch via the Contact page.

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The Obstacle is the Way – index

As also as promised, my 3 takeaways;

  1. Edison’s factory fire – everything is an opportunity if you’re open to it.
  2. Changing your perspective on obstacles being opportunities is difficult and takes time.  Worth the effort though.
  3. A quote from Amelia Earhart “Always think with your stick forward”.  That is, you can’t ever let up your flying speed – if you do, you crash.  Be deliberate, of course, but you always need to be moving forward.

Re-framing my relationship with obstacles, and making it part of my existence, is I suspect, going to be something I’ll have to work on for the rest of my life.  But in the short time I’ve been trying to implement it, I’ve learned a lot.

Learning to be better than I was yesterday.

And as I always say, isn’t that what’s it all about?

Hal Moore: On Leadership

First up is a book review.  An easy start.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here already.  “Do the easy questions in an exam first, so you get your mind warmed up”.  Maybe the lesson is that “You’re destined to fail as you’ve only aimed low!”  Perhaps there’s no secret author’s meaning at all and it’s just the last book I read since starting the blog.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my previous post titled What’s it all about? for some context.  When you’ve done that, come back and we’ll continue.

I first heard of Hal Moore while trail walking at the back of the Cherrybrook Rural Fire Brigade station.  I’m a member of the brigade and when I can, I walk the fire trails and single track around the station, partly to better learn the trails that we may one day need to fight fires from, but mainly just for the exercise and the momentary solitude.  Hal Moore was not on the trails that day.  Hal Moore is in fact, quite dead.  He did a lot of living though.  A decorated member of the US Army, he was considered one of the countries’ finest fighting commanders and spent just over 30 years in service.  No, Hal Moore was not on the trails that day.

I was listening to my favourite podcast, Jocko Podcast, by a guy named Jocko Willink.  We’ll cover more on what I’ve learned from him in the coming weeks.

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Blackwattle Trail

The sound grab that quite literally stopped me in my tracks was “If there’s doubt in your mind, there’s no doubt at all”.  I rewound 30 seconds and listened again.  “If there’s doubt in your mind, there’s no doubt at all”.  I rewound 30 seconds and listened again.  I couldn’t quite get my head around it, so I listened again – you get the picture.

It wasn’t that the hills of the Blackwattle Trail had given me an aneurysm, but when I stood there and thought about it, it’s simplicity and elegance was startling.  I had to know more.

Hal Moore on leadership: Winning when you’re out gunned and out manned arrived a week later, and my journey into his thoughts on leadership began in earnest the following  Continue reading Hal Moore: On Leadership