Andy and the crusty cobs

My friend Andy works on the railways. He used to work as a master baker at one of the big supermarkets. One of the items he baked was Crusty Cobs.

Clearly customers can only buy Crusty Cobs if there are some Crusty Cobs actually on the shelves. So the supermarket also employed a bakery supervisor to check Crusty Cob availability. (Naturally the supervisor was paid more than Andy. After all he was the supervisor.) Every day, at 4pm, the bakery supervisor arrived, clutching his clipboard, and counted the Crusty Cobs on the shelves; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven... Andy got praised if there was good Crusty Cob availability and chastised if there wasn't.

So Andy adapted. He baked extra batches of Crusty Cobs but waited to put them on the shelves until shortly before 4pm. Crusty Cob availability, as recorded by the supervisor, was very good. Customers wanting Crusty Cobs before 4pm were often disappointed.

A short while later as well as counting the Crusty Cobs on the shelves (always at 4pm), the supermarket also started counting the number of Crusty Cobs actually sold at the tills during the day. Now Andy also got praised if lots of Crusty Cobs were sold.

So Andy adapted. As well as sticking the Crusty Cob labels on the Crusty Cobs, he also printed extra Crusty Cob labels and stuck them on some Soft Rolls. After all, who looks at the labels? So Crusty Cob sales, as recorded at the tills, were always very good. The number of Crusty Cobs actually bought by customers was somewhat less.

Not long after the supermarket noticed a drop in the sales of Soft Rolls. They asked Andy not to bake so many Soft Rolls.

So Andy adapted. He baked less Soft Rolls, labelled them correctly, and put the extra Crusty Cob labels on the French Sticks. Customers wanting Soft Rolls, at any time, were often disappointed.

Goodhart's Law states:

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Or, more colloquially:

Targets are where measures go to die.


the mind of war

is an excellent book about John Boyd by Grant T. Hammond (isbn 978-1588341785). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
…in order to determine the consistency of any new system we must construct or uncover another system beyond it… One cannot determine the character or nature of a system within itself. Moreover, attempts to do so lead to confusion and disorder.
he was always testing the limits - of airplanes, people, science, the military, and, most especially, bureaucracies.
In dozens of interviews, conducted for this book, the most consistent theme and nearly universal comment was that John Boyd was the essence of an honourable man and incorruptible.
Oral, not written, communication and conviction, not accuracy, still rule in military culture.
Boyd liked putting things together (synthesis) better than analysis (taking things apart)...
He also came to appreciate the routine practice and repetition that was required to become really good at something and to overcome the boredom by focusing on minute improvements.
He observed very carefully.
Boyd could go from 500 knots to stall speed, practically stopping the plane in midair, which would force any aircraft on his tail to overshoot him and thus gain the advantage for Boyd. In another trick, he would stand the F-100 on its tail and slide down the pillar of its own exhaust. Fire would come out of the intake in the nose of the aircraft and the tailpipe simultaneously. A seemingly impossible feat, it was challenged by others. Boyd when to Edwards Air Force Base in California, where NASA had two fully instrumented F-100 aircraft, and demonstrated it and other techniques to a series of nonbelievers. The test pilot at Edwards who challenged him at the time was a fellow by the name of Neil Armstrong.
Boyd had never designed an airplane before, but as he told Colonel Ricci and Gen. Casey Dempsey, "I could fuck up and do better than this."
The rule of thumb in the Air Force is that a plane will gain a pound of weight a day for the life of the aircraft.
High entropy implies a low potential for doing work, a low capacity for taking action or a high degree of confusion or disorder… The tendency is for entropy to increase in a system that is closed or cannot communicate with the external systems or environments.
A natural teacher, he understood that if he told you something, he robbed you of the opportunity to ever truly know it for yourself.
We are never deceived. We only deceive ourselves. [Goethe]
Boyd's dictum: "Ask for my loyalty and I'll give you my honesty. Ask for my honesty and you'll have my loyalty."