Small Wars Journal

Design Thinking and the Development of “Real” Options for Decision-makers

Wed, 11/16/2011 - 12:53pm

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When a situation arises to which the United States considers deploying military forces, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and President of the United States (POTUS) require a range of options from which to address the situation.  The current course of action development process fails to provide these options.  This failure to provide a range of options limits strategic flexibility and oftentimes leads to an inadequate or inappropriate solution for the given circumstances.  Joint planners must change their traditional mindset for course of action development to include options that consider the multiple environmental conditions.  The operational environment is rife with inconsistencies, incompatible desires, and competing requirements and, as such, requires the planner to develop multiple options that address the potential prominence of one requirement over another.  By addressing the competing requirements in this manner, the planner presents a more comprehensive view of the environment while presenting the SECDEF and POTUS with the flexibility to approach the situation from different perspectives.   

Design thinking enables the planner to develop and propose such options within the current context of the joint operation planning process (JOPP) with a slight modification.  In a potential or actual crisis, the President decides whether the employment of military capabilities is necessary.  As stated in JP 5-0, “The President, SEDEF, or CJCS initiates planning by deciding to develop military options.” The Guidance for the Employment of the Force (GEF) and the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP) also direct combatant commanders to develop military options based upon given assumptions and conditions.  Lack of specificity and perhaps a lack of understanding regarding the term “options” as prescribed by the SECDEF and strategic guidance documents are at the heart of the problem.  As opposed to providing senior leadership with options for the employment of military force as desired, the planning process develops multiple courses of action to select the best single option to solve the problem.  As a result, the current process presents strategic leadership with a virtual “fait accompli” regarding ways to use the military. 

This essay proposes integrating elements of design thinking into the Mission Analysis and COA Development steps of the JOPP to develop the variety of options that the POTUS and SECDEF require in a complex and dynamic environment.  This position is supported through the analysis of the strategic guidance and course of action development requirements.  A discussion of the environmental constraints that shape the problem and the solution is critical to the critical and creative thinking process necessary when using the JOPP.  The JOPP mission analysis step is discussed briefly to show how design thinking can be integrated into the planning process and how continuing that line of thinking into the COA Development step is a natural and necessary extension to develop options.  Finally, this essay will show how design thinking informs decision-makers of the competing operational requirements resulting that can result in a broader range of options for the POTUS and SECDEF as the employment of military forces is considered.


About the Author(s)

Dan McCauley is a National Defense University assistant professor at the Joint Forces Staff College located in Norfolk, VA.  Prof McCauley is a retired United States Air Force  pilot and has served in various course director capacities such as air operations, strategy, and theater campaign planning.


Hubba Bubba,

I think this comment is very accurate:

"This article represents the comprimise: where doctrine writers and established military academics take salami slices of Design Theory, and insert it into a traditional framework of the traditional military logic...this does not work because it fundamentally breaks from what Design offers."

On the other hand you address our reality, and then dismiss it. I suspect a full 50% plus of our force is more than capable of comprehending design, but our JOPES is fossilized system that constantly demands the production of products with tight time lines, so the reality is most plans and supporting annexes are largely cut and paste from previous plans, and you're lucky if work with a group that has the time and desire to actually even do MDMP or JOPP correctly, much less deviate off the road of short suspenses and design.

Senior leaders will tell you they get it, but to truly experiment with design they have to remove some planners and appropriate subject matter experts from the day to day grind and tell them he is more interested in new insights and ideas than a power point brieft at 1400hrs tomorrow. If leaders then see the value in the process, they'll force the structural changes needed to ensure we do design correctly, instead of cramming bits of it into MDMP and calling it design.

JOPP and MDMP is only part of the problem, our desire to rush to product development (endlessly) has become a cultural norm. Reflective thought is not valued (it can't be measured).

Hubba Bubba

Sat, 12/31/2011 - 12:26am

It is a completely normal and predictable reaction to attack things one has not taken the effort to learn. Design theory is challenging because it takes military professionals so far outside of their comfort zone, they cannot do the standard reliance on prior experience, training, military education, or position. As Naveh wrote about the problems with teaching SOD to Israeli General Officers, he said you had to ask the General to put aside their 30 years of military experience and learn something completely different. Most could not do this. It is not because they are "weak or small minded"- that is a foolish position to take on anything one is trying to have a serious conversation about.

Grant is absolutely correct below on the importance of words- "Design" is terribly misapplied. Military professionals assimilate design theory into existing static military decision-making procedures and doctrine without any critical thinking that challenges the core tenets and values of our preferred system. Again, this has nothing to do with intelligence, or sending a LTC to a school where they may study aspects of Design Theory- the same learning occurs readily in a combat environment by an entry-level private or LT- provided that they are critical and creative thinkers and able to let go of the existing military paradigm and think beyond the spoon.

I am a bit sad that this discussion on Design Theory continues with association to an article that has little to do with where Design Theory is moving, and more about the same old military approach to assimilating rival theories into the beast that is MDMP/MCPP/JOPP/codified dogma. This article represents the comprimise: where doctrine writers and established military academics take salami slices of Design Theory, and insert it into a traditional framework of the traditional military logic...this does not work because it fundamentally breaks from what Design offers. Innovation, adaptation, discovery of novel approaches- this is how the tailor sews a unique suit for one client. When the next client walks in the door, the tailor takes into consideration what that client wants/needs/can afford, and the tailor applies critical/creative thinking to craft yet another design. The military walks in the shop and says, "nice suit...can you make me 10,000 copies please- adjust sizes accordingly." Design inserted into rigid military doctrine is like a tailor being forced into the suit rack at Walmart- it does not work.

The snarky comments below Grant's comments illustrate yet another sad narrative that continues to manifest in today's military leadership. "If you promote Design, you probably went to some fancy school or learned big words...and you treat everyone around you that does not understand as if they are morons; but all them fancy words don't amount to nothing in combat where we make things happen." That sort of discourse is simply a waste of time here in this forum, because I have zero expectations of ever changing your mind- nor should I. Design is not something you can be led to with a map; it is in many ways an individual journey, exploration- but you have to be absolutely willing to leave everything your military knows as "fact" behind. Design thinking begins with "why" questions that fundamentally challenge an established worldview...if you refuse to even consider 'why'- you will only obsess with 'what.'

Hubba Bubba

G Martin

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 8:25pm

Statements such as this one:

<em>"Our sense of an ill-structured environment and problem diminishes as an increased understanding of the interdependent nature of the environmental systems occurs, as systems are understood to envelope and be enveloped by other systems, and as understanding occurs that the emergence of new systems or patterns of behavior emerge based upon the interaction of these systems".</em>

...make me think that it is time for Design "advocates" to stop using the term "Design" to refer to attempts to act in complex environments and only use it to refer to attempts to follow the doctrinal approach to planning.

The folks who first came up with the doctrinal concepts which would eventually be called "Design" fully expected- quite the opposite of Martin Luther- the emergence of a new religion. Instead, to their dismay the old religion has only absorbed the new concepts- and nothing much has really changed, except maybe to confuse planners, staffs and commanders by making the current planning process even more procedural and complicated.

Instead I recommend we use the term "Design" only when describing the doctrinal concepts and the term "action in complex environments" as the umbrella term that can apply to any approach to a complex environment. Thus, if a unit decides to throw out the doctrinal approach when faced with a complex situation, discard any traditional concept of a plan and go with more of an emergent concept (or any other non-doctrinal concept)- they don't have to confuse folks by describing their approach as "Design"- instead they can say they ignored the Design concept and went with another approach.

To address the quote above- this is a decidedly systems engineering approach- and, to be fair- that is what most of our doctrinal approach to Design has taken its cues from for how to act in complex environments. Even complexity theory itself is only one of many approaches with which to use when faced with an unknown situation. The whole intent of the first Design effort was to avoid preconceived solutions or frameworks to approaching situations- and yet we seem to have developed a doctrinal approach that does just that. Again, the old religion was too strong to be replaced, the current Army "positivist" philosophy is more Germanic heathen tradition than pre-Reformation Catholicism.

<em>"Design theory is great, but unless it can be clearly articulated to commanders and planning staffs and integrated within current doctrine then it will have little impact, if any. ...“Traditional” or not, planning by its very nature is an attempt to control the future. Without attempting to control the future, what creative non-traditional planning method do you espouse that addresses complex adaptive systems?"</em>

What if the theory is actually correct- and the alternative- that one can be successful in complex environments with procedure and process- is incorrect? Then it doesn't matter if one can articulate the theory and integrate it with current doctrine- if the current doctrine is based on false assumptions then the emperor has no clothes on.

Lastly- to answer the last question, how about an emergent approach? Or any approach that utilizes planning- but no plan- in other words, there are no attempts to control the future as much as one prepares to engage in an uncertain environment, and then develops objectives as one goes along--? I submit that planning does not have to attempt to control- or more accurately- guess- what the future is to be like unless one writes out a plan. In other words, the saying, "plans are worthless, but planning is everything" comes to mind.

Design theory- or what was floated prior to the writing of the doctrine- was all about prior planning, but not putting too much concrete plans in place- and instead acting and adjusting. Without acting and learning- all the planning in the world in many- if not most- complex environments will be fruitless. This key concept- that one has to interact within a complex environment- is missed in the current doctrine, which stresses prior planning, reductionism, positivism, current procedures, and other concepts totally in opposition to the foundational theory.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 2:05pm

Scottjk: suggest the SWJ article from David Walker---"Refining the MDMP for Operational Adaptability" ---it is actually a really good read.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 1:55pm


In summary as a takeaway---what you are saying is that the operational day to day reality grind of just running a BCT/BN/TF in the OE gets in the way of the pull of the staff driven MDMP/Design process centered around the responsibility of controlling a battle space.

To a large degree I would in a limited way agree with you---the problem I see from my perspective is that often the LTC or the COL has a battle staff that has not had a chance to fine tune the MDMP/design processes prior to deployment and basically it is then a steep learning on the job curve that many staffs finally master about 3-4 months into the deployment. They then get good at it and when they come back they are not the same battle staff that deploys again with the unit on the next deployment---meaning the complete relearn process starts all over again---kind of like being on a constant MDMP/design learn/relearn treadmill.

There are for example many staff officers who had not had the extensive MDMP training as they have not attended the Advance Captains Course where they get a heavy dose of MDMP so that is a major inhibiter to a successful battle staff process---also we have at various parts of the MDMP/design process that require the staff to stop and ask why as part of the continious assessment cycle---also something that needs to be constantly trained for prior to deployment.

So I guess it comes to down to how the staff balances it's staff driven processes regardless of individual expertise/training levels in order to support the LTC/COL with the best they can do as a staff against the daily grind of running an organization. To much to do and to little time has been a problem for at least 40 years.


Scott Kinner

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 11:05am

This has sat on my "read" list for the last month as I thought about it - and then some more time looking and thinking about the comments.

Somewhere in there is the truth spoken by Donald Rumsfield - you fight the war with the Army you have. He was pilloried for that comment, and I am no real fan of Mr. Rumsfield. However, he spoke truth.

When you look at the current weight of tasks and responsibilities on the average battalion or bde/rgt staff, from dealing with personnel and discipline issues, to creating training plans and managing school quotas, from executing various annual and semi-annual mandatory HR, PME, and physical fitness training, to preparing for the next deployment - there is very little time to devote to the warfighter's craft. You execute the planning methods you have in the context of the environment you've been placed in.

I say this as a reminder because the general tone seems to be that these people are all idiots - simplistic, willing morons who eagerly throw themselves at cookie cutter planning methods because they are incapable of pulling themselves from some primoridal intellectual soup.

I would posit that many of these folks are actually doing what planning is supposed to allow them to do...make sound decisions, accepting reasonable risk, in an environment of uncertainty while to trying to influence future events to reach a desired end state. They are doing what reasonable people might be expected to do when placed in these types of staff and command positions, with all of their competing demands and paradoxical priorities, which is ruthlessly prioritize to reach the 70-80% solution and declare victory. How many of us have had to be satisfied with the "least worst" solution?

So, instead of pretending that theory can be replicated in the real world, perhaps it would be better for the end user of all this discussion if we balanced what ought to be done, with what can be done, and proceeded accordingly.

When the next LtCol is sitting in school getting lectured about design theory, we need to do something better than say "and if this doesn't work, it's because you are too weak and small minded to make it work." Rather, we need to equip that LtCol to go out and be as creative as possible given the environment we've created for him to operate in.

You want to change his creative performance, change the environment you've placed him in.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/02/2011 - 9:08am

Regardless of MDMP, JOPP, or MCPP currently at least on the Army side Battle Staffs are having difficulties in even mastering MDMP and the concept of WGs.

Currently a number of BCTs in Afghanistan have as many as 24-30 WGs of different shades, colors, and focuses---and if you do not understand the simple inputs and outputs needed for each of these 24-30 WGs how can you even think "design".

Running estimates---what battle staff constantly updates them even though it is in FM 5-0, Nodal analysis who in the heck does that anymore? CMs (ISR) who understand requirements management, asset management and mission management where are they?--we now hear the planned development track of a CAPT, CWO and NOCs being trained to do this job which we did have in the MTOE in the 90s, target planning cycle---who even knows it-who even holds to it anymore?

Until "we" can get the simple concept of "battle ryhthm" to work correctly forget "design".

Hubba Bubba

Fri, 12/02/2011 - 12:31am


Until you realize that one cannot "control" complexity, you will be unable to consider the future state of a system differently. Why must you control it?

Why must end-states be anchored in a constructed future where subsequent reverse engineering occurs that crafts a manufactured false reality back in time and space towards the present? Why must decision-making procedures such as MDMP, JOPP, MCPP and others be continuously polished and refined when they are incapable of being useful for anything but short-term and simplistic/traditional environments?

Improvisation and thinking fundamentally differently about our military organization requires critical and creative thinking- but this is not mere lip service where 'critical' translates to 'follow doctrine and procedure but toss in some Design buzz words.' Nor does 'creative' mean 'solve the problem in a different way, but not so different that our organization is unable to recognize our own values and identity, or lose them in the process.' For instance, could the US Navy had approached the conflict in Libya by recommending that another service be the lead element? Even if that was a plausible solution, no Admiral would survive such a recommendation, nor would his organization support him. We view the world within the logic that our organizations prefer- and because EBO, MDMP, and other indoctrinated proceduralisms represent that form of 'non-thinking'- we continue to search for nails with just our hammer. We do not really improvise, because true improvisation means that we could break with tradition and our cherished mechanistic procedures.

Consider whether an ant colony or bee hive "controls the future" through planning. Swarming provides an interesting alternative way of considering organization logic and how one might anticipate the future. The Ant Queen has no idea what the future holds, nor does she have any influence or direction on it other than the organizing logic of swarm intelligence for her collective; she lays eggs, while the rest of her colony adapts to local conditions on the ground in a localized setting- not a heirarchy. The military General (and strategic leadership) demand far more than the simplistic task of laying eggs while the rest of the colony swarms. Instead, military commanders seek to "control" everything possible- this permeates our planning processes and completely fails (in my opinion) to appreciate what design theory brings to the table.

We also love to use "non-linear" in conversations while not understanding what non-linear really means. But I am out of time and that is another topic for another time.

Ran out of gum!

Hubba Bubba

Vitesse et Puissance

Tue, 11/29/2011 - 1:31pm

To take some of the sting from Hubba Bubba's remarks, some of which are on track, even if a bit dogmatic in their own postmodern way - this piece looks like a mediocre first draft of a field manual or a DoD Directive. The problem tends to be twofold:

1. If the gap between what is presented as method and the actual application is too wide, the real world planners are left trying to interpret the cookbook while preparing the meal. What inevitably follows are demands for concise examples of praxis, and no single example can do justice to a general concept, especially one entangled with the complexities of design. That said, a bit more concreteness would help us to try and decypher this stuff.

2. Once one has gone through the shock of realizing that the draft text is really not self-explanatory, and that the readers are either reading too much or too little into what it says, one is faced with the problem of how to structure the rewrite. This particular piece leaves the reader hanging, not quite sure whether or not to follow its assertions to their logical conclusion. Is the author really inviting COCOM planners to collaborate with senior civilian decision makers to join in an operational design process - in effect to get into the kitchen and help pull the meal together ? What is implied if this, in fact, is what is done ? Some of the three-dimensionality presented in the article appears to be an attempt to "ghost" a political decisionmaking process. If there are policy constraints that must be challenged, questioned, removed - this is a matter of concern...but the article doesn't quite say this. Again, I may drawn more to my own expectations that the author's actual intent here, but the alignment of forces, objectives, and lines of operations seems a bit more problematic than the article implies. It assumes that any given capability is sitting close at hand, say on the team bench, waiting to get the call. But we know that in the future, the team will be much leaner, with fewer reserves, and so there may actually be unsatisfiable requirements that no achievable design can address - that one must either wait for force generation to take its course, or we are set about hammering nails with screwdrivers. A bit more cognizance of these issues would be appreciated.


Mon, 11/21/2011 - 8:28am

I'm not a Design expert by any stretch of the imagination but I'm trying to learn.

On SWJ I asked the question, if current planning methods would be hammered together with Design to produce a hybrid. Some answered yes.

The article seems to hint at this. But I like Hubba Bubba's comments, parsing this and providing some insight as well.


Thu, 12/01/2011 - 8:02am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Hubba Bubba,

Thanks for your comments as you raise a number of great points about the military, thinking, and doctrine. As with design and creative thinking, effects-based operations rely upon a systems approach of which holistic, reductionist, and contextual thinking are equal partners. I don't agree that EBO is as narrowly focused as you indicate, but some people have certainly applied it in a deterministic manner. Often times we confuse the concept with how it has been applied. With that said, design thinking, which is really encompassed within creative thinking, adds to the body of knowledge that EBO, net-centric warfare, and other concepts began. In fact, focusing solely on design at the expense of logic problems, diagnosis-solution problems, decision-making problems, strategic performance problems, and policy-analysis problems and their aggregate effects limits our understanding of the breadth and depth of the issues at hand.

The range of military operations spans the linear and well-structured to the nonlinear and ill-structured. To expect a single process is capable of addressing each unique situation is naive--given the unique nature of each situation, the JOPP or any other process must be modified (or created) each time and continuously adapted to the ever-changing nature of the environmental variables. Most individuals, let alone the military, DOD, and the USG as institutions, cannot be expected to have the knowledge and expertise necessary to develop and maintain such an arsenal of planning processes. Unless the military education system and the JPEC is significantly reformed and informed, the onus for creativity will rely upon a relatively few individuals and their ability to adapt current processes to meet the specific operational needs. I don’t see that happening any time soon. Unfortunately, any process or endeavor, whether it is simple or complex, well-structured or ill-structured, can be undermined or undone by the wrong personality. Given that different types of problems require different sets of skills, our expectation that senior officers in place at the time of a crisis have the requisite skills needs to be rethought.

Planning processes are management tools used to estimate requirements and resources in the future and are linear in nature whereas the variables within the environment are nonlinear. The crux of the problem then is to reconcile these diametrically opposed concepts. One cannot rely solely upon a deliberate planning effort such as the JOPP (which implies no learning will occur, that all problems are known in advance, etc.) nor can one rely upon an totally emergent process that acknowledges the lack of predictability of nonlinear variables (economics, technology, etc.) more than a few months out for a bureaucracy as large as the US military and USG. A hybrid of the two is necessary and the ratio of deliberate to emergent will depend upon the initial conditions of the situation. A hybrid approach in and of itself will be a radical departure for the majority of the USG and public—it will entail “fuzzy” or uncertain objectives, unknown costs, a shifting of approaches, and an undetermined time frame among a host of other variables that civilian leadership require.

Domain knowledge is a component of creative thinking and “deconstruction” serves an extremely important element of learning and understanding. The “reductionist” diagrams acknowledge that there are a far greater number of actors and factors that must be considered in any proposed “solution” and the diagram facilitates environmental reconstruction for a more holistic approach. The discussion of more options also acknowledges the interconnectedness of the local to the regional or strategic realms and merely examples of broadening our thinking.

Design theory is great, but unless it can be clearly articulated to commanders and planning staffs and integrated within current doctrine then it will have little impact, if any. This essay was an initial attempt at integrating some of the design or creative thinking concepts into the current processes; and, as you know from the creativity literature, most attempts are failures. It’s easy to say that design “breaks down barriers, shatters paradigms, and dismantles inferior organizational logic,” but it is another thing to understand military planning within the context of the overarching and interconnected JPEC system and make recommendations that can be implemented. “Traditional” or not, planning by its very nature is an attempt to control the future. Without attempting to control the future, what creative non-traditional planning method do you espouse that addresses complex adaptive systems?

Hubba Bubba

Mon, 11/21/2011 - 4:27am

A few thoughts on this design article after chewing on it a few days...

First, I think this reflects a 'design doctrine' approach that continues to support traditional military reductionism and the effects-based-operation approach that seeks to control complexity through positivism, description, and reverse-engineering through military group-think proceduralism. I will make my observations based on what the author argues to support this below. Design theory is different than this espoused methodology, and we ought not to be so quick to desire it to become indoctrinated. The military fears uncertainty, and loves establishing non-thinking procedures in doctrine that support group-think valued products like the fundamentally flawed MDMP, JOPP, and other planning procedures. But, this is just my opinion on design...

1. "Design thinking enables the planner to develop and propose such options within the current context of the joint operation planning process (JOPP) with a slight modification." - I have to disagree. we should not try to modify, or slightly modify existing procedures because they are in opposition with what complex adaptive systems truly are. JOPP's premise rests upon reverse-engineering with structured lines of operation going backward from some perceived future state where the goals and objectives are templated. Design thinking does not work with slight modifications to existing traditional planning processes- it breaks with their structure and often rejects them outright through critical thinking. Creative thinking provides novel and innovative alternatives that better approach holistic appreciation of complex adaptive systems.

2. The author goes on to state,"As opposed to providing senior leadership with options for the employment of military force as desired, the planning process develops multiple courses of action to select the best single option to solve the problem." This reflects the penchant for EBO-centric thinking that obfuscates itself with recent design buzz-words, yet remains the same reductionist and positivist logic. Complex systems resist "single best options" and are not problems to be "solved." Current "problems" evolve into new and different forms; complexity is associated with self-organization and innovative adaptation.

3. "The purpose of military planning is to provide military options to the SECDEF and POTUS." True, but if this article is about design theory, it misses the boat here on what design offers to military planners. The purpose of design, for military applications, is to holistically look at complex systems and generate explanation that aids in what some call "cognitive synergy" whereas I find the simpler term "appreciate the emergence" of a wicked problem set. Design theory, when unshackled from these many attempts to indoctrinate and proceduralize into non-thinking methodologies for cookie-cutter application, critically looks at not only the environment, but the organization tasked. What if the military is the wrong tool to use? Can military planners even suggest non-military solutions to the SECDEF, or will the fear of losing self-relevance and institutionalism overwhelm any such logic?

4. According to the author, "the first step in developing options is an understanding of the environmental constraints that shape the nature of the problem as well as the approach to the problem." Once again, I disagree with what design means to military applications. Would not the first step be an understanding (or appreciation) of the environment along with the necessary yet organizationally uncomfortable element of 'metacognition?' By metacognition, I mean "thinking about thinking", or "thinking about how our organization thinks and approaches problems like this one." If we cannot understand the logic in which our military organization approaches complex systems, we cannot possibly begin to chape the approach to "solving the problem." We will undoubtedly go off on our merry way, following what we prefer to do, solving problems the way that identifies with how our organization seeks to understand the world and conduct business.

5. The following claim by the author really threw some red star clusters up for me. "During the day-to-day operations of a COCOM, the J-2 and J-3 are piecing together a picture of the environment...this picture, known as the joint intelligence preparation of the operational environment (JIPOE), is a critical first-step in the development of a comprehensive understanding." I could not disagree more. Fundamentally, the CJ2 and CJ3 are slaves of group-think and follow procedures to avoid the necessary requirement to think critically/creatively. Furthermore, in the vast majority of my own experiences with CJ-level Intel and Operations staffs conducting conceptual planning efforts in combat, they are openly hostile to any critical or creative thinking that breaks from their prescribed "group think" to include terms, vocab, concepts, methodologies, and even superficial things such as formatting, acronyms, slide-mechanics, and font size. The JIPOE is a formula for failure when approaching complex systems because the JIPOE espouses an indoctrinated and general view where any complex problem is run through the ringer with the step-by-step processes, SOPs, and doctrine of the CJ element at hand. Design fundamentally breaks with this paradigm, and by avoiding JIPOE and other formula-matic logics will any conceptual planning effort stand a chance of developing "comprehensive understanding."
6. The figures on page 6 represent to me the author’s EBO-centric logic that is masquerading as design, but most of existing US military design doctrine does this as well. Figures 3 and 4 present a positivist and reductionist approach where complexity is “binned” and cross-correlated into a “primary generator multiple approach” that is nothing more than more linear causality with categorization. For design theory, a conceptual planner may indeed use a model that uses some of the concepts in these figures, but this only gets one a step or two towards the true importance of design- gaining holistic understanding through EXPLANATION or at least APPRECIATION of the complex adaptive system. Holistic implies an overarching approach that does not categorize the way figures 3 and 4 appear to do (even with cross-referencing- the primary generators still are using categorization logic here). One cannot tame a wicked problem, and one cannot control complexity by isolating primary generators. Any action we impose transforms the system, which may fundamentally alter the entire primary generator relationship and shatter this proposed cube-structure.

7. According to the author, “this lack of understanding leads to the perception that ―problems are highly complex, ill-structured, and chaotic. Although the environment is highly complex and chaotic, it is only ill-structured because of our inability or lack of time to understand adequately the environmental systems.” This again reinforces his EBO-centric logic that misunderstands design theory (but embraces Army design doctrine completely). If the only thing preventing us from understanding a complex system is lack of time or inability to adequately comprehend it, then if we had more time to think about it, we could “understand” it? Really? That does not work if we have all the time in the world, yet fail to apply the RIGHT LOGIC to understanding something. We could pursue a reductionist positivist logic and spend a year applying MDMP to a complex system, generate thousands of Powerpoint slides and briefings, yet completely misunderstand the true nature of the complex system. Or, to put it another way, historians might fill volumes of books just describing how General Custer got dressed in the morning and what he had for breakfast before being slaughtered at Little Big Horn- but does all of that description ever get to explaining why he lost? You do not need more time or more ability to use your logic better- you need to approach complex systems holistically while applying critical and creative thinking- recognize when your organization is unable or unwilling to see the world as it is.

I finish my rant by discussing the footnotes, as I think they are often a good gateway into where an author sought his explanation (or description) to found his arguments. If an article on design has a wide range of sources that may not be complimentary and demonstrate critical and creative approaches to military planning, I usually find that the argument is stimulating. If the sources are limited to mostly military doctrine and the “tell me what design is so I can do it step-by-step” school of planning, then I get concerned. This article had 7 footnotes, with the preponderance of them (5, counting the dictionary reference which is still ‘doctrine’) in the military doctrine category of source material. Only 2 references were design theory based. In my opinion, this puts the article squarely in the camp of espousing design as some aesthetic tool that military planners can attach to any existing planning procedure with a reductionist, positivist, and indoctrinizing logic. Design is so much more than this- it opens doors, breaks down barriers, shatters paradigms, and dismantles inferior organizational logics because they fail to appreciate complex systems…traditional planning (to include EBO-centric approaches like this article) are unable to appreciate complexity because they are too busy telling us how they can control it!

Just chewing gum at SWJ….

Hubba Bubba