fluffy social media words and the OODA loop

New Loops

Matt Riding’s @techguerilla – guest blog posted over at Amber’s new site Brass Tack Thinking, talked about his struggle with fluffier of the Social Media terms that seemingly have to be used to communicate it’s message, an excerpt of the opening paragraphs:

I have an aversion to “fluff”. I don’t mean that jar of creamy marshmallow awesomeness that sometimes sits in your pantry, I mean those words that get thrown around that sound great but rarely contain much actionable value.

Social Media gets far more than its fair share of this type of language, and that’s to be expected, after all a big part of social media is about relationship building. Where relationships are concerned words like “significance”, “harmony”, “trust”, “being real” are par for the course. But when I write them (and I do) a little shiver goes down my spine and I can feel the bile rise in my throat. My body reacts as if I’m a lifelong vegan who has decided to shove these words made of cow parts down my gullet.

Are these words really ‘bad’ however? Do they really only contain feel-good rainbows formed from the glitter ashes of old hippies? I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue isn’t the words, or even the meaning of the words, but rather how they are applied to an objective.

from Fluffy Words Are Bad, Mmmkay? (Or Are They?) | Brass Tack Thinking.

Matt and I had a brief back and forth in the comments section, mostly me trying to get a point across regarding how businesses regard “control”, one that he likely already agreed with. My general thought was that while it might be effective to tell business that Social media is merely giving business a new method to achieve old aims, it is deeper than that and that Social Media business prescription is about excavating many of the old assumptions of the values implied in business, and thus the aims of those assumptions. A lot of this has to do with how culturally we have come to think about top-down control, and they way we esteem it.

What came to mind for me in terms of the shift in how we think about control was John Boyd’s OODA loop, a model of cognition that has had great currency in certain business strategy quarters, but has perhaps even greater application in Social Media marketing contexts. Here is the OODA loop wikipedia entry. For those who don’t know – and this post is mostly for you – John Boyd has become something of a think-guru for some, largely because he brought Japanese business models and ancient Asian military philosophy to bear upon what many would consider the most result-oriented, top-down industry in the world: the United States military, and he did so in a way that emphasized information processing and the articulation of technologies. His relative success there gives his ideas a certain impressiveness, an aura, when talking about things civilian. I’m not a Boydist by any stretch, but I do think his model extremely illuminating.

There are many aspects to John Boyd’s approach to warfare, most of them having to do with increases in feedback speed and decision making in the age of information processing. Boyd was a fighter pilot with supposedly an incredible kill-ratio, and he felt that dexterity and rate of feedback was key to winning in the theater of war. A nimble, more lightly armed fighter jet was preferable to heavy, powerfully armed fighter jets. Beneath Boyd’s recommendations of de-centralized, loosely organized, mobile units of action in communication (much of which has been adopted by the new military), is a more abstract concept of cognition itself, what he called the OODA Loop. What is interesting about this model is that it is easily extended beyond the person or animal (organism), into technological interfaces or social structures and organizations. It allows us to trace the circuits of observation and decision that make up effective action.

It is not a be all and end all concept, but rather in Social Media perhaps a helpful concept base, or model by which to illustrate how important “inter-action” is to business.

I offer here only the briefest summation of what essentially is an elemental picture of the world and selves. Above is a simplified version of the OODA loop the fuller version of which is found at the top of this post.  For those who would like to look at a more in depth presentation of the loop for business Henrik Mårtensson’s blog, Kallokain, which has an excellent overview of the main OODA principles involved as they pertain to business. I would love to discuss this model in terms of Social Media itself and all the internal dynamics it proposes, especially the cultural ones, but for now this post is mostly a cursory one of introduction for those is unfamiliar with Boyd’s loop, and perhaps a first exploration of the value of that model for Social Media business thinking.

What is helpful about John Boyd’s fighter-pilot loop is that it is continuous. All cognition, whether it be business corporate structures pursuing market share, or an amoeba scooting along towards a sugar solution, comes down to this circle of observation to act and back. One could easily call it the  Circle of Life without much exaggeration. What this means for Social Media in business should be apparent. Social Media connections are an increase in speed, breadth and if properly run, cycle between the businesses informed decisions and its living environment (customers, cultural event contexts). Boyd felt that the faster the cycle can be completed and repeated, coupled to the depth of its comprehension and review, the more intelligent and aware the agent became (and therefore more self-determining). Domination of the theater was not the domination of sheer, applied power, like big guns blasting. It as a domination of awareness and maneuverability, being able cover more ground, more quickly, with greater flexibility.

What Social Media for business implies is a whole different set of eyes, sense organs, that can be plugged into the decision cycle. Unfortunately you cannot just connect up a different mode of sensing and expect to be able to suddenly “see” with it. Many of the processes and values that may have worked well under past modes of business command and control maybe obsolete or antithetical to the fine tune of what one is perceiving in a social media context. And this is where John Boyd’s OODA loop comes in handy. It lets us know that whatever we were doing (successfully or not) has ALWAYS been composed of OODA cycles. And that the new interconnections with the commerce environment are merely changes in frequency and modes of observe, orient, decide, and act. This though can involve serious changes in the culture of how we process information, self-reflection on our assumptions about how we can control our outcomes, and the acquisition of new habits of orientation and decision making.

When we talk about the changes in our behaviors towards customers or users, the language we use that evokes a change in method or even principle, it may help to grasp at a larger more conceptual level the advantages that are offered by the new media and new technologies, as well as better position the kind of revolutions of value that we have to undergo in order to most take advantage of them.

Next: what the OODA loop means for the “social” in Social Media, what happens when your customers/users are already in social media loops such as facebook or twitter?


2 thoughts on “fluffy social media words and the OODA loop

  1. Kevin, this is a fantastic post, and a great introduction to the OODA loop. I also checked out the wikipedia article and Kallokain’s take on OODA loops, all very helpful for giving me a foundation of understanding about OODA and the filters of my perception.

    I think you have found a great resource to continue the conversation about Social Media strategy, and for looking at what steps an organization needs to take to fully integrate social media into their practices (their OODA loop).

    I think this post, and future ones, will help to give me a contecxt to build better strategies for my clients. My company has recognized the need for quite lengthy discovery process, understanding our clients business, and learning about them through several meetings often taking up to one months, before we ever tweet our post to their facebook page.

    I will be incorporating the OODA loop into my thought process, and look forward to conversations about it.

    • Thanks Chris. Glad that OODA loops give you additional perspective on what you are already doing with clients. I thought you might really like it. What I’ve talked about with Ric Dragon on this (in comments here: http://bit.ly/lu39s6 ) is how these loops need to be examined both in terms of speed and as you say “filtering”. Ric is interested in the martial aspect of them, I more about how we create agreement with partners and even customers.

      In this post I mostly was focused on how social media marketing (everything from SEO to Twitter accounts) create new and faster organs of perception. It seems the biggest challenge is for businesses to learn how to incorporate these new faster tempo’d filters into sometimes much more rigid and much slower organization.

      the best to you as always.


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