Design thinker and frequent contributor to Small Wars Journal, Major Ben Zweibelson has been published in the recent issue of National Defense University’s PRISM journal. His article, titled “Three Design Concepts Introduced for Strategic and Operational Applications” (p. 87) may look familiar to SWJ readers that follow Ben’s design work. He based this most recent article on his previous design articles published here at Small Wars Journal. Ben expressed to our editors that many of the concepts in this new article were made possible by the many helpful and insightful comments by SWJ readers on Ben’s previous articles published here. Small Wars Journal is encouraged to see fellow military publications engaging in the continuing design debate over concepts, methodology, and application in strategic and operational situations.
Ben--glad to see you made it and all is well---my transitioning out is the typical race to the end and I will be heading to Berlin in early August.
Will be completing the writing of a book using a journal taken from the leader of the Islamic Army of Iraq in 2006 on the topic of just how did the Iraqi insurgency make it to a phase two guerrilla war in just under four months and we never saw it coming. Using his own words and comments---he really was a classical guerrilla leader in the 21st century.
When you get back use the contact info I sent you and we will do the Ku-Damm with you and your family and talk about my Cold War days in Berlin which actually has connections to the current issues one sees in the current Army culture.
What is interesting is to see exactly how the current culture is defending itself against the new concepts of Design and Mission Command. You were once recently correct in the assumption that poking the bear in the chest is a career ender.
Right now the Force is in fact running from Design and it is running even faster away from MC. Why one asks would the Force race away from the two things that sets the stage for adaptive/critical thinking in the coming years.
It is interesting how retired O5/6s take MC facilitation into the realm of seminars much in the style they know from Leavenworth---and we all know where seminars lead the Force. Nowhere. One cannot get a cultural change from the same people who created the culture.
Both concepts rock the boat and demand open dialogue in a fear free environment based on trust----and we wonder why the Force has a sexual abuse issue. Let's not even get into the realm of rampart ongoing micromanagement
I'll close with a saying my US Iraqi interpreter would tell me before raiding into an objective----
"Stay safe my friend and see you on the other side of the door."
Actually I don't disagree on the "how" and "why" our military institution is rejecting design thinking, but I don't think you help the fight with your particular marketing technique. We don't educate our force, we indoctrinate our force, and the difference isn't subtle. I seriously hope you read De Bono's book, you can read it in an evening, and while simple the ideas are profound. He has gained traction with ideas similar to yours because he has made them accessible and relevant. You push design and at the same time attempt to give a class on philosophy which isn't needed.
Can one understand medicine, physics, psychology, etc. without having grasp on its historical evolution? I think the answer is of course they can, and while knowing the history may useful to identify how paradigm shifts happened, which should serve to remind us what we think we know now can easily be proven incorrect and obsolete tomorrow. That includes your and my views on design thinking. Humility is a good thing.
Simple language is simple, but the ideas and the implications of those ideas don't have to be. For example, all people are created equal is expressed simply, yet its meaning is profound. Clausewitz's trinity is expressed in simple terms, yet is was a recognition of complexity before complexity became cool, and its meaning is clearly profound. If Clausewitz spent four pages describing the evolution of human thought over time to get to the trinity it is unlikely few in the military would be aware of it. Mao's idea about the need for a guerilla to move through the population like a fish moves through water is simple but profound, and the list goes on. I'm not trying to make a case that design thinking should be easy, but I'm trying to make case it can be explained better without losing any value.
You wrote, "I am sorry you disagree with my application of various philosophers, organizational theorists, and historians in my work. However, would you hold this standard to say, a military historian writing about a famous conflict? It would lose quite a bit of credibility for an author to push a new perspective or concept on the Battle of Stalingrad without any sources, or a fair discussion of existing positions and well known works associated with the topic."
I'm actually surprised you wrote this, because this in my opinion is the result of a classical education. It implies any ideas we have to be of value must be referenced to previous sources. That approach in itself limits our creativity, and borrowing a term from De Bono, it prevents lateral thinking. We will always be in a position to dismiss ideas that don't conform to accepted views. This is the very reason that the military has a hard time changing. Put Baudrillard aside, and tell us what Ben thinks based on the fusion of his studies, his experience, and his creativity.
I also don't the think the idea is that difficult (though the Army did a good job of over complicated it in their manual on design) to grasp, but I think it is very hard to implement for a number of organizational reasons, doctrine only being one of them.
If you're going to use the Matrix as a reference I guess I'll finally have to watch the movie. I must be one of the few that haven't seen it.
I got you on the AAF, my point is simple, don't be absolute in your findings on the its value in the future. That is almost impossible to predict because we don't what the future will be. You can definitely criticize the estimated return on investment based on what we know now. Trust me I understand sacred cows, and the problems they create.
I will argue our COIN doctrine is a sacred cow, and when I asked about providing input to the new edition, I got a response that was typical Army. Yes please send any minor recommendations that will make it better, but don't propose any major changes because we think we got it about right. I eat beef, so far as I'm concerned a sacred cow is fair game. This gets to your question about are we helping or hurting our conceptual planning efforts with our institutionalisms? We're obviously hurting our planning efforts, because their directed at protecting institutional sacred cows, not achieving strategic ends.
Thanks for reading it, and I appreciate your comments. I do think we disagree on the "how" and "why" our military institution is rejecting design, but as you no doubt know, we add another layer of complexity with what doctrine writers did with assimilation of design (or Army Design Methodology) into how we educate the force.
Simple language is often not very simple, once we explore the "why" and how that language is an extension of the preferred concepts, methodology, and even how that element defines what knowledge is, and what it cannot be.
I am sorry you disagree with my application of various philosophers, organizational theorists, and historians in my work. However, would you hold this standard to say, a military historian writing about a famous conflict? It would lose quite a bit of credibility for an author to push a new perspective or concept on the Battle of Stalingrad without any sources, or a fair discussion of existing positions and well known works associated with the topic.
Design, as a trans-disciplinary approach, draws from a wide array of fields and disciplines. (Remember- I am not talking about Army Design Methodology, or SOD, or any of the other institutional brands); in order to bring readers into a comfort zone for exploring a fusion of these concepts, I feel that the writer needs to demonstrate the concepts both through application as well as documentation; particularly when one is drawing from the intellectual ideas of another.
I agree that this is a difficult, and fiercely divided topic. I also agree that when one can thread the needle with more universally accepted concepts instead of dusty books from the corners of the philosophy section in the library basement, we often make more useful arguments. In my upcoming article on Army Training Strategy in Military Review's JAN 2014 issue, I attempt to do this while employing the theories of Baudrillard, a French post-modern philosopher. However, I use the more well known "Matrix" movies because the writers drew heavily from Baudrillard's work, and while the majority of my target reading audience have seen Neo fight the Matrix, most might offer your same argument on Baudrillard's work if used exclusively.
On the Afghan Air Force element, recent news on the AAF validate some of what I implied in my article. My internet is dicy over here so I am unable to hyperlink any right now.
Some of the details regarding that topic I could not include in the article for security reasons, and also simply because of length. I could offer you some pretty odd details on the AAF and what we knew in 2011 and how unfortunately, it continues to be "full speed ahead" with the cemented plan. My point in the PRISM article was not to debate the virtues of the AAF, but to illustrate the significant hostility that existed even prior to the planning beginning. Remember, our planning team was sort of like the "Bobs" in Office Space; everyone knew that we were looking hard at systems or things in the ANSF that were not useful anymore, or perhaps never were. Organizations dug in their trenches from the start, with the mandates that "your planning team is not allowed to cut this program" without even letting the team explore a future ANSF without that element.
See, if we cannot even consider cutting some aspects of the ANSF when forming a planning team to "develop the future ANSF that is durable, sustainable, and appropriate for the nation of Afghanistan in the projected 2017 period"- are we helping or hurting our conceptual planning efforts with our institutionalisms?
Ben, I waited until my hard copy of Prism arrived to read your article. I think you had some excellent nuggets in your article that were unfortunately hidden in your diatribe on why the military is hesitant to adapt design thinking. Focus more on showing the value of design compared to existing systems, or as you accurately pointed out show why it the process is valuable because it provides a way to explore the situation and make sense of it.
Personnel opinion, you can skip quoting the litany of philosophers. De Bono's book "Think Before it is too Late" actually captures many of these ideas in plain English, and demonstrates why they're extremely valuable. He has reached simplicity on the far side of complexity, while you're arguments seem mired in complexity. On the other hand the military planning system is largely stuck at a place best described as simplicity before complexity. Move your argument a little further along and I suspect you'll gain converts. Continue to mask your points with discussions on post-X and post-Y eras people will see it as pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo. People aren't stupid, they understand we're all largely ignorant and what we call knowledge is highly questionable. Once you embrace uncertainty it opens up a world of possibilities, and design thinking is one way to explore those possibilities. I think you violated that when you assumed your team had it write based on your exploration of Afghanistan security force that they didn't need an Air Force after 2015. That may or may not be true, and we won't know with any degree of certainty until at least 2018 whether developing or cancelling their Air Force as the right decision, yet as a designer thinker you seemed to violate your own rules about thinking when you referred to those who disagreed as "naked kings" who seek to kill the "truth tellers."? That is a pretty bold statement and no doubt made on less than perfect knowledge, since perfect knowledge is not achievable. Nagl likes to promote himself has a truth teller about insurgencies, yet he relies on old platitudes that can easily be challenged. He quit learning a long time ago (not unlike what you are accusing our military of), and became locked into a version of linear thinking about a topic. Please don't do the same.
De Bono focused on a couple of points, one is lateral thinking. He offered a number of mental exercises to facilitate it. These exercises actually facilitate design thinking as I understand it. He also warns us about the dangers of critical thinking (passing judgment), and reminds us not to confuse it with creative thinking (exploring possibilities).
Quote from Wiki, "Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating new ideas"
Criticisms aside, I actually found parts of your article (narrative, assemblage, and problematization) very useful in helping me expand how I can use design thinking.
You seem to harbor quite a bit of criticism towards design theory. Let me see if I have captured your main points here correctly.
1. Design take a long time to implement.
2. Design is elaborate, and takes specialized training to learn.
3. Most military professionals do not speak “designeeze.”
4. Design requires a “decoder ring” of sorts- a useful metaphor to describe how only small populations of military professionals are experienced in these foreign concepts.
5. MDMP and traditional problem solving, built upon the theoretical underpinnings of Clausewitz (and by association- I would charge Jomini) are superior to design due to availability, simplicity, and speed to delivery of useful outputs.
Is that a fair assessment?
Now, you tend to use the term “schwerpunkt” in your postings. Why? Why not use the doctrinally accepted, universally translated, and well understood “center of gravity?” It is in military doctrine, taught at nearly all levels of professional military education, used liberally in every English version of “On War” that I have in my collection, and is, according to your implication, a concept easier to grasp and apply than design alternatives such as those introduced in my Prism article.
Let me make some points about using terms like “schwerpunkt” versus the familiar “center of gravity.” Stop me if this sounds familiar…
1. Using German words requires an actual decoder ring for most military professionals- not just a metaphor. That may be why military doctrine does not use “schwerpunkt”…and why the term COG is well accepted in the military preferred paradigm.
2. Learning Clausewitzian theory takes specialized learning…we send folks to War College and ILE for 12 months or more; and I would argue that many of us that graduate these courses still encounter many problems applying COGs, lines of effort, measures of performance, effectiveness (granted MOP/MOEs are modifications of Clause, as is the CC/CR/CV concept and Dr. Reilly’s “Cognitive Maps” approach popular in Joint Planning and Operational Design), decisive points, mass, and so on.
3. Conducting COG analysis and implementing it into a robust campaign plan takes quite a bit of time. I know of no examples where COG selection led to planning/preparation/execution/assessment in a large war in a matter of hours- but I am willing to read into any examples you might offer.
4. Most military professionals do not speak Germaneeze. As in, I walked around my unit earlier and asked a group of LTs, CPTs, and a handful of field grades what “schwerpunkt” meant, and you probably do not want to hear the responses.
This debate is really not at all about “schwerpunkt” or COGs. Despite you offering a sound COG offering for Nazi Germany, I would bet my monthly salary that if we locked 4x military history PhDs in a room with your answer, you would be lucky if even 1x agreed fully with you. But this is not about which COG is right- this is about different paradigms.
You defend the military paradigm that employs the concepts of Clausewitz…even to the point that you employ his terms in his native tongue; although I would suggest this has more to do with academic presentation and less to do with supporting any argument that Clausewitzian theory is easier to understand by the larger military population. Those that fully embrace that position avoid the “secret decoder ring” buzz words and stick with the useful English translations.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I employ different paradigms that challenge the preferred military one. I question whether COGs are always useful; should we constantly employ them in every military endeavor? Do they add value?
“Design” as a theory is simply the goal to become trans-disciplinary in what paradigms we use, and what ones other actors out there also employ. The myth that “doing design” is some kind of black magic that only SAMS graduates can do is just the common false narrative employed by the defenders of the preferred military paradigm. A design approach is tailorable, customized, and highly flexible- depending upon how much time you have, design approaches implement what is achievable with those limited resources. Design, once again, is just as much about “un-learning” as it is about learning- anyone can apply design and it does not require any more educational time than what we invest in traditional military professional education.
Perhaps a hurdle with respect to education is that while our military puts years of educational time into the preferred paradigm (the Jominian principles and some basic elements of Carl appear in ROTC and basic course education) across every level of professional development, design is only explored at the intermediate level, and usually only for a few lessons. Many ILE students get a couple of PowerPoint slide decks and are instructed by some teachers that may even be hostile (or misunderstand) design…even those terrible dark mage SAMS students only get a design module for about a month out of the entire SAMS academic year. The reality is that there is very, very little educational time invested in any military professional on “doing design”- and a lion’s share in how to use Clausewitzian/Jominian concepts within the preferred military paradigm.
It is only through academic discussions, articles, and engagements like these where design even gets a chance to offer alternative paradigms and approaches…so why be so hostile?
Finally- as to your COG selection; I found it interesting that you applied a physical terrain association to the strategic COG concept for answering my question on the Nazi ESCOG for WWII; this is very interesting…and it illustrates the classic approach. We can bomb, occupy, destroy, or maneuver on physical terrain- this is a concept most attractive to the traditional military paradigm…and modern Joint Planning as well as the recently dead (or perhaps in zombie form) Effects Based Operations. We continue to do this today, with the ISAF ESCOG keeping much in tune with your approach. I fear that now, just as then, we are relying on merely one perspective, which may not be the ideal one for the situation we are in.
You can't address Nazi Germany in isolation. Isn't it all about where we apply the main effort regardless of what you call it or how you define CoG? For instance if we had initially split our main effort between Japan and Germany early on, we likely would have lost just as the Germans ultimately lost because they split their main effort between Britain and the USSR. Our main effort was Japan initially while supporting the defense of both Britain and the USSR was a supporting effort.
Germany's main effort and CoG was the area north of the Maginot Line to avoid its strengths and bypass it. USSR's CoG was the defense of Stalingrad and perhaps the Battle of Kursk. Our secondary efforts in North Africa and Italy built experience for our main effort Normandy invasion which only was made less deadly by Germany's split focus between us, our deception efforts, and the USSR...and the incompetence of Hitler.
More recently, perhaps one could argue that we similarly split our focus between Iraq and Afghanistan which would not have been necessary had we not invaded Iraq. This slowed our build up of ANSF forces and emboldened the Taliban to make a comeback and made our allies grow weary.
The under-resourcing of the Canadians and Brits in southern Afghanistan is a classic example of trying to cover too many eggs with limited baskets. A Design-like approach makes everything and every problem an interrelated priority while only a few things are most important. One could argue that many allied forces were wasted in Northern Afghanistan while eastern and southeastern Pashtun areas of Afghanistan should have been the main effort with nearly all coalition forces assigned there in strength.
How would Design have helped us fight better in World War II. I just can't envision Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall, Patton, Montgomery, MacArthur and others embracing Design-like excessive analysis in making decisions and plans.
As an apparent advocate of the COG concept, perhaps we could explore this concept briefly here with a question- can you provide a solid example of an enemy strategic center of gravity? To make this easier, shall we use Nazi Germany from World War II?
The obvious answer many historians, professors, and military professionals have offered to me in many discussions is Adolf Hitler. Others include German Nationalism, Hitler's inner circle, the SS, or even something as messy as the intra-European drive for continental dominance...
I remember something a senior leader and author of multiple planning books on COGs and campaign planning told me about COGs as we discussed how we thought the ISAF enemy SCOG was wrong. "COGs are less about being right about what exactly it is, and more about the discussion that everyone has in discovering what it might be."
That may be a bit messy and uncertain for many military professionals- but I think that is the point. We cling to certainty, even at the expense of spinning an illusion into a false narrative, cemented in piles of published campaign plans, OPORDs, and PowerPoint slide decks.
As for design being something only SAMS folks with secret decoder rings can do- I think this is a misguided (but popular) characterization. Design is really more about "un-learning" the many bad habits we use in MDMP and classical military planning; but it is very tough to break the institution of beloved, yet faulty habits. Design is as much about pedagogy as it is about alternatives to traditional military concepts. That is my opinion, of course.
A few quotes from your article that to me illustrate that a Design Red Team may ask a lot of questions, however it does not mean they have many answers the military can implement...or that necessarily will work.
<blockquote>Western governments recognize and define drug activities as a component of the larger illicit commodity or illegal economy where profitable yet illegal items traffic from a source zone (cocaine production in Colombia) through transit zones (Mexico, trans-ocean routes) to the arrival zone (North American and European consumption). Our government and military agencies tend to break the drug organizations down into extremely detailed components with various cartels, corrupt officials, and the exchange of money, power, violence, and influence across fixed geography populated by human societies. Societies pass laws, and take actions that attempt to curb the numerous destabilizing effects of narco-criminal enterprise at the operational level, with tactical actions occurring at the tactical level throughout all three zones.</blockquote>
Design asks many big picture questions that usually are not the military’s responsibility or are far too abstract for realistic or politically-acceptable solutions. Militaries frequently address tactical and operational issues because strategic decisions often are made by civil leaders who either allocate the correct assets and make correct decisions…or don’t. The military then must adapt with “the military they’ve got,” which unfortunately may not be the military or adequate resources required. Military-like organizations can send Special Forces and DEA to Columbia to try to enable better tactical activity in that zone by the host nation. We can patrol Sea zones leading between our narco-neighbors and try to stop some of the trafficking or make it more difficult. We can try to patrol/fence/sensor land border zones to simultaneously stop narco and human transit. Militaries cannot stop demand or raise kids not to become drug consumers.
Legalization or look-the-other-way (as in Afghanistan) does not solve the problem of the person addicted to a drug who proceeds to ruin his life, personal economy, and lives of those around him or injured by his activities under the influence (or trying to be under the influence by resorting to theft or prostitution). Productivity suffers in businesses that make products or provide services. How could our government allow an activity that a business cannot accept? One need only look at places like Russia where drugs and alcohol create major society-wide problems. Look at the problems it creates in AfPak among security forces and the general population. Is that what you want to bring to the U.S. and Europe on a more widespread legalized basis?
Most big picture questions you (and Design) ask fall beyond military control because they involve other agencies, sovereign nations, our own government’s decisions, or laws that prohibit direct military involvement unless National Guard or under Federal agency control for special emergency circumstance. Your group solved the problem of downsizing the ANSF after we leave. Yet it could not solve the problem of why it took so long to build a large ANSF. That’s because it could not solve the illiteracy, drug, leadership, ethnicity, desertion, and training issues that were either outside military control to fix or could not be solved due to inadequate military resources in the early years due to Iraq. Your group also wanted to question the need for ANSF to have an airpower capability? Yet how else will they function over a Texas-sized territory without airpower and with a smaller ANSF? What are the lessons of the 1972 Easter Offensive and the failure to provide an airpower response in 1975?
<blockquote>Consider the following questions that an interagency or military organization might consider with significant narco-violence spilling over the southern border between America and Mexico. Which of these would be readily accepted by some organizations, but quickly rejected by others? Which are “off limits” due to institutionalisms or cultural tenets, and thus would not even be explored in any conceptual planning efforts?
• Should a military operation led by the Army secure the border? <strong>(National Guard? Weekdays?)</strong>
• Should a military operation led by the Navy secure the border? <strong>(Coast Guard? LCS?)</strong>
• Should the military work under Federal Law Enforcement at the border? <strong>(National Guard?)</strong>
• Should religious organizations such as the Catholic Church be engaged to assist?<strong>(Same problem as the military dealing with NGOs, separation of church and state)</strong>
• Should American military and state assets work under Mexican control? <strong>(How about UN control? Why is it necessary? What if the control is corrupt?)</strong>
• Should Mexican military and law enforcement pursue criminals into American territory? <strong>(Why if they have phones and radios? Hot pursuit? Is this some kind of implication about drones?)</strong>
• Should we value American casualties over Mexican ones? <strong>(Should they value their own casualties enough to solve the problem?)</strong>
• Should our nation legalize the drug in question? Should other nations do this? <strong>(And end up like AfPak addicts in the military and civil sector? Russia where if not legal is a serious problem? Selling to kids? If it is a problem for kids, why not adults?)</strong>
• Should we increase drug penalties and expand our penal infrastructure? <strong>(For traffickers or users in small quantities of certain drugs?)</strong>
• Should we consider censorship of drug glamorization in order to reduce use? <strong>(Bill of Rights?)</strong>
• Should we coordinate with one Cartel in order to eliminate the others? <strong>(Fast and Furious?)</strong>
• Should we encourage more Cartels, in order to weaken existing ones? <strong>(Encourage bad behavior because little Cartels are less dangerous? Is this a roundabout way of saying we legalize marijuana growing?)</strong>
• Should we allow the local territory to fall under Cartel control so that they become centralized and easier to target? <strong>(Is this the legalize locally and tax it argument?)</strong>
• Should our police gain greater military capabilities and resources?<strong>(MRAPs tearing up our streets, and folks complaining about drones looking in their backyards or giving them speeding tickets so that military uses also get curtailed)</strong>
• Should our military assume a police role and modify the rules of engagement as such? <strong>(Change laws for active duty military law enforcement involvement? Does it create a "Snowden squared" perception problem?</strong></blockquote>
Guess the major problem with all these assemblages, narratives, problemization, and lots of questions with fewer answers is that they all require extensive time and involve smaller wicked insurgencies and military problems that we have already announced we plan to avoid in the future. We cannot avoid the need for Stability Operations, but will we get into another <strong>long</strong> counterinsurgency mission anytime in the near future? We seem to be embracing the underresource and SOF approach that guarantees a longer term effort than if political leaders sent more resources sooner to get it over with faster.
Counterinsurgencies and smaller wars aside, in medium/major wars with straightforward enemies, don’t we need to act faster than our enemies can adapt. If time for enemies to adapt is limited, can they? Look how long it took for Afghans to adapt IEDs and networks, and they had the benefit of adjacent sanctuary providing much of the material for IEDs. Because we had to address Iraq and under-resourced AfPak, the insurgents had time to adapt. In larger conflicts, failure to act now against the “schwerpunkt” with our main effort can have far more severe consequences than the fewer casualties experienced in Afghanistan where unique tribal and ethnic influences meant no clear center of gravity, or a different one in every valley. In major or medium-sized conflicts, there also may be multiple actors and factors in play, but a good plan executed now is better than a great plan executed later that is too late.
An enemy schwerpunkt dealt with now cannot adapt. If it is the wrong one, the lesser destroyed effort no longer is a factor and the real centers of gravities can still be pursued. A friendly element that spends excessive time trying to adapt may not survive long enough to implement elaborate Design plans. There isn’t time for paralysis through analysis of all the relationships between actors. Plus, rank and file planners don’t think “Designeeze.” Planning and decisive action still must occur at multiple levels by mere human planners. Having Strategic planners and SAMS graduates as the only ones with secret decoder rings to understanding and implement Design – eventually - does not solve requirements for Big Army to plan/prepare/execute/assess in Bigger Wars in a matter of hours.