Maneuver and Focus Efforts on Disrupting Your Adversary's Mindset | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“In most campaigns the dislocation of the enemy’s psychological and physical balance has been the vital prelude to a successful attempt at his overthrow.” ~Captain Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart, 1944

The term maneuver in the context of strategy, operational art and tactics according to Wikipedia is a manipulation of a situation in order to gain some advantage. Col John Boyd described maneuver as out observing, orienting, deciding and acting (Boyd cycling) the adversary, being constantly faster through however many OODA Loops it takes until the adversary loses his cohesion, until he can no longer fight as an effective, organized force.

Each person in a conflict begins by observing himself, his environment and his adversary. As he orients to what’s going on he makes decisions and takes actions with the intent of putting himself in a position of advantage.

To gain this advantage you must use your knowledge, and what you are learning as the situation unfolds and then maneuver to gain the position of advantage. To outmaneuver and confuse and disrupt your adversary you must be aware and be able to fluidly interact with an adversary and your environment.

Some methods we use to maneuver and get inside the mind of our adversary with the intent of creating mismatches in his thought process and thereby creating confusion and an inability to respond, in the context of law enforcement and security professionals are tactical response and approach, perimeter containment, tactical loitering, tactical positioning, communication, deception, cover and concealment, contact cover principles, initiative driven tactics such as hand to hand combative methods, firearms and proper utilization of force, escalation/de-escalation techniques, etc. To maintain this advantage via these methods you must be making keen observations of the signs and signals that lead to implicit orientation as to what you believe is going on and then adapt accordingly and continue to adapt throughout the tactical situation as need be.

Outmaneuvering an adversary to the point you have an advantage takes skill plus focus of effort. A focus of effort to learn as much as you can to develop operational art as it applies in the various conflicts and crises we respond to. This focus is going to require extensive knowledge of the dynamics of violence, psychology, and the operating environment and the ability to use that knowledge to guide tactical responses and allocation of resources. Then after learning you must also understand that what you learn today may not fit similar circumstances at tomorrow’s crisis situation.

Conflict is chaotic and uncertain and presents many problems to maneuver around in our efforts to gain the advantage. William Lind describes maneuver like this; “Maneuver in conflict, violence and crisis situations means you will not only accept confusion and disorder and operate successfully within it, through decentralization, you will generate confusion and disorder in your adversary.”

In confusing our adversary we get inside his Boyd cycle by being unpredictable. We want to avoid any patterns, recipes and formulas from yesterday’s battle. If we follow predictable patterns and use the same old tactics our adversary can get inside our OODA Loops. If he can predict what we are going to do he will be there waiting and ready. Just look at some of the mass shootings of officer this year (2009) alone, Oakland, Pittsburgh and New jersey to name a few incident where the same old tactics got the same devastating results…cops hurt or killed in the line of duty.

Toss out the policy and procedures, the checklist that remove initiative and instead sense what is going on around you, so you can read the changing conditions, the changing climate and the environment. You must be able sense the strengths and weaknesses of the adversary as well as know your own and maneuver using your strengths verses adversarial weakness.

We must create multiple areas of concern for our adversaries to worry about so our adversary is uncertain as to where the real threat to his motive and mindset is coming from. Doing this is not easy yet we still must at the same time, create multiple options and adapt to changing conditions as the situation evolves.


You respond to back up a brother officer who is on a call for suspicious persons at a local jewelry store. As you walk in you notice your partner has made contact inside the store with one of the individuals the store is alarmed about. Your partner points out a second suspicious person who is standing to your right. He is wearing a pair of lose fitting jeans and an oversized tee-shirt. Where you are positioned you can see the subjects, both of them, your partner and the two clerks behind the counter.

In your efforts to take your role as the cover officer you begin a conversation with the second subject while maintaining your position and ability to observe everyone in the store. The second subject begins to tell you they are just in the store to look at some jewelry and that he does not understand why they are being spoken to and searched. You have been through this conversation hundreds of times over the years so you play along and continue a civil back and forth conversation for about 30 seconds.

Then you observe your partner begins to search the subject he is dealing with. You leave your cover position and walk over to assist in the searching of the subject. Your eyes are off the second subject for at the most 10 seconds when you look back and now there is the subject approaching and a gun pointed at you he took from his waist band when you gave him the opportunity. What do you do? Or better yet what should you have done, to avoid this turn of events. Who out maneuvered who and who had the better focus of effort to out OODA Loop the other? Take a minute and answer these questions before you read any further.

In the end the failure to understand focus of effort and maneuver left two police officers killed in the line of duty. Eventually the suspects were apprehended but that is too little to late in our world where so much depends upon the proper mindset, the ability to stay focused and out smart, out think and out maneuver our adversary.

When you assume a responsibility focus on it, do not over focus but damn if you have the advantage and the adversary off balance as in the beginning of the above described situation, unless the situation calls for you to change, then focus on the task at hand.

Focus of effort or Schwerpunkt as COL Boyd often called it. He stated in Patterns of conflict; Schwerpunkt represents a unifying concept that provides a way to rapidly shape focus and direction of effort as well as harmonize support activities with combat operations, thereby permit a true decentralization of tactical command within centralized strategic guidance—without losing cohesion of overall effort. Or put another way

Schwerpunkt represents a unifying medium that provides a directed way to tie initiative of many subordinate actions with superior intent as a basis to diminish friction and compress time in order to generate a favorable mismatch in time/ability to shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances.

In the above example what would your focus of effort be based on Boyd definition? Contact officer does the talking and collects information. Obviously he stays aware but he is relying on your back up, your cover officer status to keep you both safe during this process.

Cover officer’s responsibility, is to do just that, cover your brother officer and yourself, focus on danger and keeping the adversary or adversary’s from carrying out their mission, while you work together in carrying out yours.

In this example the unifying medium Boyd speaks of, is getting to the bottom of the suspicious activity which turned out to be an attempted robbery that failed as well as staying safe in doing so, while at the same time weakening your foe to minimize his resistance against actions that will follow.

When you change your position or maneuver for an unnecessary reason such as overwhelming emotions or insecurity, ego or the, I want to help or get involved mentality maneuver, can then be dangerous or disadvantageous as in the above example.

Maneuver requires great awareness and the ability to think on your feet in the heat of the moment. Although maneuver requires great awareness and adaptability it does not take elaborate methods to accomplish your goal of seizing the initiative and maintaining it. In the above scenario the cover officer could have simply stayed where he initially was and just observed closely the adversaries and witnesses looking for signs and signals. He could have for safety purposes placed the second man in handcuffs or sat him on the floor or ground in a disadvantageous position, while he continued to make observations.

Utilizing strategy-operational art and tactics in outmaneuvering your adversary is and art and science nut it’s not fine art and it’s not rocket science. It does take developing, nurturing and applying the skills necessary to out Boyd cycle the adversary and that is the difficult part because we humans lose focus quickly and become complacent, which we all know is dangerous. The ability to learn and apply the concepts come from within an individuals personality, attitude and experiences and lessons learned from those experiences help in creating and nurturing these abilities.

The concept of maneuver and focus of effort (Schwerpunkt) is an important topic for law enforcement and other protection professionals to understand in our daily interactions so that the advantage is clearly in our favor. As Sun Tzu said over 2,500 years ago you win a war by first assuring yourself of victory. Only afterward do you look for a fight. Outmaneuver the enemy before the battle and then fight to win.

Free & Fluid Decision Making Cycle

To be able to operate at fast enough OODA Loops an individual or small team of officers on the frontline must have the freedom to make decisions in the moment, control in the organization must be decentralized. I know you have heard the term before and it sounds like nothing new but the reality is that in most police and security organizations there is only talk of decentralized control and freedom to decide. In actuality every move the frontline makes is often strictly monitored creating slow moving OODA Loops. This stifles insight, imagination, innovation, focus and hence initiative. Centralized control slows down your ability to maneuver fluidly be it through communication, tactical movement or a force on force struggle.

Boyd described maneuver as a way to “generate many non-cooperative centers of gravity, as well as disorient or disrupt those that adversary depends upon, in order to magnify friction, shatter cohesion, produce paralysis, and bring about his collapse. Ambiguity, deception, novelty, mobility, and violence (or threats thereof) are used to generate surprise and shock.” Boyd went on to say maneuver’s aim is to “Generate many non-cooperative centers of gravity, as well as disorient, disrupt, or overload those that adversary depends upon, in order to magnify friction, shatter cohesion, produce paralysis, and bring about his collapse; or equivalently, Uncover, create, and exploit many vulnerabilities and weaknesses, hence many opportunities, to pull adversary apart and isolate remnants for mop-up or absorption.”

Understanding the concepts of maneuver and focus of effort will prepare the mind on the path to preparation and victory and in my view the de-escalation of the vast majority of situations law enforcement and protection professionals respond to. WHY? Because once we understand the synergy of maneuver as it relates to and its effects on strategy, operational art and tactics we can only be more effective at handling conflict, violence and crisis. Developed, nurtured and applied skills and attributes equal readiness. There really is no other way to preparedness and hence our ability to maneuver in conflict… So let’s seize the initiative!

”The warrior knows that there are occasional pause in the struggle. There is no point in forcing things; he must have patience and wait for the two sides to clash again. In the silence of the battlefield, he listens to his heart beating. He notices that he is tense and afraid. The warrior takes stock of his life; he makes sure that his sword is sharp, his heart satisfied, that faith still burns in his soul. He knows that maintenance is an important as action. There is always something not quite right. And the Warrior takes advantage of those moments when time stops to equip himself better.”~ Paulo Coelho

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