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.

Action & Will

In a previous post we talked about how by utilising the three fundamental Stoic principles of Perception, Action and Will, Ryan Holiday proposed to attack the elephant-sized problem of improving our relationship with the obstacles in our lives.

In the post, we only got round to discussing Perception, so I thought it was time to follow up with Action and Will.

Of the three principles, I think that Perception is the one that requires the biggest structural adjustment, and the largest investment of your personal bandwidth.  I’ve noticed however, that once you re-frame how you view obstacles, the resource required to then act in response to them, and to then continually endure them appears to be much lower in comparison.

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Where do you allocate your limited bandwidth?

So assuming you’ve read Part 1 of this post, and started to see obstacles as opportunities, and embracing them as chances to improve, you’ll need to foster the ability to act because of them, in spite of them even.

Enter, Action and Will.

Action, hard work and perseverance pays dividends – I don’t think there’s many who’d disagree with that.  What’s harder though, is to paraphrase the book and its concepts into actionable, tactical advice.  As I stressed in Part 1, just buy the book and read it for yourself – it’s incredible.  But that’s not exactly what book reviews and leadership lessons are about – doing all the work yourself.  What you’re looking for is advice, guidance, tactics to improve, without having slog through the textbooks.

The concepts are simple, but not easy – and make no mistake, there’s a difference.  Similar to the lessons Hal Moore offers, when you’re reading them in a book, they appear obvious.  The difference in these concepts is that they aren’t so much reinforcing leadership lessons you may already have come across, but require a substantial shift in perspective.  The effects however are immediate, and surprisingly transformative.

If I had to summarise the principle of Action into a short grab, it would be “Do anything.  Now”.  Just get out there and do something.  Anything.  There’s a power in action that trumps intent, trumps wishing, trumps day-dreaming, and separates the entrepreneurs from the “want-trepreneurs”.

I’ll admit that I often find myself falling into that second category.  My bedside table is filled with notebooks of ideas not implemented, inventions not prototyped, visions not fulfilled, and ultimately, regret.  Why?  Because I never took that first step.

One of my most quoted quotes is “You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps”, and like many of us who are only too happy to hand it out, I’m terrible at taking my own advice.  What’s stopping me?  Fear I guess.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of failure.  Fear of embarrassment if no-one buys my invention, or the new business idea fails.

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I’m not going to dive down the rabbit-hole of ‘move fast and break things’, or ‘failing fast’ and a hundred other FaceGoogle-esque maxims, other than to say I think that if I took a step, made the leap that it’d probably work out OK.

Besides, even if it didn’t, Part 1 of this review would give me advice on how to re-interpret the obstacle!

Unselfish action, now at this very moment”
– Marcus Aurileus

Summary.  Do the sh!t that you need to do to get things started and don’t stop moving.

Easy to say.  Hard to implement.

Worth the effort though.

Will.  If Perception and Action are disciplines of the mind and body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and soul.

Let’s say you’re faced with a problem, any problem.  You’ve taken the advice in the earlier post and re-framed your perspective.  You now see this problem as an opportunity.  Tremendous.  You’ve taken that first step into action.  Tremendous.  You fall at the first hurdle.  Tremendous.  There’s nothing in the manual that says you won’t end up in a feedback loop from hell going around and around and around from Perception to Action with no end in sight.

Enter, Will.

“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”
– Tennyson, Ulyssess

When Antonio Pigafetta, the assistant to Magellan on his trip around the world, reflected on his boss’s greatest and most admirable skill, what do you think he said?  Turns out it had nothing to do with sailing.  The secret to his success, Pigafetta said, was Magellan’s ability to endure hunger better than the other men.

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We discussed in Part 1, that re-framing your perspective of obstacles was the key to defeating them.  Perhaps Magellan saw his interminable hunger as simply an opportunity to master the demands of his body?  Perhaps he saw it as simply payment for the opportunity to explore the unknown.  Perhaps he just had a small stomach.  Who knows?  What it does show is that endurance, a desire to move forward, simply not allowing obstacles to stand in your way, is not subject to the obstacles themselves, but simply the way you view them.  You can choose to succumb to hunger, to complain you are on half rations, or you can remember that some people, many people, have no food at all.  That you’re lucky you’ve got some mouldy bread and scraps of salted beef to nibble on.

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The straits of Magellan…..pun intended

So how does all this help those who are leaders, or who aspire to be leaders?  Think back to all the bosses you’ve had (or if you’re new to the workforce, the family & friends who hold leadership roles in your life).  Now picture an example where things have gone to custard.  A project fails to meet a critical deadline.  A sales team repeatedly doesn’t hit the monthly sales targets which is now threatening the viability of the entire company.  A piece of heavy plant rolls over and traps a worker’s leg.  A family member dies unexpectedly.

None of these are particularly good news items.  None of these are cause for celebration.

Now then think about the people who stand out in your memory in that situation as being calm, collected and in control.  What was it that separated them from the rest of the team or the family?  Those who weren’t lost in the emotion of the situation, or those who didn’t run around doing ‘busy’ work without getting done what needed to get done?  I’m sure if you reflect on it, these three foundational principles will have been in play – whether you (or perhaps even they) noticed it at the time or not.

Perception.  Action.  Will.

It’s amazing how calmness is contagious.  How a cool head prevails.  How this leader may not necessarily have been the ‘boss’, or eldest in the family, but whose implementation of these principles steadied the ship.

Isn’t that what you want from your leaders?

To see clearly.
To act correctly.
To endure and accept the world as it is.

What did you think of today’s post?  Do the principles of Stoicism interest you – are you keen to learn more?  If you’ve seen examples of non-traditional leaders stepping into the void in a crisis and steadying the ship and you’d like to share, leave a comment below or get in touch via the Contact Page.

So. Do you miss it?

No one likes a fence sitter.

So when I’m asked “Do you miss it?”, I’ve got a pretty standard answer on tap, which I’ve had the last 5 or so years to polish.  A conversation ensues, and depending on the person asking, we chat some more, or we don’t, and we go our separate ways.

What is ‘it’ you ask?

‘It’ is, or was, the construction contractor’s life.  ‘It’ is delivering large civil infrastructure projects working for the big Australian Tier 1 companies.  ‘It’ is what I used to do.

It wasn’t until recently that after giving my answer, I sat down, tilted my head waaaaaay back and looked directly upwards, as I do sometimes when I’m thinking, and asked myself why it was that people even wanted to know.

Think about it, no one ever asks if you miss being sick, or miss being broke, or miss anything that generally sucks.

So with that in mind, is it generally considered that the construction contractor’s life is more exciting, more rewarding, more everything, and that people wonder why I’d leave that life for (supposedly) duller client-side project management work?

If you’d asked me 6 years ago if I’d ever consider moving client-side, it would have been a resounding “Nope”.

 

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But seeing as I’m now into my fifth year as a client side practitioner, I thought it’s probably time to have a proper think about what is actually a tough question to answer.

So here’s my Top 5 things I don’t miss about working contractor-side:

  1. The 11-13 hour days…every day
  2. Saturday shifts
  3. Seemingly endless night shifts re-sheeting roads and rolling out traffic switches (usually in the rain)
  4. End of month (dockets, invoices, accruals, forecasts, budgets….)
  5. The cold.  Early starts for big pours, middle of the night SuperT lifts, even a few years drilling under Bass Strait where it was so f**ing cold that full thermals were issued as standard PPE

And because everyone loves a list (including me), here’s my Top 5 things I do miss about working contractor-side:

  1. The occasional shouting match at 3:00 AM when landing Super-T’s over a live rail line (you know who you are Mr Henry)
  2. The swearing.  Now I’m not really a regular swearer, and never have been, but there’s something quite satisfying about working in an environment where unleashing a few nuclear F-bombs every now and again raised n’er even an eyebrow
  3. The depth of camaraderie of being in the trenches with your team (sometimes literally)
  4. The relationships with the work crews, and being able to direct, in real time, outcomes on the ground
  5. The level of satisfaction in seeing something you planned, sweated over, occasionally bled over, regularly stressed over, played out in your mind 1,000 times before the first agi arrived, come to life as an actual thing you can touch

Now for my current colleagues whose mouths may have dropped open and are thinking I don’t get any satisfaction from my current role because I don’t get to shout, swear, work in a trench, or directly impact outcomes on the ground, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s like that ex-girlfriend you had in Uni, who was a little wild, but deep down you knew it was never going to last.

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Client:Contractor OR Contractor:Client?

So if I miss the action, what is it that I’ve gained instead?

  1. Visibility into a breadth of interfaces I never even knew existed.  I deal now with an exponentially larger number of people in different positions, agencies, and authorities than ever before – where my work life before was particularly insular, now it spans not just Projects, but Programs, Government planning and look ahead dates that extend past 2030.  It does something to your immediate perspective when you’re aware that things exist past the end of your Project
  2. The opportunity for strategic thinking.  I’m not sure if it’s just that as I’ve moved up the tree that strategic thinking has become a larger part of  my role, or if it’s being client-side forces that task upon you.  Without the benefit of time travel, perhaps I may never know.  What I do know is that in my current role there are means and opportunity to use a part of my brain that I hadn’t for some years.  In the contractor space, thinking, one, two, maybe three steps ahead was as much as I had the time to devote to, while neck deep in building the job.  Now there’s more latitude to take a step back and see the bigger picture
  3. Time.  Time on the weekends with my kids.  Time to find (or make) my own action outside of work; with the RFS, with my business, at the gym, wherever my mind takes me.
    This new gold mine of time I’ve stumbled across is partly because of my client-side role, and partly because I now actively make time.  I now get up so early it sometimes seems like it’s still the day before, and not working contractor side any more certainly helps me to be able to do that4d431dfa741f9681654958caeb370914
  4. A renewed desire to learn.  Again, I’m not sure if it’s me getting older, (hopefully) wiser, being more protective of my time, or being Client side, however I’ve read more books in the last 3 years than the last 10 combined.  I’ve read books on strategy, books written by Japanese Samurai, a Roman Emperor, a US Army General, and even the coach of the San Francisco 49’ers.  Some have been better than others.  Some offer guidance.  Some offer nothing.  All of them though in some way, shape or form, have ultimately been worth the time invested

So just to recap, I’ve gained a broader horizon, increased brain utilisation, developed a renewed passion for learning and a seemingly limitless bounty of time….

Seems like a good deal to me.

Is client-side for everyone?  Absolutely not.  But it takes all sorts to make this world go round, and if we were all determined to work client-side, who’d build the projects?  If we were all determined to work contractor-side, who’d decide they needed building in the first place?

Can’t have one without the other.  Simple as that.  It’s not a zero-sum game – both can, and must, succeed for these projects to succeed.

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No one likes a fence-sitter.

So when I’m asked “Do you miss it?”, I’ve got a pretty standard answer on tap, which I’ve had the last 5 or so years to polish.

“Sometimes I do miss the action, although I don’t ever miss the Saturday shifts.  In saying that, if I’d never have experienced all of that madness and chaos, and learned what I did, I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am today.”

Growth.  Development.  Change.  Isn’t that what it’s all about.


So have you made the move from contractor to client side?  Did you find it a good or a bad thing?  Are you interested in making the step and not sure where to start?

Leave a comment or get in touch via the Contact Page.

From the fire ground to the office

With the recent bushfire activity here in Sydney, I thought it was timely to share some of the exemplary leadership I’ve witnessed in my time within the NSW Rural Fire Service.

In late 2017 I was on a Hazard Reduction burn, an HR.  Before we go any further, can we  please stop calling these back burns.  Back burns are where you use fire to fight fire (which is what happened down at Holsworthy / Menai), and a hazard reduction burn is where you burn off as much of the ground fuels as you can ahead of a bush fire season.

So I was on a hazard reduction burn with the mighty Continue reading From the fire ground to the office

A personal research assistant…you!

As I re-kindled my obsession with reading a few years ago, I discovered that after devouring a great book and learning a bunch, my goldfish-like memory failed me.  Other than the title of the book, or perhaps the colour of the front cover, I retained almost none of the learnings.  I’d lost all the nuggets in the sluice water.  Enter Tim Ferriss, his advice on indexing, and sticky tabs.  Mine is a simple process, and comes down to a few quick steps.

  1. Tagging & underlining
  2. Distillation
  3. Indexing

STEP 1. Tagging & Underlining:  Seems easy, right?  My first few attempts were unbridled Continue reading A personal research assistant…you!