Small Wars Journal

To Design or Not to Design (Part Two)

Fri, 03/11/2011 - 10:14am

To Design or Not to Design (Part Two):

The There Is a Problem with the Word 'Problem;' How Unique Vocabulary Is Essential to Conceptual Planning

by Ben Zweibelson

Download the Full Article: To Design or Not to Design (Part Two)

Costello: "Well then who's on first?"

Abbott: "Yes."

Costello: "I mean the fellow's name."

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The guy on first."

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The first baseman."

Abbott: "Who."

Costello: "The guy playing..."

Abbott: "Who is on first!"

Costello: "I'm asking YOU who's on first."

Abbott: "That's the man's name."

FM5-0 Chapter 3 Design discusses a critical component to conceptual planning and phrases it with "solving the right problem." However, military doctrine and institutional culture already employ the word problem for an entirely different and valid reason. Should one ask any tactical-level member of a military unit what their understanding of the word problem is in a military setting, the majority will explain to you that a problem is 'something one solves.' The existing word meaning uses a short-term or tactical perspective that is divorced from the larger context in which design theory provides understanding on metaphysical processes. These processes exceed the artificial boundaries imposed by the military institution's valid definition of a tactical problem; the perspectives do not match.

Download the Full Article: To Design or Not to Design (Part Two)

Major Ben Zweibelson is an active duty Infantry Officer in the US Army. A veteran of OIF 1 and OIF 6, Ben is currently attending the School for Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He has a Masters in Liberal Arts from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Military Arts and Sciences from the United States Air Force (Air Command and Staff College program). Ben deploys this June to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as a planner.

Editor's Note: This is part two of a six part series on design. Part one can be found here.

About the Author(s)

Ben Zweibelson is the Program Director for Design and Innovation at the Joint Special Operations University and is a doctoral student at Lancaster University. A retired U.S. Army Infantry officer and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ben has provided design education across USSOCOM, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Government, academia and industry as well as internationally. He was named “design conference ambassador” for the second year in a row for the upcoming IMDC, and has recently lectured on design at the Polish and Danish War Colleges, the Canadian Forces College, NATO Schools at Oberammergau, the National Counterterrorism Center, the IBM capstone SPADE conference for NATO in Copenhagen, as well as numerous Special Operations and strategic level defense assets in 2018. He resides in Tampa, Florida with his wife and three children. He can be reached at



"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 3:12pm


I get, agree, and embrace the intent of design in its simplest form, namely to appreciate the world as it is and not as we wish it to be. The world is a living, breathing networked system of stuff (individuals, groups, animate and inanimate things, etc, etc, etc).

I have to smile when reading Chris' frustrations... not because I am a nasty person but because I've been there... I am a designer from way back... Please read COIN and Irregular Warfare in Tribal Society located somewhere in the SWJ that pushes a simple "shame and honor, segmentation, patronage and territory" design... Not too many buyers, many detractors and personal attacks for its simplicity. Interesting sidebar... read comment in newspaper today that Qaddafi's greatest and most lasting accomplishment may prove to be stripping the tribes of their political power as modernization also diluted their importance... just like Iraq. The article later states that the current chaos has given the tribes a window to reassert their importance. Appreciating how Libyan tribes might respond to the unpleasantness may be found within a "shame and honor, segmentation, patronage and territory design"... maybe not. Let the marketplace of design determine if "shame and honor, segmentation, patronage and territory" design applies in Yemen, Libya, etc, etc.

I believe that overarching designs are by necessity simple statements of complexity... within which subordinate commanders are "required" to refine and challenge "designs in contact" as they apply to their own unique situations. Somewhat like the difference between Auftragstaktik i.e. directive control (recon pull) and Befehlstaktik i.e. detailed control (command push)... or combination of both (synthesis) as required. You'd hope that from the totality of individual "designs in contact" there emerges a flexible common purpose and focus. The challenge remains how to command and control the process. I mention command and control not because I am a micromanaging fool, but because the military is an instrument, not a social science experiment... endless debates aside.

I am currently meditating and contemplating (as self-proclaimed unemployed intellectuals and philosophers are wont to do) the notion that design helps... but in order to help requires we create (grow) versatile leaders who foster organizational learning while actively engaged in iterative collaboration and dialogue... I therefore have to ask question who controls whom... the garden or the gardener? It is a trick question :-)


Bob's World

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 2:03pm


Whatever design the commander has intuitively conducted within his head is captured in his intent. For a conventional fight this may be adequate, as he weighs only such things as terrain, weather, enemy and friendly capabilities, etc. Or at a strategic level (where design has the most impact), in understandings of geopolitics, vulnerabilities, etc.

But what if the problem posed is not necessarily one of terrain to be siezed or enemy forces to be defeated? What if one day there developed some movment within the Muslim community that was resulting in acts of terror against western targets? What commander has such complexities of so many cultures, so many issues, so much history all stored, analyzed, cross referenced, etc in his head so as to know what type of activities are most likely to cause this situation to cease?

By relying on commander's intent and the intel products of Mission Analysis one could end up chasing ghosts around the globe, invading one country after another in some vain hope of defeating some foe, or fixing some popualce. It could go on for generations, making things different, but never really better.

Design just tears into the problem, it does not jump to offering solutions. This is why I am pulling up FM 3.0. I find it interesting that "design" is in an operations manual rather than in a planning manual. This sentence bothers me:

"5-9. Depending on the situation--to include the complexity of the problem--commanders conduct design before, in parallel with, or after the military decisionmaking process (MDMP)." FM 3.0

It implies that all commanders at all levels do design as part of their staff process for all operations. This could crush a staff and cause optempo to grind to a halt. More likely, it will cause design to transform into just an extra step or two in MDMP. I need to see what FM 5.0 says.

There should be an overarching design that subordinate commanders are free to refine and challenge as they apply it to their own unique situations. A backdrop of understanding that ties all operations to a common purpose and focus. Too much of a good thing is not better. This goes to my earlier concerns of how the Army would codify this tool. Just like how we took a simple concept on COG and turned it into 8-9 pages of detailed step by step process that was guaranteed to produce different results every time applied and generate endless debates...

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 12:34pm

Clausewitz embraces and expresses design throughout... if I understand design correctly...

Clausewitz borrowed and applied Hegel's thesis - antithesis- synthesis design... warfare as an interactive dynamic... influenced and influencing.

Concept of culminating point is a design(s)... the MDMP assists commanders to shape the social and physical environment to create, exploit, or manipulate existing culminating point design(s) in a specific time and place.

Lastly, am I wrong to assume that "design" is captured in the commanders intent?



I would be very interested in your Mexico paper. We are doing a Mexico case study for our applications of strategy course next month at the National War College. Yes, I am on AKO. Also will be at Leavenworth all this week.

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 10:23am

"Design should produce products on understanding that are then passed to the team that might employ the approach you suggest to help them understand what it is about these various levels that are actually important in terms of getting to the desired effects" by R. C. Jones

I agree except I don't think you should pass it to anybody. The Designer should also be the Doer. Don't separate the Systems, integrate them. Originally Systems Analysis was connected to Systems Design, it was an integrated whole. Then somehow (specialization I guess) they became separated. Not good IMO.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 10:14am

I do not have anything for design from the Libian side (and I know some some folks that design is not being uttered much...)- but how about Mexico and the cartel problems?

I have an article up for publication I can send to you- are you on AKO; would like your opinion- I try to apply design without fancy words and really demonstrate how it can work with a real problem like Mexico.



I like this statement of yours: "In design, one must go way down into the mud and the weeds to dive and wrestle for understanding, but when one comes back up to share with others what they learned on that journey, it should be clear and simple."

I think Clausewitz would have liked design. In his own way he was diving deep and wrestling with the nature of war - his entire book is his personal wrestling match (in a dialectic form - thesis, antithesis,and synthesis) and in the end he has articulated some enduring truths about the nature of war - BUT I do not think he would have liked how his truths are parroted - I think he wanted us to use his work for our own wrestling matches to continue to evolve our understanding the nature of war.

Bob's World

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 9:30am


I hear where you are coming from, but I would caution that design isn't targeting; and I think the approach you advocate is more about targeting.

Design should produce products on understanding that are then passed to the team that might employ the approach you suggest to help them understand what it is about these various levels that are actually important in terms of getting to the desired effects.

(oh, and the anon post above was me)


slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 9:21am

Folks, I can tell how Systems Analysis/Design related to the military used to be(at least from the late 50's early 60's) Warfare as a System took place: 1-above the surface,2-on the surface,or 3-below the surface. The 3 organizational levels were Super National, National, Sub-National. The 3 primary combat functions were shoot, move and communicate. Communicate had a broader definition more like a combat system had to learn to communicate with the environment.

In general I think we would improve things by going back to the future.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 9:04am

I guess I adhere to a belief that "genius is simple."

When someone comes up with something that is truly genius, people look at it in wonder and think "of course!"

In design, one must go way down into the mud and the weeds to dive and wrestle for understanding, but when one comes back up to share with others what they learned on that journey, it should be clear and simple.

What I have learned is that complicated is relatively easy. But enough action officers on a problem and one can achieve complicated; but simple is damn hard. Getting to simple is always my goal, but like most, I rarely get there.

As an example we can all relate to. I believe that AQ is the mission in Afghanistan; AQ's sanctuary is within the Taliban and the segment of the Pashtun populace in Pakistan that the Taliban emerges from; so therefore, the key to achieving success in Afghanistan is through building a relationship with the Taliban.

Without that bit of "design" we instead do Mission Analysis, and identify "threats" and set out to defeat the threats to achieve the mission. So we attack an organization that we should be opening up lines of dialog with. We deepen an insurgency to protect a particular government, rather than lessening an insurgency to protect the broader populace that is being governed. I don't know if this is right, but instinctively I believe it to be close.

I have not seen the design products for Afghanistan, but I suspect I would find them to be overly complex and threat-centric. This is not bad, it is just incomplete. Once they get to simple and holistic then we are getting closer to the "genius" we all aspire to attain.


No apologies necessary. Let's get back to substantive discussions. One thing that I thing would be interesting is to look at the Libyan situation from a design perspective and see how we would understand that complex problem. Wonder if anyone at AFRICOM (and NATO HQ) and at the JCS are using design to understand the problem, the narrative, etc and continuously analyze what is happening from all sides of the conflict.

MikeF (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 8:42am

Time for a round of man hugs all around. Please no more personal/character attacks. Stay on target guided by the understanding that the amount of syllables in the words used does not necessarily equate to one's intellectualism.

Perhaps I overreacted, my apologies.

OK...I'm giving it a rest...

Anti-intellectualism? Please give it a rest. First Bill M, Mac, Bob and I all agree that design is important and useful. As for anti-intellectualism I guess you do not pay attention to the writings and commentary of Mac, Bill M and Robert Jones as they are three of the most infellectual people I know and I think most on SWJ would agree on that. They have the open minds, they are not one trick ponies and they are offering you sound advice and positive criticism. You would do well to heed their advice rather than accuse all of us of anti-intelelctuism. Your horse is riding rather high. If you want to debate and discuss and exchange ideas but you sound like you have circles the wagons and are now fixated on defending your version of design.

Robert, Dave, and Mac:

I am detecting a bit of anti-intellectualism in the tone in the last few entries. This is a bit disheartening.

"Keep it simple" and "too much jargon" is code for -- "I do not want to study this subject as it will take a lot of reading in areas; I neither have the time nor interest."

Hope others out there disagree with your apparent premature closure.

"Design" is a code word too -- for a philosphical shift, not a search for another utilitarian science to replace the one we thought we had (aka military doctrine and the Jominian-like quest for best practices and lessons learned).

To say "have to wait until I see if design works" is an expression that seems to want design to be placed in the "engineering sciences" philosophical paradigm (classical empiricism) (BTW design philosophy does not reject engineering sciences).

This disparaging also indicates one does not want to invest time and energy reading more deeply into the philosophical implications...and one therefore has to await others to convince.

In a profession (if we have one--and that is in doubt) is up to you to lead yourself and continuously change your own mind (in order for the "collective mind" of the institution to be more receptive).

Finally, I do not subscribe to the "teach an old dog" narrative. We are not dogs...we are transcendental-thinking-capable beings. Even older retired military guys, like me, are capable of self-educating, remaining open, and overcoming preferences for closure.

Bob's World

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 6:49am

One of Steven Covey's main principles that he promotes in his "7 Habits" is that one must "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Planning is "seeking to be understood," communicating what one intends to do as a whole and what one expect ones subordinate and supporting organizations to do as part of that larger vision.

Design is "seeking first to understand." Historically with MDMP we had "Mission Analysis", which was far better than before we had mission analysis, but it was still far to intel driven and most damning, it accepted the task and purpose directed by higher as unquestionable facts. Design, in taking a holistic comprehensive look at the full problem, frees itself from the straight jacket of the mission to anaylyze the problem, then comes back to the mission once that journey is complete. Often this results in going back to the commander and saying "here is what you asked us to do, now here is why we think what we actually need to be doing is this instead."

The jargon of design doctrine as taught by Booz Allen and developed by Shimon Naveh is far too complicated and dogmatic. I confess I have not sat down to see what they Army did with the process, but being familiar with how the Army approaches such things, I suspect it is still more complex than it needs to be.

For me, design is instinctive, it is the art of war, it is what great commanders have always done in their heads. This is what allows them to develop a clarity of what was happening around them from the many puzzle pieces of information available, and then in turn convert that into a plan for what must be done, when those around them are overwhelmed by the chaos or lack of hard intel.

Keep it simple. If the final product isn't simple, it isn't final. If your report back to the commander merely validates what he told you to do, then it probably isn't design.

Mac, Bill M.

Concur completely.

Mac regarding this - "Sorry, Dave Maxwell... this means more definitions are coming your way before absorption/mutation complete."

I do not mind new terms and definitions as long as they are value added and not redundant or just repackaging old terms. They have to answer the following criteria - Are they helpful to strategic thinking, developing policy or strategy and campaign planning? Do they help the operational organizations supporting strategy and executing plans and operations. Do they help the Solider, Sailor, Airmen and Marine and Government Agency partner?) If the answer to the above is yes then let's adopt the new terms and definitions (but let's also purge the terms that are no longer of value that they are replacing).

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 03/20/2011 - 4:21pm

We want to exploit advances in cognitive psychology and brain studies to create better individual decision makers (read enlisted, non-commissioned and commissioned officers, planners, logisticians, trigger pullers, mechanics, cooks, etc) and in the process change the institutionally-constructed narrative. Yes/No?

Narrative writers are very powerful indeed.

Design rejects the narratives that "we have all been here before" and "we have failed to learn from the past". Since I do not reject both equally, does this mean that I am now ineligible to join the design team? I don't believe that "we have failed to learn from the past"... and sort of agree with the "we have all been here before" comment... that is if I am still able to trust in the design and framing of my acculturation and the design and framing of my educational and life's experiences and the design and framing of my personal studies in history... But now I am now no longer sure especially since everything in the post-modern period is up for reinterpretation... "things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...":-O

Based on the fact that I agree somewhat with "we have been here before" and that I embrace the idea of cherry-picking human universals... I designed three imaging/imagining and framed scenarios based on this conversation for consideration. Warning, the three designs contain imaginations, images and frames drawn from a myriad array of cultural, educational and period based biased anecdotes, cliches and stereotypes (cherry-picked as required to shape the conversation).

First, design proponents will attempt to oversell the concept instead of proving design actually works by just doing it... "Effects-Based Operations" is the cherry-pick. Effects exist and can be manipulated. The notion that human beings can predictably be caused to act a certain way is just silly... except in cases of immediate battle drills or initiating a near side ambush where we can actually get people to act in a certain way.

Second, design proponents gain ground within the U.S. doctrine system (which at worst is an oligarchy and at best a monopoly) in a series of hard fought battles over control of jargon. Absolute power corrupts the intent of the message absolutely is the cherry-pick. To consolidate control, design concepts are homogenized and mass-produced and dumbed down. You will have to dumb down the concept because you'll be teaching the concept in basic training. Design will evolve into a paint by numbers set. After all, killing and breaking things is not rocket science... it is an art. But danger lurks. Somewhere, someone will want to detail plan the development of a design... the construction of which is a design in need of a detailed plan. This neurosis multiplies and design as a concept loses its originality, brilliance, and intent. New rules and vocabulary add to the confusion of most folks in the trenches. "What exactly is the problem with the word 'problem'?"... they ask. But most won't care. They'll continue to design, plan and plan designs, althewhile mixing and matching definitions, concepts, and labels to fit the military, political, ideological or theatrical context of the day. This mixing and matching of concepts, definitions, and labels is itself the result of a distinct species of design is it not?

Third, design proponents infiltrate the SAMS network and exploit the school's design for graduates to communicate with one another and to recycle, like the early Ranger battalions, quality personnel back into big Army to recruit and mentor additional disciples. Kinda thrilling. Subversive underground cells teaching and spreading the word of design only to be challenged by those who don't get it nor care and still others who nit-pick the hell out of universalist thinking. I recommend brushing up on human factors in underground organizations to prepare for the anti-oligarchical/anti-monopolist struggle.

Short recap so as not to be perceived as confused and sarcastic :-)

Design, as discussed in this forum is a good idea... and therefore essential design concepts will be absorbed by the U.S. doctrine system. The design concept is presently not strong enough to change the whole "how we think" edifice in one swift action... but maybe in time. Sorry, Dave Maxwell... this means more definitions are coming your way before absorption/mutation complete. Strategy and campaign plans will not be replaced... design is implied... just as it is in nature. Campaign plans will continue to be written and briefed the same way... "here is whats going on (situation) followed by here is what we have to do (mission) and here is how we are going to do it (concept of operation/execution)".

Food for thought. The U.S. doctrine system (at worst an oligarchy; at best a monopoly) is conservative and slow for a reason... One of which is that we can't have our military intellectuals storming the Bastille in revolutionary fervor, regardless the intellectual subject matter... can we now? It is bad enough that we have to listen to a lot of suck coming from well intentioned folks... but then they want us to actually live the life! Not talking about "design"... yet... but what about (warning: cherry-pick ahead) the idea that drinking alcohol is bad which translates no glass of beer with your Schnitzel during downtime at Gunnery in Grafenwoehr, Germany! Eliminate the choice... eliminate the confusion... eliminate the problem. We are an overreactive, hyper-concerned culture in need of soothing, are we not?

Final thoughts and smart-ass comments. Do our serving company grade officers appreciate and embrace design? Do they understand the concept, pedigree and its language? Your target audience are the company grades... if they use it... doctrine will follow. Forget changing the minds of old people. Focus, target and teach the company grades... Every revolutionary understands that if you seek generational change, you must first control the nursery. Hand that rocks the cradle or some other such nonsense... Old people and bureaucratic systems suck... especially when your are a young Turk seeking to topple the status quo... or an old manipulator trying to get the young Turk to rebel.

Let the deconstruction begin :-)


The excessive focus on philosophical lexicon has alienated the majority of the intended audience. I recall a young soldier in the late 70's who attempted to impress all he met with his interpretation of Plato and Socrates, and we weren't the least bit surprised that once the urinalysis drug test was implemented in the 80s he was shown the door. Despite the fact that he toked a little too much whacky tobaci, he was simply a terrible soldier who couldn't perform in the real world. All he could do was provide non-functional criticism.

The correlation to the ongoing debate is that quoting the ideas of old dead guys and using terms that are not familiar with the majority of military members doesn't advance the ball down the field (pardon me for thinking in a linear fashion). The proponents of design would be much better off borrowing terms and concepts from the study of psychology that discuss our built in biases and how they influence decision making, and how certain processes like design may help us overcome some of our human flaws. In the end if you can't communicate the concept in plain English the concept is dead upon arrival. It may also indicate that its "designers" don't understand it well enough to communicate it, so it may not be ready for primetime.

At the operational and strategic level our challenge is to gain a better understanding of the environment. How do all the different actors interact? How will our potential actions change those interactions? What are the real problems that need to be addressed? Which problems can be ignored, etc.? Then planners can use that knowledge to inform their planning process and hopefully more effectively link ways, ends and means in a manner that is reasonable (something we have failed to do since 9/11).

Design without the philosophical baggage seems to hold some promise in providing greater understanding to the left of planning, but before it is ready for prime time it needs to be communicated clearly. It isn't a matter of our Soldiers being unable to grasp complex concepts, it is a matter of time available and should we dedicate time to understanding a hundred different philosophical views or rather what design is and how it works? Since you didn't quote Bruce Lee (also a philosopher) he suggested that to a beginner in the martial arts a punch is just a punch, and then as he gains more knowledge on the complexity of physics behind a punch it appears to be a very complex endeavor (he is partially paralyzed with this new understanding), but once he masters the punch, then a punch is just a punch again (useful).

In two paragraphs or less, what is design in plain English and why should the military adopt it? That would be a starting point.


I get the "tautology." But I do not need design to tell me that our strategy and campaign plans may flawed not because of poor execution but because of failure to understand the nature problem, situation, and conditions and the interplay of all the potential actors in the first place and thus the wrong strategy and campaign plans were developed based on such flawed understanding.

As I said I like design and find it useful (as a left side of MDMP) but I will tell you the way you argue and frame your arguments is not going to resonate because we are all just a bunch of knuckle draggers who are unimpressed with tautologies and epistemologies and post-modernism and reductionism. The way I hear some describe design it becomes like TF SLIC - self licking ice cream and of little value because no one pays attention to those preaching it.

If one wants to make a contribution to strategic thought then I recommend speaking and writing in a way that will cause people to read and listen and notice and not tune out and turn off to the arguments. Most people do not heed words from an ivory tower.

My bad at explaining the value of a postmodern approach. I am certainly not recommending solipsism.

The ideal is not to REJECT the postmodern approach to deconstruction -- it may be quite useful in a professional context as a form of questioning the frames that institutions have adopted (what Donald Schön called "Technical Rationality" - and argued the crisis of the professions was the belief that Comte-style positivism would win the day in the social sciences).

It seems there is still a sense in these exchanges that we have to find the "right" science to prosecute war. A postpositivist doubts and finds ways to doubt that this is ever possible--as each situation is unique, complex, and messy.

Please do not confuse design philosophy with the military view of "pessimism" (throwing ones arms up in the air and quitting)-- again a cultural propensity toward "can-do" is a challengeable BELIEF (not some sort of objective "fact") that represents the paradigm of "Technical Rationality."

"Can do" implies problem definition is possible and prediction is necessary (i.e. "campaign planning" is efficacious).

An argument that "strategy" and "campaign planning" are necessary, also argues that if we are not being successful, that it is BECAUSE our "strategy" and "campaign planning" are wrongly performed. It is "strategy" and "campaign planning" that have to be improved. Dave -- can you see the tautology and potential fallacy here? This an example of where technical rationality becomes a self-referencing "do loop" (or in general systems theory a closed system) (or in learning theory "single-loop learning"). Strategy and campaign planning are, in essence, rationalized technologies that frame our practice.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 03/20/2011 - 12:07pm

<em>I would not claim "design philosophy" as a "silver bullet." On the contrary, it may at best expose that there are no silver bullets (albeit, our community treats knowledge as if someday there will be one). The goal of design is emancipatory thinking (much like the goal of SWJ about "small wars").</em> - Chris Paparone

But isn't saying there is no such thing as a silver bullet a kind of silver bullet? If you see what I mean....

I am not a fan of postmodernism or deconstructionism. Funny that the academy is moving away from postmodernism and the military is moving toward it? In some quarters? Is that what I am to understand from this conversation?

Brain storming, or being creative, are two words that describe - in two words, I stress - much of the conversation taking place in this thread and others.

Why use hundreds of words when two will do?

My most favorite story about postmodernism is the Sokol affair:

<blockquote> The Sokal affair (also known as Sokal's hoax) was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the publication's intellectual rigor and, specifically, to learn if such a journal would "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."[1]

The article "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", published in the Social Text Spring/Summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue, proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[2][3] The journal's editorial collective did, however, express concerns to Sokal about the piece, and requested changes, which Sokal refused to make. Wishing to include the work of a physicist, the editors decided to accept the article on the basis of Sokal's credentials. On its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as "a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics".[1]

The resultant academic and public quarrels concerned the scholarly merit, or lack thereof, of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the social disciplines influenced by postmodern philosophy, in general; academic ethics--including whether Sokal was wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether the journal had exercised the appropriate intellectual rigor before publishing the pseudoscientific article.</blockquote>

But I am horribly biased and glad to have my biases challenged by the set of articles on Design presented here at Small Wars Journal.

I mean that sincerely. It's a good thing to have your intellectual biases challenged from time to time. It's a must even when it is uncomfortable :)

Well Chris. I guess I (and my Army) have been thoroughly deconstructed. I did not realize we were so wrong about everything. But let me ask- how do you replace strategy and campaign plans?j


I would not claim "design philosophy" as a "silver bullet." On the contrary, it may at best expose that there are no silver bullets (albeit, our community treats knowledge as if someday there will be one). The goal of design is emancipatory thinking (much like the goal of SWJ about "small wars").

Design philosophy is more about freedom to explore new meanings (as we are with this exchange). As we dialogue in this blog, we are exercising a form of communicative rationality (or critical inquiry).

Also, I have not advocated military terms and concepts as you seem to apply. Rather, I am seeking to expose weaknesses in the logic of our knowledge (i.e. epistemological fallacies).

So some of the "$75 words" are linked to ancient Greek (ontology, epistemology, and so forth).

On your assertion: " for coup d'oeil; something we should all strive to develop within ourselves." I would argue the community is too oriented on the individual and rather romantic (Clausewitzian) view of the appointed "leader" (commander-centricity). The Army and JFCOM's (and I believe DARPA) focus is on making better decision makers out of future commanders through advances in cognitive psychology and brain studies (they are wedded to the individual as a decision maker and the commander as the decision maker). Classical empiricism (and its little brother behaviorism) is the paradigm that arguably serves as a psychic and cultural "prison."

We have paid scant attention to sociology and the institutional aspects of framing -- relating to how the institution constructs its "professional," "esoteric" body of knowledge. The idea behind design is not to provide a new utilitarian tool box for defining and solving problems -- it is more oriented on exposing and criticizing the ontological and epistemological issues with institutional framing.

Your self effacing statement "I am a simple student of strategy and operational art who is strives to improve my knowledge and capabilities to develop strategy and campaign plans," for example, may be deconstructed. The words "strategy" and "operational art" are part of the institutionally-constructed narrative (they are not self-evident phenomena). The very idea of a need for a "campaign plan" may be blinding us to other ways of conceiving of efficacious action (such as the Confucian model of efficacy which is ontologically very different).

Thanks for listening!

I should have added something to this sentence:

"I ask myself about all the 75 dollar words we throw around and if they are helpful to our discipline and to Joe on the ground (or on the bridge or in the cockpit)." I should have included to policy makers and senior decision makers in the beltway such as at the NSC as well as our COCOMs.


I think we will have to agree to disagree. As I said I believe that design is useful and I have embraced it but it is not the end all or a silver bullet (and I would not characterize myself in any way as a design enthusiast). I don't know whether I am a progressive or or post-positivist or post-modernist or any of the other "epistemologic paradigms" that are out there. I think I am a simple student of strategy and operational art who is strives to improve my knowledge and capabilities to develop strategy and campaign plans.

I ask myself about all the 75 dollar words we throw around and if they are helpful to our discipline and to Joe on the ground (or on the bridge or in the cockpit). If what we are talking about is only understood by a few who have been so anointed as the design enthusiasts then how are we truly ensuring we are developing strategy and campaign plans that can be executed by the myriad units and people at all levels?

I do not believe in embracing and defending new theories just because I thought of them or someone I respect and admire thought of them. If they are useful then we need to apply them but again, since 9-11 we have had people develop new theories (or repackage old ones) and we have spent more time defending this COIN or that CT "strategy" (in quotes because neither COIN nor CT should be called strategies in my opinion) that we have lost the forest for the trees. We are more worried about defending the theory than about developing, articulating, and executing clearly understood strategy and campaign plans.

What I do not believe in is chasing the shiny new thing; putting new terms on old concepts (which as I tried to argue we have done in great numbers since we have entered the post 9-11 period of conflict - how is that for a new construct?) We have design because it has been directed as the standard for the joint community per GEN Mattis' directive and it is now in Army doctrine.

I do believe that history and its study is important. I do not buy all the humanities versus hard science of war stuff and reducing war and conflict in any form to purely scientific principles. If I were king for a day all PME institutions would focus on military history, military theory, military geography, operational art, and strategy as the foundation for study.

I most importantly believe in the quest for _coup d'oeil_ ; something we should all strive to develop within ourselves. I do not think design is a substitute for that but if properly used as a supporting tool can support problem understanding, problem solving, and decision making but in the end all of that takes place in the human mind by a person who must be able to synthesize all the available information (which can be right or wrong or in some combination) and make the right plan (and decision) among all the fog and friction in war, conflict, and complex human interactions.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 10:54am


Agreed, people do design. People also do reductionism with linear causality- which is where that very long list of nebulus and overlapping terms for low intensity conflict comes from. What I call the 'detailed planning reductionist worldview' of the majority of our military institution loves shiny objects, especially fresh buzz words wrapped around older but often forgotten concepts. That is not design.

Design does not attempt (in my opinion, and in my series of articles I attempt to counter Kuhns on this, as Chris pointed out earlier) to replace detailed planning. Bottom line- the military needs the linear reductionist worldview to execute. Perhaps some hardcore designers say otherwise, but I see MDMP, MCPP, JOPP, JOPE, and the five paragraph opord/FRAGO as excellent tools for the military to action a system in a cohesive manner with tactical vocabulary that the majority of the force generally understands...excluding that list. I could write an entire paper on the silly doctrinal battle between SFA and FID, but that is diverging from this topic.

Design does bring novel ideas and words- but not every new idea has anything to do with design...many (like your list) are the evil spawn of reductionist thinking. So let me press you with a serious design question that brings forward the post-modernism perspective that Chris and I are discussing. If design brought a military commander (during conceptual-not detailed plannning) and his organization a solution that contained a 'novel idea'- but with the additional information that because a complex system adapts and learns, that idea would change tomorrow. Would our military that is generally well grounded in linear reductionism accept this?

Perhaps to couch this another way- if a design team (and when I say 'design team', doctrine states that the commander is the central figure in both conceptual and detailed planning- nonetheless, many commanders launch a design team with initial guidance and check back in later)brings a CDR a chess board with set pieces and explains to him the game of chess (imagine chess did not exist for this metaphor)- I would argue that virtually any CDR that prefers the reductionist linear worldview of detailed planning would be enthralled. Doctrine would be written on chess rules, the red cell would develop MDCOA and MLCOA chess combinations, and the CDR would prefer the predictability of the system in that rooks would move as rooks tomorrow and next week. Pawns and bishops would obey rules as well, and the chess board would be something finite-understandable, visualizable, and directable...

But if the designers brought a chess board with pieces, and explained that even today, the rival pieces would not follow the standard chess rules of the game, and the board was not a grid, but something that continued to grow and self-organize into new and chaotic configurations based upon how we and the rivals acted upon the system- that predictability and comfort of control is diminished. That, to me, is why the military rejects design. Design does not deliver solutions to complex problems on a neat chess board with easy rules to follow. A design solution does not continue to work without adaptation and reflection very far into the future, and design concepts and vocabulary cannot simply be codified into some doctrine and referred to a decade or two (or even a matter of weeks) from now with the meanings still valid and applicable. Design is in constant flux because design attempts to learn about dynamic complex systems- these systems self organize, learn, and transform whether the military is doing the right or wrong things within it.

On the leadership-organization-design relationship; we are in violent agreement. My current monograph addresses just that. I plan on pulling a few short papers from that and try to get them published; this series is focused on taking Army design doctrine to task and distinguishing the rival worldviews of conceptual and detailed planning.

Surferbeetle- I also agree that peer review is a huge problem; when you take a look at FMI 5-2 (draft- unpublished) and then look at FM 5-0 Chapter 3, how that got edited down from 40 pages to 15 pages makes me wonder...

On your 'too many tribes' comment- do you think that design wants to replace detailed planning procedures entirely?

On the issue of rank- 100% agreed. Conceptual planning and design theory rests on some principles that run counter-culture to the reductionist linear worldview that our military hierarchy prefers. The 'problematizer' or 'critical thinker' in my article shares the same problem a designer has with his commander (or higher commander) that a philosopher had in ancient Greece with the Emperor. Bring him description that lacks truth, and it is 'off with your head' because that rank structure of power still manifests. Bring him truth that dismantles something too valuable in his worldview (superior firepower and ground forces in some scenarios will not work- despite our best tactical successes), and it is 'off with your head.' Unless you bring him the truth and manage to package it where he accepts the cycle of creation and destruction that design favors, you as the problematizer face 'death.' This is not always the case; I have had several great conversations with high ranking leaders that seem very open to design deliverables that challenge the system's core tenets- if you couch it right.

Just some thoughts. I appreciate this topic thread- it is very enlightening!


... history is lived forward but is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning and we can never wholly recapture what it was like to know the beginning only.
--Dame (Cicely) Veronica Wedgwood, William the Silent

In my view, history is part of the humanities and should not be relied on as the basis for (hard-science-like) causal stories about the present.

One of our community's big paradigmatic issues is that we BELIEVE in history as a science for the present and future. Hence we have the fallacies of "lessons learned" and "best practices."

The latter apply well to the engineering sciences; however, we have had very poor knowledge construction for human social situations. Not that we can do it better however. AND this leads to a conclusion that we have been quite institutionally arrogant to believe that knowledge about war is progressive (the epistemology of progressivism is dominant in the community).

I, as many design enthusiasts before me, have argued against this assumption (but I detect that you are arguing FOR progressivism). In many ways, the eclectic community of design would argue (from a postpositivist position) that design does NOT assume progressivism (it rejects the progressive narrative that "we have all been here before" and "we have failed to learn from the past").


Makes me look like I am responding to myself. You know what they say about people who hear voices - the real problem is when you start talking back to them!!

I would like to address this point:

"What the community is struggling with is how to build a language structure so that the novel situations we face can be "structured."

First: Novel Situations. I am reminded of a colleague who likes to compare Irregular Warfare (the "novel" situation we find ourselves supposedly faced with since 9-11) with Christopher Columbus discovering the new world which left the Native Americans on the beach scratching their heads in wonder - wondering what is so "new" about this new world. Humorous, possibly, but it should illustrate that what we face today is really not so new - we have thought up new names or reworked old ones, but we have spent a lot of time reinventing the wheel and spending a lot of "coin" doing that!!

Second: New terms. I have a few simple criteria to determine if we need a new term and it is addressed in this question: How does this new term or concept help us to better develop and communicate strategy and campaign plans and how does it help commanders and staff, the interagency and coalition, inform the public, influence targets audiences, and most importantly how does it help the Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, and Marine and Coast Guardsman and other US government agency partner accomplish his or her mission more effectively?

We have to be careful about developing new terms and concepts that brief well at SAMS and that only SAMS planners can use to communicate with each other. (Please do not take this as SAMS bashing because truth in lending, I am a SAMS graduate). The strength of SAMS education (in addition to the work ethic commanders and senior officers demand of SAMS graduates) is that graduates should be able to deal with complex problems (or the new favorite that is in vogue - "wicked problems") and understand them and then develop campaign plans that can be communicated in a clear and precise manner that can be tactically executed in order to achieve objectives that support the strategy. It is a testament to the good SAMS education when "you can be more than you appear" and people do listen to you because you bring the ability to understand problems and develop and communicate solutions without resorting to language that only fellow SAMS graduates know and understand.

If the terminology developed helps our Military and Government do its job better then lets adopt it. However, I feel like there has been a lot of terminology development based on people's pet agendas their biases, and probably most the critical problem: the need to show change, adaptation and innovation. Unless there is a new term or concept we can't say that we "get it" and demonstrate that we have adapted.

I am reminded of this quote about reorganizing which I think adapts to the idea that we just keep thinking up new terms to explain old problems:

"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning
to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later
in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing;
and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress
while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization." (Falsely attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter. Quote is from Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (1911-1998), in Harper's Magazine, "Merrill's Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure" (Jan 1957))

This is in response to Dave Maxwell's point.

Dave--very cool list! And very telling.
Your point (I would argue) should give us all pause to consider the field of cognitive linguistics which pays a lot of attention to words, particularly metaphors).

Perhaps what you are demonstrating is just how tautological "the community" is with its terms.
What the community is struggling with is how to build a language structure so that the novel situations we face can be "structured."
This is why Ben is bringing in postmodernist views -- the postmodernist strives to "deconstruct" these meanings to find the deeper motivations that produced them (often try to tie them to "power" and "control"). For example, who "wins" the language war gets an advantage when it comes to power and control.
For example, a postmodernist may see the US doctrine system as an oligarchy, where concepts are approved and promulgated based on the approvals of those elites who have a stake in maintaining their power positions (i.e. look who signs the doctrine manuals and governs changes to them--the top of the military hierarchy). A postmodernist may also see movements (such as "Small Wars Journal") as a counter to that system of power and may institutionally disfavor these counters [as would a counterinsurgent!].

(p.s. I make no claim to BE a postmodernist; just wanted to demonstrate the postmodernist position and the logic and methods that typify this philosophy. I would bet that Ben will show us more on this position as his other essays unfold. As a profession, we should not be afraid of postmodern deconstruction methods or discard the logic behind them -- they are useful to critical theory and practice [hence, design]).


Sat, 03/19/2011 - 12:39am


The phrase 'Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians' regularly comes to
mind when I watch and participate in our GWOT efforts. To continue with the analogy each 'Tribe' insists that only their Tribe knows the answer. Further complicating things is a mindset that equates rank within the Tribe with competence in all things in or outside the Tribe.

From an engineering standpoint, we are able to successfully design things by subjecting our team efforts to peer review (using standardized open source principles past and present). Efforts include calculations, cost estimates, schedules, and drawings. Systems theory (Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, etc) is key. Drawings have layers for each of these systems and each layer is backed up by calcs, cost estimates, and schedules.

In GWOT we do not use peer reviewed designs which have DoD, DoS, OGA (etc) layers. Tribes and their myriad Chiefs insist that only their layer is truly necessary and calcs, cost estimates, and schedules are not necessarily prepared or shared.

Successful design teams are small, multidisciplined (Civil, Mech, Elec, etc) flat
organizations, held to cost and time constraints.


Appreciate the history, German, usw


slapout9 (not verified)

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 12:36am

Dave Maxwell, you forgot one SBW (systems based warfare) it's a joke...just a joke.

Continued:As an example today we have Security Force Assistance created as a new post-9-11 term but we have all these other terms out there that exist or have also been "coined" since 9-11:

Foreign Internal Defense (FID)
• Irregular Warfare (IW)
• Unconventional Warfare (UW)
• Counterinsurgency (COIN)
• Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA)
• Armed or Combat FID
• Stability, Security, Transition, Reconstruction Operations (SSTRO)
• Stability Operations (STABOPS)
• Phase 0 Operations
• Post Conflict Operations
• Phase 4 Operations
• Nation Building
• Capacity building
• Internal Defense and Development (IDAD)
• Humanitarian and Civic Action (HCA)
• Civil Affairs (CA)
• Civil Military Operations (CMO)
• Psychological Operations (PSYOP)
• Military Information Support Operations (MISO)
• Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT)
• Transition Teams (TT)
• Human Terrain Teams
• Human Terrain System (HTS)
• Military Liaison Elements (MLE)
• Preparation of the Environment (PE)
• Operational Preparation of the Environment (OPE)
• Theater Military Assistance Advisory Groups - Future (TMAAG-F)
• Marine Special Operations Advisory Groups (MSOAG)
• Military Groups (MILGRP)
• Joint US Military Assistance Groups (JUSMAG)
• Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC)
• Office of the Defense Representative (ODR)Security Assistance Office (SAO)
• Foreign Military Sales (FMS)
• Individual Military Education and Training (IMET)
• Joint/Combined Exchange Training (JCET)
• Military Training Team (MTT)
• Effects Based Operations (EBO)
• Systemic Operational Design
• Design

I provide all these terms with some tongue in cheek humor but I would like to make the point that since 9-11 there have been only two terms that have been specifically eliminated from the lexicon - EBO by GEN Mattis outlawed and PSYOP by ADM Olson.

The above list has so many redundant, overlapping, similar sounding, and sometimes just plain confusing terms. When we cannot even decide what to call conflicts and missions and operations within the military how are we supposed to communicate with coalition partners and our own government partners?

If a new word or concept is developed we need to decide to adopt (as long as it makes a significant contribution to improving strategy and campaign plans and communicating and describing operations. At the same time we adopt it we need to eliminate the redundant terms that it is replacing. We need some discipline so that we use the right terms to describe the right concepts and operations rather than use the one that is fashionable or that we like best.

All that said, I like the concept of design because it can help to bring some needed intellectual rigor to understanding problems that will lead to better strategy and campaign plans. But design itself will not do that. It takes people willing to embrace it, adopt it, use it, and make it work. It is all about the people and not the process. I would submit that enlightened, creative yet disciplined leaders could achieve the same effects without design but design can have a positive effect by putting everyone on the same intellectual sheet of paper and provide a common methodology and thought process. But I cannot emphasize enough that it is people who are the creative ones who will develop innovative new concepts and novel ideas with or without design.

Reference developing new terms. I am reminded of Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now" sitting in the BOQ hungover or still drunk saying words to the effect: "Sh*t, still in Saigon. Every day I sit here I grow weaker, while Charlie is in the bush eating balls of rice and getting harder." Since post 9-11 it is like this "Sh*t. Another fancy new term or concept. Every day we sit here thinking up and arguing about giving new names to old concepts, AQ, insurgents, enemies of the US are out there thinking up creative ways to wreak havoc and accomplish their goals."


I have to take exception to your statement:

"Design brings novel ideas, creative approaches, and innovation that may require new words, new processes, and new structures"

Design does not bring any of that. People do.

But on terminology. I have no problem with developing terms and concepts to better communicate. But there needs to be some discipline to the process. In 1994 when I was at CGSC during a presentation an instructor put up a chart that euphemistically titled the "100 Names of LIC" (remember that term Low Intensity Conflict). Here is a sampling of those terms and some more recent additions all trying to describe what we call Small Wars here on the Small Wars Journal:
Little Wars
Small Wars
Guerrilla warfare
Partisan warfare
Asymmetric warfare
Low Intensity Conflict
Low Intensity Opns
Imperial Policing
Nation Building
Irregular Warfare
Wars amongst peoples
Operations Other Than War
Military Operations Other Than War
Gray Area Phenomena
Revolutionary War
Counter-narcotics opns
Counter Drug opns
Punitive opns
Peace opns
Small scale contingencies
Stability opns
Nation Assistance
Uncomfortable Wars
Civil wars
Continued in next post as I cannot fit it all in this block for some reason!!

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 8:29pm

Slapout- We might be in agreement in some respects; military design theory incorperates much of General System Theory (which is where I draw many of my citations from); I honestly would not care if we renamed 'military design' into 'General System Theory'- but I would go back to the real first application of GST to military thought- Systemic Operational Design (SOD) developed in part by Shimon Naveh in the 1990s for the Israeli Defense Force. Many rival military organizations (including my own) distance themselves from SOD, but end up describing exactly what SOD stood for; they just change the name to 'design'. Each word of SOD meant precisely what it did- it took GST and applied it to a military process instead of a strictly scientific one.

The point I try to make in this series of articles as well as my blog response to your comment is that design uses innovation and creativity- it creates new concepts as well as new words. I protest the intellectually dishonest and emotionally arrogant application of 'five dollar words' by folks that really just want to impress you but could use another easier word. I sometimes am guilty of that by saying 'facilitate' when I really should say 'make.' But aren't we all a bit guilty of that in the military?

However, I dig my intellectual heels in when someone wants to employ tactical terms in a dual-use role for conceptual processes and vocab; the word 'problem' is a tactical term and has no real function in design other than to confuse an organization as they attempt to do design and MDMP and talk past eachother.


If I implied that 'clear hold build' or 'winning hearts and minds' is something recent (especially something from the OEF/OIF generation, please let me re-address.

These concepts EXPLAIN to a military organization a concept that is either new to them, or was something they understood generations ago but was lost due to institutionalism and other internal trappings. For instance, the US Army excelled at both of these concepts from 1899-1901 (Linn's book on the Philippines War outlines the COIN successes)- yet we lost that by the time we entered Vietnam (except for the Marines, as Nagl points out in 'Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife'). To make the point another way, creativity is rarely about creating something really novel- it is often about connecting the dots between the work of previous pioneers that came up with new things, but didn't combine them into the 'big idea.' Taleb makes this point in his book 'The Black Swan' when he uses Darwin, Einstein, and I think Edison as examples. Joshua and his army of ancient times understood those concepts, as I would argue Caesar during his Gaelic Campaigns, and Marcus Arileus of his 'Meditations' demonstrate as well; Macheavelli explores the flip-side of the same concepts in 'The Prince.' Yet our military often needs the dots connected and old lessons fused with new technology, new perspectives, and incorperated into modern American values (our JIB/JAB principles ala Weigley's American Way of War)- design proposes a method of doing just that, if we all can figure out the best way to apply it without upsetting the apple cart of detailed planning.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 6:08pm

I've bought into the "design" approach and am a big fan... but believe we are overselling the product a bit when we propose/imply that both the concepts of 'clear, hold, build' and 'winning hearts and minds' were only recently introduced to fill a conceptual void...

The concepts of 'clear, hold, build' or 'winning hearts and minds' are not new... Joshua of Old Testament fame clearly executed a clear, hold and build campaign upon crossing the Jordan. Hearts and minds was the main effort in his dealings with the Gibeonites. I've read some interesting stuff about Sargon the Great and his clear, hold and build approach... and hearts and minds Babylonian style.

Design makes sense to me... and I do hope it works for all its users. I just need to get straight if we are introducing new concepts and old words, old concepts and new words, or new concepts and new words :-)


slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 6:03pm

"we will end up calling every new vehicle a horse-drawn carriage." by Ben Zweibelson

Ben, I mean no disrespect in my response but the conversation you brought up is exactly my point! Same 4th grade topic. while I was learning the General Systems Theory of Biological Systems(still remember the class called: why are Flamingos pink?) I was also learning about Space Systems Engineering, sometimes by the real Astronauts!(I grew up in Orlando,Fl. in the 50's and 60's) The term Vehicle is a key term in Systems Thinking. For instance NASA had transporter vehicles,launch vehicles,command and control vehicles, recovery vehicles,etc. Vehicle was a generic system term used for(as you pointed out) as yet uninvented Forms(vehicles) and Functions(system processes and outputs)which we new would happen as we began to explore space. The original language used in Systems Thinking would seem to work just fine and as far as that goes what is being called Design used to be called "Brain Storming" very popular in the 60's. Could it be we haven't really learned anything new since we stopped our continual and onetime massive Space exploration program?

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 6:01pm

Not tongue in cheek, with the possible exception of problem, the words Ben cited " 'problem','end-state', 'objective', 'military termination criteria', or 'line of effort'" have no place in military theory.

Nor,really does "Clear,Hold, Build."

That said, I do agree that Design would be less effective if restrained to use of existing terminology. Hard to be unconstrained when you've hog-tied yourself...

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 5:12pm

"Seemed to work really well in the 4th grade when I learned it, but somewhere we seemed to have fallin off a cliff....Folks trying to talk to each other with funny words."

Slapout 9, let me recap a conversation I had with Shimon Naveh a while back. We talked about this issue, about how design uses words that are often confusing for detailed planners and those executing. He essentially said that when you design, you are exploring the unknown about a system. When doing this, you might come upon something that you immediately recognize as 'the truth', but it comes in a new form that you just cannot use current words to describe. Imagine how folks dealt with early cars driving on roads among horse-drawn carriages. They did not simply start calling them 'cars' or 'automobiles'- there was a discourse and a bunch of words used in confusion; the 'horseless carraige' leaps to mind. Eventually, everyone agrees upon the right word for the new thing- and usually that word is in itself a 'new' word. Einstein coined the phrase 'theory of relativity' because the physics terms associated with Newton's Laws were not only outdated, but misapplying them to something entirely different and new would be a travesty.

Design does use what you call'funny words'- but would those words seem funny if you took a look at why design theory avoids tactical words like 'problem', 'end-state', 'objective', 'military termination criteria', or 'line of effort'? I believe there is a valid reason why tactical and detailed planning words do not work in design practice- for the same reason we had to name the automobile a new word instead of 'magic non-horse moving device.'

The second implied tension here rests in HOW these design words get used, and where. I have the opinion that design vocabulary should function within a design team, but avoid getting tied into any design deliverables that go on to detailed planning efforts UNLESS that new word is significant for unit cohesion and execution. 'Clear, Hold, Build' reflects the introduction into the tactical lexicon of a new concept (each of those words already existed, but the series conveys a new concept for the military)- I would argue that 'winning hearts and minds' was another concept that had to be implemented at some point into the military where a conceptual void existed prior.

Design brings novel ideas, creative approaches, and innovation that may require new words, new processes, and new structures- if we struggle to wrap pre-existing terms around everything we discover, we will end up calling every new vehicle a horse-drawn carriage.

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 4:17pm

"I think what we need to be able to from a strategy and planning perspective is to be able to communicate using plain, but precise language and get rid of the jargon we so love. We have to be able to communicate in clear language to prevent misunderstanding and articulate ends, ways, and means and tasks and purposes with a vocabulary so that people from different agencies, disciplines and with deiffernt expertise are able to effectively collaborate." by Dave Maxwell

That was the whole reason Systems Thinking(Theory) was created. Common language/elements of anything and everything. Which in the beginning was Inputs-Process-Outputs-Feedback-in a larger Environment. Seemed to work really well in the 4th grade when I learned it, but somewhere we seemed to have fallin off a cliff....Folks trying to talk to each other with funny words.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 1:07pm


There is expertise in recognizing ancient ideas clothed in the latest socio-politico-military jargon... If we wish to learn something new... read something old :-)

English is inherently a more difficult language in which to create truly "clear and precise" meanings to prevent misunderstanding... Its much easier in the German language to create operational clarity although it is not immune from jargon. If need be you hook a bunch of words with clear and precise meanings together... like Befehlstaktik, Auftragstaktik or Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, which in English becomes four words: Danube steamship company captain.

I submit that jargon is generational and the quest for a lexicon that adapts, learns, and is in a endless process of creation and destruction an expression of the changing of the generational guard.

The search for appropriate jargon and control over the uses of jargon are also discourses of power and expressions of restructuring, dominating and authority.

Finally, clear language (a templated world) isn't enough... head, space and timing on the receiving end most important. Interactive processes are dynamic.

Clear, hold, build expresses operational clarity brilliantly... but execution is hard. Its in the execution stage where we get tripped up by our jargons to describe effects.



reference your comment: "We need an operational vocabulary that functions in the exteriority- a lexicon that adapts, learns, and is in a endless process of creation and destruction; a great example is how wikipedia (the bane of academia) works."

I think what we need to be able to from a strategy and planning perspective is to be able to communicate using plain, but precise language and get rid of the jargon we so love. We have to be able to communicate in clear language to prevent misunderstanding and articulate ends, ways, and means and tasks and purposes with a vocabulary so that people from different agencies, disciplines and with deiffernt expertise are able to effectively collaborate. I am often reminded of these two quotes by Clausewitz and Colin Gray:

"Again, unfortunately, we are dealing with jargon, which, as usual, bears only a faint resemblance to well defined, specific concepts."* Clausewitz

"The American defense community is especially prone to capture by the latest catchphrase, the new-sounding spin on an ancient idea which as jargon separates those who are truly expert from the lesser breeds without the jargon." Colin Gray

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 11:42am


Now we are getting deep into the philosophical side of design, so I am happy to digress into what I see as another tension between conceptual and detailed planning worldviews (designers versus planners)- but first I must return to Grant Martin's earlier comment where he warned that the majority of design detractors exclaim, "this is too complicated! Just pass me some ammo and let me kill the bad guys..." That is a paraphrase- but he makes the right point here. When some previous SAMS graduates showed up to senior level staff last year and said, "Im a designer...", they apparently got thrown in the dungeon under the secret tree from 'The Princess Bride.' This goes directly to the tension within the military institution over this article's topic- vocabulary matters, and right now there essentially is only a tactical reductionist vocabulary that, in Naveh's words, 'tacticizes' everything. The Marines' planning doctrine uses the phrase 'procedure over process' and I adapt that into 'proceduralize' in a coming article on design education.
But allow me to diverge even further for a second...

Does it matter to extinct dinosaurs what we name them? And, isn't it a bit ironic when paleontologists fight and even go to court over what official name gets assigned to a dinosaur based on the 'first discovery' law in paleontology. Let me return to this point in a bit...

'A Thousand Plataeus' goes heavy into post-modernism philosophy and is, in my humble opinion, a very tough read unless you are well read in post-modernism and design. That said, they really get into the design concepts of 'interiority (what they call striated space)' and 'exteriority (smooth space)' with a complex system. I apply this concept to vocabulary. When you say the word 'designer' or 'reflective practicioner'- you are expressing a concept in your mind (a content, as Hayden White would offer in his 'Content and the Form') but you must apply it to a 'form' that we all must agree upon. I agree with your vocab choice because I agree with the design philosophy, and I also (being a heretic) think that design transends 'operational' or 'conceptual planning' as some proceduralized step before MDMP/JOPP/MCPP, and design actually occurs throughout all military action, weaving and swirling around it and enhancing every aspect of it with understanding and learning. But, the word 'designer' and 'reflective practicioner' do not exist in the tactical lexicon of the linear reductionist worldview of detailed planning and execution.

The word 'planner' has a tactical application and an entirely different content that we both likely agree upon. Naveh (his recent Booze Allen Hamiliton publication's title escapes me for the moment, but I cited it in this series of articles a few times) nails this topic by charging that the military wants 'planners' who are really 'shackled' to carrying out the procedures of planning military operations and are not 'designers.' The Marines (in their Planning doctrine) also discuss this fallacy of falling into 'lockstep linear procedures' and missing the big picture. The Aussies even touch upon it in their 'Adaptive Campaigning' doctrine where they explain up-front that their 'doctrine' is really more of an overarching guidebook and not to be applied in a literal or dogmatic sense. What they are all inferring is what my article above attempts to nail down- tactical vocabulary that already employs a concept and form such as 'planner' cannot then be placed into a dual-role in the conceptual planning worldview where the term 'designer' or 'reflective practicioner' works better to convey the CONTENT through a new FORM. But...US Army Doctrine FM 5-0 uses 'planner'- and we must follow our doctrine...or else our organization becomes confused. My fourth article coming up goes into that problem with linear and non-linear concepts.

The interiority mentioned earlier- that striated space is nested within the detailed planning worldview on the reductionist (or mechanistic) linear side; therefore the tactical vocabulary that uses terms such as 'planner' or 'planning' and 'problem', 'end-state', and 'victory' all reflect the interiority of a system- this is the known, the agreed upon, the bounded space. The exteriority where creativity and adaptation exists is unbounded and part of the conceptual planning worldview. Hence, when you insert (or cram) linquistic containers that are bounded interiority into applications that function in the vast exteriority where the cycles of creation and destruction ride the beast of problematization, those words fail. Design doctrine demands we call designers as planners...yet conceptual planners do not 'plan' when they design. I violently agree with you- yet our organization argues over what to call these conceptual 'insert your word choice here' folks that are seeking 'deep understanding' (or cognitive synergy-Naveh) of a complex system.

Returning to dinosaurs and finishing my long-winded point on operational vocabulary, dual-use vocabulary that triggers organizational confusion, and how interiority and exteriority plays a significant role in content and form selection- just as conceptual 'insert lexicon' folks are DOING design, outside of the exteriority, within the interiority of the reductionist worldview, our military organization argues endlessly about what to label these creatures. They are, in fact, debating what to call an extinct dinosaur- the dinosaurs died off 65 million years before humans lived or invented latin, so we really have no idea what they called themselves or if their own concepts of their identity were really not applicable in some FORM. They are in the exterior- and despite a linear timeline spanning 65 million years, it doesnt matter to them because they were DOING what dinosaurs did, regardless of us over in the interiority (human society) currently debating what name to hang on the exhibit with their fossilized remains. With this metaphor I am not implying that designers are extinct or large reptiles- although that just occured to me.

We need an operational vocabulary that functions in the exteriority- a lexicon that adapts, learns, and is in a endless process of creation and destruction; a great example is how wikipedia (the bane of academia) works. It constantly evolves and changes- and is largely a self-organizing and adaptive creation that swarms in directions that do not apply to linear constructs. This sort of vocabulary construct will have a hard time fitting into traditional doctrine- but my future articles address that. Essentially- we both agree that 'planner' is an inadequate word to explain what designers do- planner is a tactical word that works great in detailed planning. How do we expand an operational vocabulary that works independently of our tactial one? We cannot simply expand the tactical lexicon because we will confuse our force and overburden them with words and concepts that they will not use because the reductionist worldview does not function in the exteriority- they work only in the interiority of the system.

Long post- my appologies if I did not make a coherent point; currently recovering from a rough sinus infection.


Bill M:

I agree that our documents have not always been the best. My comments were more on the theORical - if we do not conduct operations around a straetgey, campAgn plan and/or mission strategic plan (country team) then how do we operate? We have to have _effective_ strategies and campaign plans and mission strategic plans. If we do not we can apply all the tools and organizations but what will we accomplish? I fully admit and agree we have to get better at strategy.

Second, I am all for small staffs. We have become sELFcking ice cream cones. In the 1990's I know there were two planners who put together a complete CONPLAN working for 2 general officers who worked the plan to completion with SECDEF approval. I also did an analysis back in the 1990's for a theater level staff and determined that there were approximately 40 critical members of the staff who were providing relavent and critical information to support decision making by the theater commander during operations. That was ops, intel, and planning (to include logistical planning). I agree we can do a lot more with less.

Lastly, of the three things I mention - only campign plans should be military dominant - national strategy and country team mission strategic plans should be integrating all the instruments of national power and not be a default to the military option and the theater campaign plan must nest within the strategy and not dominate it. But I know that is theoretical! :-)

p.s. in other words, planning is a veritable IDEOLOGY in Western military insitutions. Ideology is the lowest form of philosophy -- no?


I am not a fan of linking design to planning. I note that you referred to "design planners."

Again, I would argue that planning is a belief system that should be subordinated to a design philosophy (and not necessarily useful to design under highly complex/ambiguous/ uncertain conditions.

"Planning" to me means the "rational actor model" of decision making (DM) (described so well by GT Allison in his seminal piece on the Cuban Missile Crisis).

The US military culture has, in my mind, relied too heavily on such structured analytic processes to the point where planning is everything (at least in the insitutional narrative).

There is a movement to emphasize intuitive processes in DM; however, these tend to be oriented on a single person's psychology and not on the collective mind (or "social cognition") better linked to cultural interpretations of situations.

I meniton this because it seems the conversation has spiraled into one about how to plan better. That is arguably a constrined view of design (and the concepts of reflective practice and organizaitonal reflexivity).

Grant Allard made this point from a philosophical perspective quite well -- that is "reflexivity" is a key aspect.

Think of planning as a human-invented technology (among countless others) and not THE way of thinking or reflecting in- and on- action.

Dave and Ben,
A quick response now, and hopefully more detail later.
In principle were pretty much in agreement, and admittedly I threw out the SOF core versus the GPF core argument to be provocative, because if we fail to present provocative arguments that challenge the accepted norms, then we avoid creating the necessary tension (cognitive dissonance) that in turns leads to new insights (and possibly paradigm shifts), or as you phrased it creative destruction. Ill present more on that argument later, but it ties into Sun Tzus guidance that we need to understand ourselves, not only our enemy.
COL Maxwell recommends organizing around our National Strategy, Theater Campaign Plans, and Country Team's Mission Strategic Plans our focal points to organize around. Right or wrong I tend to default to the iconoclast position, which is that these documents in theory are exactly what we should be organizing around, but in reality theyre poorly developed documents that are not tied to achievable policy objectives, and for the most part are still born. When a theater campaign plan is organized around lines of operation it is my view it is a failed plan, and simply a document that justifies various forms of activities. If we applied a design like process to inform the development of these documents, which in turn requires these documents to be living documents to a large extent, then I agree we could organize around them, but today I think these plans simply support our status quo organizations, rather than forcing us to change to organize around them. It isnt black and white, and I could make arguments based on examples to counter my overall assumption, but in most cases I believe this is the case.
Ben wrote,
"the problem here is that the military is the only set of organizations that currently have the manpower, training, infrastructure, training, and budget to really implement design. I worked with the DoS numerous times, and they are just so small as an organization that they are really only planning short-term only. If they had the operational level of planning staffs that the Army had, they sure could do what we would like them to do- but unless some budget changes occur, they and their CIA and other bretheren are just not equipped to do this."
Two concerns with argument. First it assumes that planning operations requires large staffs (UBL and his handful of followers unfortunately did a pretty good job of strategic to tactical level planning with a handful of men), and second it implies we have to default to the military because were the only ones with the manning to this, and yet we wonder why we default to a military solution?

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Thu, 03/17/2011 - 12:01pm


If I came across as implying that there is a military solution in Afghanistan if we just apply design correctly, then I must re-address my comments and attempt to correct that misconception. In the SWJ archives I wrote a peice called 'Follow Sun Tzu not Clausewitz' concerning Afghanistan a few months back- in that article I argued that a 'whole of government' approach with the kinetic military in the support role was necessary for some sort of eventual solution- with the controversial requirement of assimilating moderate Taliban back into Afghan politics through a hybrid 'Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR)' process. But regardless- design does not re-work a solution so that the military can comfortably solve it within their own workings and institutionalisms. Design shatters that worldview by problematizing and offering heretical truths. It is a cycle of creation and destruction, as I mentioned earlier in this thread.

For design, it does two major heretical things that bring most military senior leaders to their knees- when design theory establishes a holistic frame of the ecosystem, it will more often recommend a solution (transformative action) that may involve the military, but not necessarily as the lead or even supporting actor in the equation. Military leaders do NOT want to hear this. This is where design bias occurs within the US Army when anti-design critics state,"after all the chin stroking, those designers just work the military completely out of the cannot tell a General that his military force is not part of the solution to the task at hand." -Quote from a senior leader recently within my travels. This, in my opinion, ties back into Builder (Mask of War), Linn (Echo of Battle), Jullien (Treatise on Efficacy), Wiegley (American Way of War), and Nagl (Learning to Eat Soup...)- the military views itself as the essential tool in the 'instrument of national power' toolbox for this nation in time of crisis. Design offers cognitive synergy of a complex system and may not endorse that worldview because the military is not always the right tool to reach for- even if the senior political leadership instinctively reach for the military anyways.

Builder makes a more interesting argument about intra-service rivalry about being that branch-specific tool selected for the 'lead role' in the crisis as well; I wrote a SWJ article six months back called 'Penny Packets Revisited' where I argue the same issue with the USAF and how their institutional bias prevents them from adapting the COIN-friendly decentralized air power concepts in OEF that would favor the complex system in play. Once again, if a design ecological frame comes to the deep understanding that, even if the military might be the right 'tool' for the problem, it may NOT be the branch (or organization) of the Commander tasked. Telling an Army senior leader that the military conflict really requires a navy and SOF approach instead of a land-centric occupation will not go over well- the problematizer will be shot, even if he is correct. Same problem exists in the SOF versus General Force arguments- each Commander holds a worldview where their unit is the RIGHT tool for use- design just needs to fix the environment so their tool can make it happen. This is the absurdness of the design misunderstanding in our military culture; design does not dictate how the system functions- the system dictates to design how it behaves, and design conveys this cognitive synergy to the military planners and leadership.

Dave Maxwell hit the design nail on the head with his comments above- you cannot form the solution and identify a proceduralized set of organizations BEFORE you frame the system. I agree that a whole-of-government approach is likely the right mix; but until the complex system is assessed and explained, you will not know if you need CIA and SOF with some DoS on the side, or a heavy UN and HA element with a small FBI/ATF and police mentorship element for a hybrid FID- or in another system introducting any uniformed personnel might cause positive feedback loops to evolve the system into a undesired state that costs our nation far more than we desire to spend. With design, you cannot begin to solve the problem until you understand why the problem is a problem, and whether that problem is the right problem to attempt to even solve.

Last point- you rightfully point out that CIA and DoS should be the lead design planners for those complex systems that seem to greatly involve their services and not the military. I could not agree more- but the problem here is that the military is the only set of organizations that currently have the manpower, training, infrastructure, training, and budget to really implement design. I worked with the DoS numerous times, and they are just so small as an organization that they are really only planning short-term only. If they had the operational level of planning staffs that the Army had, they sure could do what we would like them to do- but unless some budget changes occur, they and their CIA and other bretheren are just not equipped to do this. In the end, whether intentionally or accidentally, the military (and specifically the Army) gets left holding the "plan out this whole thing for us" bag. Whether it is SOF or general purpose, we have to use design to figure out the solution- but just because we are in military uniform does not mean that every solution be a military one. That is the hardest design truth to swallow for most of our culture.

Good points. I have one minor quibble regarding this excerpt:

"however, for irregular warfare we should consider using other government agencies and Special Operations as the core organizations to organize around for these types of conflicts."

I think we focus too much on units and organizations. I think we would all agree that we need to apply the right force/organization/unit/capability to the right mission at the right time. But what I would change to your sentence above is that we should use the National Strategy, Theater Cmapign Plans, and Country Team's Mission Strategic Plans as the focal point or centerpiece around which we organize. If we get those three right then we will be able to apply the right force (or better yet -the right combination of forces) to support the strategy and execute the plans. I just think we get ahead of ourselves by talking first about what units should do what and which units we should organize around or whom should have lead. If we get the strategy and plans right the organization/unit/capabilities will flow from them.