People, Ideas, and Hardware
US military strategist John Boyd is credited with saying,
"People, ideas, and hardware ... in that order."
Boyd was a Korean and Vietnam War era Colonel in the US Air Force, who continued to advise military leaders until his death in 1997. He is most famously known for his Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle, abbreviated OODA.
His "People, Ideas, and Hardware" concept is among his more popular quips.
So what can we learn from it?
People should be your priority. No matter what weapon or tool you give them, it is a human who will solve problems, experiment, live, die, make decisions, succeed, fail, give up, persevere. Paraphrasing Boyd, wars are fought between people.
Human beings are the most resilient of anything on the planet. They can fail despite having the best of equipment. Or they can succeed despite being provided the worst of tools. They learn, adapt, and figure it out.
Humans are at the heart of your organization. You can lead them, but they will always have their own intentions, incentives, plans, and choices.
Take care of them. Support them. Challenge them.
People have ideas, knowledge, wisdom, experiences, plans, thoughts, visions. And not all of them will be consistent across the organization. Actually, many will likely be at odds.
Not all ideas are equal, in terms of scope. I prioritize them like this, roughly:
- Intentions, purpose
- Goals, missions, objectives
The more uniformity at the top, the better. Seek and embrace diversity nearer the bottom.
Allow for the healthy debate and critique of ideas -- without attacking the person. As Dr Daniel Kahneman is credited with saying, "Protect your dissenters."
Ideas come in the form of procedures, checklists, flowcharts, infographics, workflows, policies, strategy statements, frameworks, thinking models, processes, rules. These help guide the decisions and behaviors of your people. Make sure these ideas are formatted appropriately. (I like the Cynefin framework to help guide how tight or loose these "ideas" are designed or structured.)
Yes, we are talking about physical tools: computers, guns, power drills, dump trucks, pancake flippers, spaceships, nuclear power plants.
But we also include more abstract tools of execution, such as: software, computer applications, communications platforms, physical movements and techniques.
As the most commodified category, it tends to be the easiest to develop, collect, procure, or obtain. Oftentimes, it only requires money. At other times, it's the materialization of an idea.
Hardware, when compared to People or Ideas, is the most fragile, most specialized, most static of them.
Lastly, Sahil Bloom eloquently states in his 95-5 Rule, it makes little sense investing in the final, sexy, complicated, most expensive 5% if you're not capitalizing on the simple, foundational, building-block 95%.
I see organizations spend foolishly in the Hardware domain while ignoring their people or dismissing the ideas of folks actually doing the job. The best part: Ideas are mostly free. And your people are already there and accessible. Capitalize on what they bring to the table.
Take the advice of John Boyd: People, ideas, and hardware ... in that order.
Lou Hayes, Jr. is a detective supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. He's focused on multi-jurisdictional crime patterns & intelligence, through organic working groups compromised of investigators & analysts from a variety of agencies. With a passion for training, he studies human performance, decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, & adaptability. In 2021, he went back to college (remotely!), in hopes to finally finish his undergrad degree from the University of Illinois - Gies College of Business. Follow Lou on LinkedIn, & also the LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model. ***