PVWA: The Four Powers of Transformational Leaders


PVWA: The Four Powers of Transformational Leaders

Team Members

Bonnitta Roy, Zach Schlosser

Short Summary

The OODA loop is a ubiquitous protocol for decision making, but decision-making protocols like OODA can be run iteratively and still execute the same failure modes. They are useful in a constrained arena, like a battle field or corporation, but useless as a leadership protocol for cultural transformation. This is due to four distinct vulnerabilities: 1) observational capture by existing cognitive frames, 2) avoidance of long term visioning, 3) exclusion of the deeper, subtle causal forces at play, and 4) focus on utilitarian or instrumental outcomes. Our protocol PVWA (Perception > Vision > Wisdom > Action) preserves the general function of OODA while going beyond its significant vulnerabilities.

What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?


What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

To create powerful protocols to undergird a “great leaders” training program at the Divinity School we are building. Perception, Vision, Wisdom, and Action are the four powers of a transformational leader. PVWA improves on OODA by shifting from

  • simple observing to perception that avoids mistaking parts for wholes
  • basic orientation to visioning with greater degrees of freedom
  • decision making in terms of mere utility or instrumental values to wise choices based on first principles and core values
  • actions that are performed within the arena to actions that operate on the arena and, as a result, change the nature of the performances therein.

PVWA is informed by the new cognitive sciences of mind and life, which have the power to transform the user, including:

  • 4E Cognition, which reminds us that both the agent and the arena are constantly changing.
  • Relevance Realization, which assures us we are focused on what matters most when selecting for values we want to amplify, while filtering out habits or properties we want to avoid.
  • Pragmatic Imagination, which shows us how to move from deductive rationalism to abductive reasoning and beyond to the free play of the creative imagination.
  • Cognition in the Wild, which points to deep capacities in our evolutionary inheritance we can reclaim to revitalize our cognitive toolkit.
  • Reflexive Awareness, an ongoing wisdom practice that tracks and helps us be intentional about the kinds of selves we are becoming.
  • Complex Potential States Theory, which shifts us away from thinking in terms of complex adaptive systems, which is epistemically suspect in the first place, toward a theory of change that works with fields of potential already operating in the system.

What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?

Interviews with OODA practitioners, literature reviews in OODA theory and case studies.

In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?

White paper and training curriculum for each step of PVWA.

How will you field-test your improvement idea?

Work with existing OODA loop trainers from military and industry (ex: Brian Rivera, John Robb) and compare basic OODA results with OODA extended into PVWA.

Who will be able to judge the quality of your output?

John Robb, Brian “Ponch” Rivera, Nate Hagens

How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?

Digital magazine, white paper.

What is the success vision for your idea?

PVWA attracts and develops leaders of exceptional character who (1) design solutions in the context of deep time, (2) wield power with clarity and concern for the whole, and (3) summon archetypal power that mobilizes people to action.


I like this proposal very much. One element that struck me though when reading through the vulnerabilities of OODA you want to overcome with PVWA was the “avoidance of long term visioning” as something that is somehow contradicting research from last year’s Summer of Protocols done by Olivia Steiert.

In her research paper on “Protocols in (Emergency) Time”[1], Olivia developed three theses, one being that “Protocols lack a future vision”:

[Protocols] inherently lack a distinct imagination of the future that differs from the moment in which they emerge, especially when they are purely repetitive and operate with what I have called a circular temporality. Protocols are incapable of inspiring a vision of what lies beyond them other than a return to a past state. Their future is an extrapolation from past and present rather than an imaginative speculation.

In other words: according to this thesis, a protocol cannot plausibly claim to be capable of visioning.

Now, it’s just a thesis, and maybe it’s something you’ve already thought of and accounted for in your RFC. But perhaps it could and would be worthwhile to be integrated in the research, possibly even along with the other two theses by Olivia. After all, a need for “cultural transformation” could be considered emerging out of the “Emergency Time” of a cultural crisis.

  1. Protocols in (Emergency) Time Web - Summer of Protocols ↩︎


Thanks for your comment. You’ve really hit on one of the core notions in our work. It makes us stop for a bit and really think about protocols from this meta-perspective.

I myself have described protocols as not targeting specific outcomes, but as “designed to exert a selection function” on otherwise self-organizing dynamics in a complex environment. Here, most protocols are either constraining, enabling, or governing (to use Alicia Juarrero’s terminology). This places the people who are designing protocols inside the mental model of complex adaptive systems thinking (CAS). I have argued that CAS is epistemically suspect, and eventually leads to systemic closure, hence as Olivia Steiert notes, there is an arc wherein iterative use of protocols dampens their evolutionary selection function, as they erode into “rules to be followed.” In other words, protocols that are designed to be affordances eventually degrade into constraints. Given her focus on protocols for Emergencies, which are by definition temporary, it is not surprising that the ideas here are embedded in terms of CAS where actors are already in crisis mode and are thinking in terms of adapting to evolutionary pressure.

My work on the theory of Complex Potential States (CPS - see above link) shows that there is an alternative way to approach complexity, that, I maintain, is more aligned with how complexity in the natural world actually works.

One of the questions we are asking in our PIG proposal, is

“How does the notion of “protocol” shift when we exit complex adaptive systems thinking, and enter into a world hypothesized as complex potential states?”

The answers (we suspect) will be what we wrote in the proposal, namely, that nodes along something like the protocol set “OODA” will shift to nodes along the protocol set “PVWA.” And we believe that PVWA might serve as a meta-protocol to help improve other protocol sets as well.