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)


I think you use design to become more self aware of your own institutional bias that is shaping your view on COIN versus HIC you may gain some new insights. In your comments above you are implying there is a military solution to the challenges we face in Afghanistan, and if the military somehow understood better, planned better and executed COIN more effectively we would achieve our objectives in Afghanistan. Perhaps if applied design it would become apparent that main factors shaping the nature of the conflict are largely non-military in nature. In short the military alone can't win the peace.

Shifting from the operational to the strategic is it really "imperative" that the Army as a whole transforms as a warfighting force (read combat and security operations, not Fulda Gap scenarios) to conduct COIN? Are insurgencies external to our nation really an existential threat? In most cases insurgencies are not even a threat to our national interests, but we frequently make them so when we invest in a particular side. The future of war is unknown, so we can only speculate, but I think it is appropriate for the Army to remain focused on warfighting, since no one else in the U.S. government can do what the GPF Army does. There are other organizations that could be quite capable of assisting nations with their IDAD progams through FID (not limited to military assistance). By DOD taking the lead since 9/11 we have allowed other organizations like the State Department to linger in the past and not feel compelled to transform to meet the challenges we're facing today.

The Army is organized around its technology, processes and doctrine to provide the nation a warfighting capability. Based on our best guess of future threats we'll need to continue to evolve; 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. Perhaps if we understood ourselves better, instead of organizing around who has the most stars on their uniform, we would organize around Special Operations with GPF in a supporting role? Now we have forces uniquely changed for this type of conflict in a supporting role to GPF.

Furthermore you seem to be implying that it is the GPF that should employ design to better understand and then develop the strategy for these missions, but since they're largely political and psychological in nature wouldn't it better for the State Department and CIA to take lead on developing the strategy with DOD in support? I realize this type of conflict seems unique and new to those who hail from a career in GPF, but little in today's fight is new to SOF.

My critique isn't against your arguments for design, but rather who should be doing it and what needs to be fixed. I think DOD and the Army as part of DOD should be one actor in the process of developing it. The way to achieve our objectives is to set conditions to obtain a desireable peace, and the military's role is supportive to the larger political process, something that appears to be missing in your discussion on design up to this point.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Wed, 03/16/2011 - 9:39pm

For GM-

I agree about COIN. But from my perspective, the issue on how/why/where we do COIN as a military instrument of power reflects the tension in our organization on how the Army defines itself (Builder's thesis in 'Masks of War')- do we train for full spectrum operations and emphasize high intensity (HIC) while implementing some lessons learned from OIF and OEF into our low intensity (LIC) doctrine and training procedures?

I look to our national training centers and the inevitable pendulum swing back from doing nothing but COIN for a decade back to the HIC/defense/LIC phases of old- the FSO rotation is back- but why?

Builder makes the claim that military branches reinvent themselves while staying true to old "golden era" perceptions of how they were the lead military IOP solving American conflicts- and that military branches often place their own desires for self-relevance and exclusive occupation of the "tip of the next conflict's spear" above even the national interests of the country. For instance- if the Army still holds to conventional glory of pitched battle against large standing armies where physical lines of operation and operational depth (deep, close, rear)continue to embrace Clausewitz and Jomini with armor, infantry, and aviation (and artillery too)...then is not COIN once again isolated as the 'whimpy kid' during dodgeball selection on the playground of military thought?

COIN puts all of the goldern-era concepts and procedures at disadvantage: CAS works better with prop A/C in penny packets under ground force command (arguably- and the USAF is unlikely to ever support that position, because...) Our armor does not work in Afghanistan, and our linear campaign plans for infantry to close with the enemy doesnt work either. The big dogs in COIN are the same ones as UW- small decentralized SOF or para-military forces that work local security and isolate the fish from the pond without draining the entire pond in the process. COIN makes senior military leadership pull a gag reflex because on our long list of military victories in 200 years, COIN doesnt do so well. Sure, we did well in the Philippines in 1899-1901 (Linn's book), and one could argue that the Great Plains Indian Wars after the Civil War were also successful- but I don't consider those true COIN since we were displacing or openly slaughtering all villages we discovered. Vietnam was a strategic disaster with tactical success built on the model of WWII golden-era superior fire power, mass and maneuver, and a focus on destroying the enemy. "We had to destroy the village to save it." But let me converge back to my point that design offers some truth about COIN and FSO.

Since COIN is the red-headed stepchild for military action because it reduces conventional strengths and often exploits institutional weaknesses; COIN is not what the military decision makers want to invest in or plan for. Now, of course we will add some more to FM 3-24 and perhaps introduce some coherent doctrine that does away with the silly nuances between FID and SFA someday (that is another rant I could go on); but as for hardware, training, force projection, modularity, professional education, and recruting- the Army is going to return to what it self-identifies as and embraces as it's true calling: conventional forces engaged in total war. Throw some 'hybrid' aspects around the edges and you can call it FSO- but the lion's share of cost, gear, training, capability, and capacity is oriented toward the war that is less likely to occur in the future. The Soviet Bear did not attack, and now that it is gone, there is no real rival. China is a giant, but not an offensive military one. India is an ally; and even if it wasn't, those countries are not bent on some sort of eschatalogical war strategy like the way Moscow was framed for many decades (Anatol Rapoport). In essence, we will only fight small and annoying enemies that embrace lower spectrum conflicts- COIN is one excellent tool for them. Instead of re-aligning our military to perpare for this as our primary mission, we keep it as a side requirement and are on the journey back to a conventional FSO focused 'total war' military.

Probably alot of folks disagree, but that is my perspective from the foxhole right now.


Grant Allard,

I think it is terrific you have an interest in this and by no means do I think your choice of words was in need of apology!

Great that you have a grasp of the issue and it makes me again poke at the military myth that our officers would not be ready to discuss strategy until they are 05s/06s in the war colleges.

We in the military have, in my view, inappropriately used the child-->adult metaphor of human development and recapitulated the logic in cadet-->colonel. It seems we have created a hierarchy of development that suits the existing organization structure.

Your comments have been very appropriate and it's great that you are interested.

G Martin

Wed, 03/16/2011 - 3:28pm

Ben- I think it is less insidious than you suggest (or were you just using that as an easily-understood example?): to me the "sacred cows" today actually have to do with our view of how COIN should be fought and if what we are doing today is effective and sustainable.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Wed, 03/16/2011 - 2:59pm

The critical requirement of holistic contemplation of a complex system is the ability to recognize the institutional biases of one's own worldview and organization- that is the essence of 'problematizing' or 'critical thinking' or 'reflective designing'- they each abandon the cycle of repetition and reinforcement that the traditional scientific and military institutionalism flourishes upon. Kuhn talks of 'paradigm shifts' and Taleb uses 'Black Swan events'- both speak to the difference between suprise and astonishment when you anticipate a system incorrectly. The problematizer is not afraid to challenge the core tenets of his own worldview with the cycle of destruction and creation- he does not simply add on to the existing structure and idolize past accomplishments as 'the golden road to success.' Linn in 'Echo of Battle' and Builder in 'Masks of War' make arguments that the military is continously in a cycle of doing just that- recycling idols and refusing to actually destroy anything that holds value or dogmatic sentiment.

The problematizer risks death when seeking truth with the emperor- he can be killed if he fails to please the emperor with the 'truth'- framing the complex system and exposing a worldview that explains instead of describes...but he also can be killed for making the emperor destroy something within his own worldview that is sacred; something that must be destroyed in order to appreciate the deep understanding that the problematizer brings. So, when a military organization categorically rejects a design deliverable because it presents within the operational approach the requirement to destroy something of deep institutional value (conventional warfare with a peer military IOP perhaps?)- the organization lashes back and 'kills' the problematizer. For instance- we keep trying to replace our fallen Soviet juggernaut of a rival with a new 'superpower' enemy that will fight us conventionally- we now use China; but China is NOT Russia...the mold does not fit- but that truth is problematic because if there is no "rival" willing to play conventional war by our rules, then our entire military worldview within strategy, procurement, doctrine, readiness, funding, etc- is false. If the only 'rivals' out there will only fight us in hybrid or asymmetrical formats- if that is indeed the new propensity of the complex system, then we must in turn create and destroy large sections of our entire military worldview in order to adapt to this new system and gain advantage...Are We?

G Martin

Wed, 03/16/2011 - 10:43am

GA: "The designer must be intentionally reflective when designing or else caveats of his Worldview that he does not expect may become Achilles' heals in his construction."

This is key, as you state, and something we struggle with mightily. Many, if not most, of our leaders IMO believe in one objective reality and Universal "Truth" (bound up in Christian theology and cultural hubris). Kind of hard to understand "your" Worldview and how it biases what you do and "blind spots" it may cause- if you don't even believe in the concept.

Grant Allard (not verified)

Tue, 03/15/2011 - 9:44pm

In answer to Dr. P's March 13, 11:49 PM post:

Sorry for taking so long to respond--my life is busy between school and soccer.

About myself: I am a junior at Furman University studying Political Science and Philosophy. My thesis is titled "A War for All Ages: Thucydides on Politics, Religion and Human Nature in his "The History of the Peloponnesian War." My studies have led me to become interested in war because it reveals human nature very differently than peace, i.e. the motion of war is when human nature is best revealed because people are acting out "who" they really are. I respect the soldier's way of life because of the discipline and sacrifice it demands.

About reflexivity: I am taking the word reflexive from linguistics and applying it to a philosophic concept of reflectiveness. In further thought, I think my word choice of "reflexivity" is cumbersome because it has a lot of other grammatical connotations (some of which are appropriate in terms of design, i.e. the way a reflexive pronoun throws emphasis back upon the subject's action affecting himSELF).

The concept I was trying to convey with regard to my understanding of "Design" is that self-awareness is required to "construct" an approach that is sensitive to the ontological edges of the environment whatever it may be. Thus "Design" must reflect back upon the designer in a way that is indicative of the designer's Worldview. If the designer's Worldview is open, fluid, and agile then the Design of his strategy will be such as well. The designer must be intentionally reflective when designing or else caveats of his Worldview that he does not expect may become Achilles' heals in his construction. This is a point straight out of Daoism's "DaodeJing".

I apologize for my word choice, but hopefully have now cleared it up to some degree.


Grant Allard

Sorry the titles of the books by Schon are:

The Reflective Practitioner & Educating the Reflective Practitioner

(I guess my Freudian inclination was to insert "military" :)

I like the word design, as long as we agree that it is a metaphor. In Latin it meant "of image," so it is a kind of metaphor-within-a- metaphor.

I think the intent of the originators of the "design movement" were to relate it to architecture -- where hard science (technical rationality) meets art (aesthetics). It seems we are making it into a dead metaphor! (We need to resuscitate it :)

The best texts I have seen on translating this into education are Schön's two books: The Reflective military Practitioner & Educating the Reflective Military Practitioner.

Schon seldom uses the term design (I think he saw this as a temptation to see design as a "method" which he would object).

Instead, he focused on the "profession." When professionals (and professional institutions) run up against "indeterminate zones of practice," the REFLECT IN and ON ACTION (i.e. they engage in REFLECTIVE PRACTICE).

In that regard, I would recommend to the community that we center the conversation on reflective practice -- it is the method of dealing with the "indeterminate zones of practice" (novelty, surprise, uncertainty, complexity, and so forth).

p.s. reflective practice can also apply to the "collective mind" (social cognition) -- that is to organizational/institutional reflexivity! So this idea of reflexivity implies both psychological and sociological aspects of philosophy.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2011 - 3:23pm

no rewording necessary; even if you did intend it as criticism, I am my own worst critic and what makes me cringe now when I re-look at this series is how often I struggle with balancing what I call 'fancy foo-foo words' with more tactical jargon that the majority of the force is more comfortable with. Perhaps the challenge is all about what Hayden White and Peter Novack talk about with content and form, objectivism and subjectivism, and recognizing the swirling interaction of interiorities and exteriorities (A Thousand Plateaus and Naveh)- bottom line is that while I attempt in this series to break through the barrier I see between conceptual and detailed planning worldviews, I think ultimately I only scratch the surface. There is a paradigm shift afoot, as Dr. Paparone mentioned earlier, and where this takes the military is yet to be figured out. I don't know if the end state is going to be design-heavy and detailed proceduralism light, or some mix, or if design gets tossed to the graveyard...but it appears that the current generation of military planners and doers need to come to some conclusion on when, why, and how design (agreed- it is a terrible word; I liked Systemic Operational Design because each word meant something) is used.

G Martin

Mon, 03/14/2011 - 1:57pm

Ben- I should have re-worded that differently- I wasn't disappointed in the paper as much as with the feeling I got while reading it that others will think it too complicated.

I struggle a little with the commander and staff coming to a deep understanding or a "deeper" understanding. My immature understanding of how we need to approach complexity is more along the lines of Beinhocker's ideas wrt businesses: small teams grounded in the "Learning Organization" culture of Senge and empowered to be semi-independent and tasked with constantly running "experiments" at the ground level and informing higher of what is working and what is not. Then "higher" resources those "experiments" that work, encourage more experimentation, and articulate logic and requirements to stakeholders.

So, "Design" (terrible word) is actually ACTION at the ground level that informs higher and the HQs do little beyond ensuring an environment conducive to this action, setting priorities, and giving broad guidance. Some "Design" could be done at the HQ level in order to take the information in from the tactical level, analyze it, re-frame guidance/theory, and adjust priorities and resources- I'm just not sure how much "understanding" one can have from a HQ (for instance, I argued while at NTM-A that outside of the training system and the ministries there was little we could "understand" at the HQ level).

This is slightly similar to what SF does: ODAs come up with concepts and higher approves them based on resources and guidance- and then higher comes to an understanding of the environment THROUGH the ODAs (as opposed to based on staffers'/commanders' prior experience, readings, battlefield circulations, and/or just gut feeling).

I think complex environments demand that we (as our COIN doctrine states) push authority down to the lowest levels, trust our subordinates, and encourage bottom-up efforts. Top-down efforts- no matter if they are "Design"-oriented or not- are doomed to failure in these environments. That is why, in my opinion, battalions (and sometimes brigades) drive ops in Afghanistan- and higher HQs are routinely ignored.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2011 - 12:06pm

For Grant Martin-
I also am a bit disappointed when I re-read this article series; when I wrote these I was early on my design journey at SAMS. This body of work essentially beats up the Army in terms of doctrine and institutional bias on how design is an unwelcome visitor. Since then, I have moved onto different work that attempts to bridge this gap between conceptual and detailed planning but without the cumbersome 'design' words in the final product. It reminds me of a telling conversation I had a few months back with an 06 after I had chated him up about design, non-linear approaches, and swarming that could replace the traditional LOO/LOE products for a design deliverable. He replied with "this is great! I love it- but I need you to draw it for me on a LOE with an end-state." So, right now I see the biggest challenge for design is that once a design team (or the CDR) achieve the 'deep understanding'- what forms do they employ to convey that understanding to the rest of the force in a manner that ensures acceptance and cohesion? Vocab is one aspect, as are graphic depictions and conceptual structures (LOOs, PLOs, LOEs...) but what is the right balance between PROCESS and PROCEDURE?

I thought of another analogy to kick around on this- suppose the CDR wears some red sunglasses when applying the traditional linear reductionist perspective set in the detailed planning worldview- but they had to take those glasses off and don a pair of blue glasses to 'see' the operational level of the design onotological worldview- to acheive the deep understanding? One problem is that our military leadership do not want to take off their red glasses at all, and when they do, they say "wow, this is nice- but can you make it all look red for me?" To play with the metaphor further- we need to engineer some sort of '3D glasses' that use red and blue lenses together in synergy as a transitional worldview when going from an 'all red' to an 'all blue' or vice-versa worldview. Commanders need to be open to taking off the red sunglasses, and desigers cannot expect the red world to implement everything blue without some distortion and transition in the process. Perhaps the 3D synergy of red-blue lens cooperation as a metaphor could evolve further- through inovative design doctrine, operational vocabulary, and educational reform in the military to facilitate design-specific requirements?

Just some thoughts. Also- I will try to hit you on AKO, but if you are at the same location you were when your articles published on SWJ earlier, I am slated to come your way right now...


The Pap

Mon, 03/14/2011 - 11:30am

Grant Allard,

I am impressed that you entered the conversation with some real interesting questions and points.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

What would you mean by reflexivity?


Grant Allard (not verified)

Mon, 03/14/2011 - 12:49am

Thank you all for elucidating answers to my questions. This helped point me toward a better understanding.

It seems to me that that "Design" faces similar challenges to political philosophy--especially as it was practiced by the Greeks. "Design" seems to be asking questions starting with 1) "What is reflection?" and moving toward 2) "Who should reflect?" and then 3) "How does reflection become practicable in the 'real' world?" "Design" seems to share in common with Classical political philosophy the necessity of intentional reflection for the "good" of some greater whole (the City in philosophy's case and the Command in the military's case).

So what do the Classics have to say, in short?

Plato, Aristotle, and Thucydides all point us toward the necessity of intentional reflection in politics because they see that such reflection can make individuals better people and, more importantly, keep the City from committing costly errors (such as the Sicilian Expedition).

Yet, that is not the whole story. For the Classics also realize that most people want SIMPLE. After all, Plato both proposes the rule of philosopher-kings in the "Republic" but reminds Glaucon that this is laughable because most people would never put up with philosophers being in charge. In other words, "Design" faces a similar challenge as does Classical political philosophy because "Design" seeks to promote an intentional reflexivity and awareness, which is hard for people to do when they have become accustomed to living in other ways. I take MAJ Zweibelson's second argument to be addressing in large part this challenge, but at the level of the language people choose to use. This leaves me with the question -- is it language use or the process of perceiving the world itself that should be addressed in order to help planners see the world ontologically?

Part of the intentional reflexivity of "Design" seems to be an inherent development of "self-knowledge." The features of the environment are complex (and in a state of flux) in such a way, it seems that the only thing we can know is ourselves. This seems to be MAJ Zweibelson's chess example. But I would like to take this one step further.

Perhaps we ourselves are also in a state of complex flux thus making the "self-knowledge" for which we search a moving target. Then what we need to find is not a particular fact but the intermediate factors that are working upon us. In the chess player terms, the real challenge (or obstacle) we face is not just realizing our performance is inhibited because our dog died, but naming the changing emotions that we feel because our dog died. In one moment we may be able to focus, while in another we may feel rage, and in another sadness. The change within ourselves is also disturbing to the design of our strategy because we are ourselves stationary, discrete individuals. Then the character of our planning must be about the very Worldview we plan at an ontological level and not just about the particular techniques we use to plan. We must clear our Worldview of conception entirely so that we can view the situation in front of us as it exists ontologically. In the chess game example, this requires us to take a deep breath, empty our mind, and focus on the game in front of us.

In military terms, is the method to get us to this point "Design"?

Thank you for expanding my thinking. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about this way of seeing the world.


Grant Allard

G Martin

Sun, 03/13/2011 - 7:01pm

This paper is exciting and disappointing at the same time. Exciting because it attempts- more than most that I've read- to lay-out the issues our doctrine has with respect to Design. Disappointing because it fails to do what Design's detractors demand: MAKE IT SIMPLE!! (and I can just hear them saying that now- and THAT is what is disappointing to me- not necessarily the paper) Unfortunately, I've heard more than one senior leader say something to the effect of: "I'm just a knuckledragging infantryman. You staff guys go and do your Design and MDMP. Give me a rifle, lots of ammo, and a direction- and I'll go and kill the enemy." It's too bad we have so many enamored with all things tactical.

I agree with Dr. Paparone: Design taken to its most logical extreme means upsetting ALL apple carts and rice bowls. Understanding what it takes to upset just one makes the task especially daunting. I would think implementing aspects of Design into our military would do more to accomplish Secretary Gates' admonishment to do away with bureaucracy and micromanagement in our HQ and garrison areas or risk losing most bright, young combat leaders. Understanding what that would take, however, is probably what kept those remarks limited to a public speaking engagement vice actual policy and directives.

To Grant (GA): Good questions in my opinion. My .02:

GA: 1) How deep ought the ontological approach pervade through planning?

I think the ontological approach has to go deep enough into your planning (assuming our current processes) so that you are at least confident you will be alerted by something if you are chasing your tail. We don't do this, however, in my experience- we are wedded to our worldview and drive on to trying to get to our end-state as soon as possible.

Interestingly enough- I rarely saw any logic that linked our publicly-announced end-states and what we were actually working on- so maybe our linear and reductionist planning processes really weren't having that much of an affect on the ground after all (I'd argue that in a truly complex environment top-down efforts either fail or are outright ignored- to our credit a lot are ignored).

GA: 2) Does this ontological approach require a greater contextual awareness of the very way planners interact with the World just by existing, i.e. philosophically: eating, drinking, breathing, thinking and militarily: the planners presence changes the very way the population and enemy interact?

YES!! Of course we must understand the environment, but as we exist within that environment as well we must understand ourselves (especially as we are usually the 10,000 lbs gorilla in the room). As Dr. P and Ben and others point out quite effectively- this is perhaps the hardest thing for us to do. It is largely ignored in our doctrine so far and it is against our nature (we largely assume only one "universal" perspective): I'd argue if this wasn't so we wouldn't be attempting to build carbon copies of ourselves in every system we are establishing).

GA: 3)And once you have cultivated such an awareness, how do you keep the people who are planning operations from getting sucked "down the rabbit hole" of philosophic inquiry but stay mindful of their mission?

The lesson politician's might take from OEF and OIF is to limit one's objectives when using military forces. If the "mission" is clear, short-term, and extremely limited- then we either might not need Design for those missions or it will be relatively simple to remain mindful of the mission- even when sitting around asking each other what the meaning of life is.

If the mission is more complex (our objectives are fuzzy, time unconstrained, and over time lends itself to "mission-creep"), then getting sucked into the rabbit hole may be necessary for the simple reason that the planners may actually have to inform the politicians and people what the mission needs to be. In a complex environment this may make sense: bottom-up efforts will be the most effective.

So, if you can envision this scenario:

- Politicians send our military into a country to overthrow a government and get a bad-guy.
- Government is overthrown, but bad-guy escapes.
- Politicians then get distracted, but don't pull us out.
- At that point the military goes into "Design" mode (or, preferably- earlier).
- At the tactical level small units are empowered to do what is necessary to accomplish 1-3 primary tasks in their AO that the higher HQ have decided will lend themselves to establishing security/order.
- At the operational level the HQ set tasks (constantly monitoring them and listening to the lower/lateral/higher levels to adjust as necessary) and resource the tactical level based on priorities the op level developes.
- At the higher levels the HQs inform the politicians on what is needed to accomplish the mission- and perhaps what the mission needs to be.
- One day when the politicians become interested in the effort again- micro efforts have already started working towards something rather than everyone realizing we were just treading water for 8 years. Everyone can adjust from there if necessary.

The bottom line to me is that a "better" environment may emerge through empowering localized solutions and coming up with our own objectives/mission as opposed to treading water waiting for direction and in the meantime attempting half-hearted top-down solutions.

Grant Martin
MAJ, US Army

I can appreciate Ben's thoughts on the confusion caused by the use of certain words (which have certain understood meanings) in multiple contexts. As if we needed evidence, the confusion between "Design" and "Operational Design" started almost as soon as Design doctrine hit the streets in FM 5-0.

However, as Ben rightly points out, the use of a separate vocabulary for design work and/or conceptual planning is not the answer. The link between design and detailed planning is tenuous as it stands now. Design seemed to be conceptualized independent of MDMP, then twisted and molded to kinda-sorta fit with MDMP. MDMP, on the other hand, did not change significantly. Perhaps we should have looked harder at changing MDMP to fit with Design than the other way around? (Which begs the question: Has MDMP become a "sacred cow?")

I'll be interested to see Ben's solution. He hints at one view in his response to Grant:

<i>Suppose we gain deep understanding- so what? Can we convert that into a linear form so that detailed planning can actually use it? Or do we "go down the rabbit hole" so far that our discourse becomes jabberwocky and the detailed planners disregard design entirely? The most important figure in that tension is the military commander of the organization- he is the central figure in detailed and conceptual planning; he is responsible for both worldviews to engage in discourse and deliverable exchange while understanding the nature of both.</i>

Interesting, but putting it all on the commander's shoulders does not square with the article - that conceptual and detailed perspectives are, at present, incompatible. Given that Ben spent considerable time proving this point in the essay, it seems unreasonable to expect a commander to cognitively exist in both worlds simultaneously.

Perhaps the solution is forthcoming? Looking forward to the next one.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sun, 03/13/2011 - 11:33am

Chris- have you checked out Hayden White at all for vocabulary and word meanings? My problem with design vocabulary and tactical vocabulary is that there are so many options that all sort of mean the same thing, but to different people, at different points. I prefer 'deep understanding' because it points to the more formitable word 'metacognition'- but that word is painful in tactical applications. Naveh enjoys 'cognitive synergy' which runs in the pack with your 'social cognition.' Another Israeli military author I am reading uses 'dual soldier' as the polar opposite of 'Strategic Corporal'- the dual soldier is the physical manifestation of your organization exercising 'deep understanding/cognitive synergy/harmonization/orchestration....' and the USMC's beloved Conklin employs 'cohesion' for much the same concept.

The point you make about appreciation- the humbleness factor- for me, that is where Folcote's 'problematization' really shines as a great operational word. The humble requirement for appreciation/understanding implies that in the journey to seek truth, you must question everything, to include deeply rooted tenets within your organization and self. To accomplish deep understanding or appreciation, you might need to acknowledge that a core principle that defines everything about your organization (apply any 'jus ad bellum' or 'jus in bellos' principle for the US military here) might be one of the factors that is defeating your ability to understand and transform the system. To acknowledge that your organization is the first thing that requires transformation implies a level of humbleness that 'problematizing' encompasses, and all to often, our military culture routinely rejects. McFarlane's initial attempts at the Iraqi 'awakening movement' in OIF 2006 reflect precisely how this usually goes.

I think the Army (and JFCOM with its release of its handbook) made a mistake when linking design to military planning. Planning may be part of design, but design is not part of planning. Planning is a form of "soothsaying." Design requires recognition that it is.

I also reject the very idea of "understanding" (that may apply in limited situations where the engineering sciences work). I think we should change our collective mind (social cognition) to the British theorist (Geoffrey Vickers) explanation of "appreciation."

Understanding connotes a certain Greco-Western arrogance about knowledge. Appreciation requires a humbleness and admission that we may never understand.

If the institution were to change its view of planning and understanding, this may create conditions for design to become more relevant to practitioners.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sat, 03/12/2011 - 11:05am


Let me attempt to answer your questions;

1. Design doctrine for both the Army and Marines states now that 'design' pervades every aspect of planning. That makes for a nice bumper sticker, but is it done in practice? Generally, I would argue no. Part of that problem goes directly back to the rival worldviews and rigid institutionalism that my paper and Dr. Paparone discussed above.
2. Instead of Plato's cave, I have another analogy that might work here and this was successful in our design course after we kicked it around. Imagine you and I are going to play a game of chess. You are a very experienced chess player, but I just started playing last month. As we sit down to play our game, if you take the detailed planning 'reductionist' or 'positivist' and detailed worldview, all of my planning efforts would encompass the peices on the board. The military uses a variety of similar procedures (not processes) such as the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), the Marines use Marine Corp Planning Process (MCPP), and the Joint and Air Force brethern use Joint Operational Planning Process (JOPP) which, although they are all different flavors of ice cream, they nonetheless espouse the same linear and reductionist worldview. For our military planners out there, you might easily imagine a planning cell running the paces through MDMP on how to do the chess game. We would span all of the peices and how they move, all of the possible strategies on the board, and even the board could be converted into a modified combined obstacle overlay (but that would work even better if we were instead playing Stratego). You get the point- the detailed planning processes focus on THE CHESSBOARD. Design is radically different- it goes "above the chessboard." While my 'desired endstate' is to defeat your King on the board, my 'problem' has nothing to do with any particular peice on the board. My 'problem' is actually in the exteriority of the chess board (smooth space)- it is your superior chess skill! Now, I cannot directly attack your 'chess skill' and as any phenomenon in a complex system, while I confront that as my 'problem', you confront something else. Perhaps your dog died yesterday, and you are not focused on the chess game. Your grieving process over your lost pet is actually your 'problem' for the game, and it is something I am likely unaware of, and have no influence over anyways. This is the critical part of how rival worldviews of conceptual and detailed planning operate in seperate methodologies and conceptual planes. I will wage war on the chess board against you through tactical and detailed planning by moving chess peices in a reductionist, linear manner- but I understand the holistic propensity of the system as something I cannot directly attack or alter, and in this game I face the chance of losing because of skill, not actual peice location.
3. Your third question is the true focus of my series of essays on design, and I think it is the biggest challenge with design and the military today. Suppose we gain deep understanding- so what? Can we convert that into a linear form so that detailed planning can actually use it? Or do we "go down the rabbit hole" so far that our discourse becomes jabberwocky and the detailed planners disregard design entirely? The most important figure in that tension is the military commander of the organization- he is the central figure in detailed and conceptual planning; he is responsible for both worldviews to engage in discourse and deliverable exchange while understanding the nature of both. The detailed side wants to 'tacticize' and 'proceduralize' everything; the conceptual side might conduct belly gazing until hell freezes over; the CDR must ensure that design understanding transfers over to the detailed side maintaining the essential content of design, but in a new form- a form that translates to detailed methodology. The reverse must occur as well; detailed planning observations and information must lose its container that encourages linear causality, and enter the conceptual worldview devoid of linear and reductionist bias. This is easier said than done. How Commanders educate their organizations on design, and how they establish doctrine, discourse, and the interaction of theory throughout all planning processes becomes paramount for unit cohesion when confronting ill-structured problems in complex systems.

Concur that philosophical reflexivity is important to design while at the same time I am somewhat pessimistic that a doctrine-centric institution can (purposefully) reset its world view (which, at the risk of oversimplification, I would characterize as ontologically objective).

We have created organizational technologies (such as the JSJ7 and Army's TRADOC) that cannot be easily disassembled. The structure of the military's (particularly the US Army's) "lifeworld" is so dependent on the structural functionalist world view that it is inconceivable for members to rebuild based in some alternative ontology.

Hence, what we have is an ideology (one could argue -- this IS the definition of an institution). What Ben proposes in these first two essays is a challenge to that ideology. The institution is a very powerful entity and has a political (conservative?) stake in the reality it has created and lives in. To reveal the structure of a Foucaultian "psychic prison" is potentially very dangerous for those who have explored "outside the cave" (as Plato's cave allegory about "ontology" points).

Grant (not verified)

Fri, 03/11/2011 - 5:46pm

I will preface my comments with the fact that I am empirically ignorant of war; I am a young philosopher. Therefore I read SWJ in leisure because it helps me understand the warrior's way of life. War seems to reveal very different things about politics, religion, and human nature (think Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War") than does the quiet lull of peace (say in Plato's Republic).

The questions that linger with me as I read this article all regard the "ontological approach" (page 10). Possibly because ontology requires a type of awareness that breaks free from the routine of average everydayness because our routine itself is significant in these considerations.

1) How deep ought the ontological approach pervade through planning?

2) Does this ontological approach require a greater contextual awareness of the very way planners interact with the World just by existing, i.e. philosophically: eating, drinking, breathing, thinking and militarily: the planners presence changes the very way the population and enemy interact (that's a poor example)?

3)And once you have cultivated such an awareness, how do you keep the people who are planning operations from getting sucked "down the rabbit hole" of philosophic inquiry but stay mindful of their mission? (I was thinking of the latter half of Plato's Allegory of the Cave here).

I apologize if these questions are uninformed, ignorant, or just plain dumb. I found this article very fascinating and wanted to understand it better.

Thank you for writing such an interesting article.



Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Fri, 03/11/2011 - 12:49pm

My appologies- on page 10 it should read 'third article' instead of 'second article.' My last-minute editing apparently did not catch all the glitches!