Small Wars Journal

Design and the Prospects for Frame Reflection

Wed, 10/27/2010 - 1:34pm

Design and the Prospects for Frame Reflection

by Christopher R. Paparone

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As we arrive to this fifth in a series of essays on design philosophy, it is a good place to pause, step back, and re-appreciate that the meaning of "design" is metaphoric (as are many of its derivative meanings). The root prefix "de-" is from Latin and means "of." "Sign" has Latin roots, meaning "image." Originally, the word design was closely related to "of image" or human imagination. Interestingly, Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary has dozens of definitions for the word; nevertheless, those who have imported the term to identify it with professional practice borrowed meaning from the field of architecture, signifying "design" is concerned with "the art and science of building." Hence, it is no wonder that those who have used design to speak to professional practice borrow other meanings from architectural design. One such metaphor is "framing;" after all, how can one construct a building without frames? Several images come to mind -- structural frames (that can be blue-printed), roof frames (to block adverse weather), window frames (to see through), door frames (to walk through), and so on.

Download The Full Article: Design and the Prospects for Frame Reflection

Christopher R. Paparone, Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired, is an associate professor in the Army Command and General Staff College's Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations at Fort Lee, Virginia. He holds a B.A. from the University of South Florida; master's degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology, the U.S. Naval War College, and the Army War College; and a Ph.D. in public administration from Pennsylvania State University. On active duty he served in various command and staff positions in the continental United States, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Bosnia.

About the Author(s)

Chris Paparone is a retired US Army Colonel who served in various command and staff positions in war and peace in the continental United States, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Bosnia.  He is a graduate of the US Naval War College and received his PhD in public administration from The Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He has published numerous articles, book chapters, and in 2013 published a Bloomsbury book titled The Sociology of Military Science: Prospects for Postinstitutional Military Design.  He considers himself a burgeoning "critical military epistemologist" and will feature an article on CME in a forthcoming Journal of Military and Strategic Studies special issue.


I read the piece and must remain skeptical. The theory is still rooted in the systems metaphor; hence, there are still other ways to frame that may present insights that systems theory does not.

Design is "epistemologically neutral" in that regard. It is a very pragmatic philosophy when it comes to searching for sources to sensemake. It admits that there will never be one theory that will explain all -- you need multiple perspectives.

A few books that may present this better than I:

Gareth Morgan's Images of Organization.

Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron (Eds), Paradox and Transformation: Toward a Theory of Change in Organizaiton and Management.

Karl E. Weick, Sensemaking in Organizations

Best, Chris


Thanks for the responses and the compliments. I'm just getting started with the blog. If you like it, I think my fan base just went up 50%!

I'd encourage you to take a look at Ackoff and Gharajedaghi's paper if you get some time ( My reading of it is that they reject the biological model in favor of a social-systemic/socio-cultural model.

Perhaps these ideas have more implications for command and control philosophy than Design (they seem to align with John Boyd's ideas rather well).

Still, I know that Gharajedaghi's book, <i>Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity</i> was a source in the interim Design FM (before it became a mere chapter in FM 5-0.

I'll be looking forward to your next essay, and I'll take you up on that coffee if I am ever in your neck of the woods.

ML--thanks for the encouragement, it really helps. I am very aware that I am a heretic in all this.

I like Ackoff's stuff; yet, we have to be cautious and realize that systems thinking is really metaphoric reasoning -- meaning borrowed from biology. The original, Bertalanffy, was ironically, a Nazi.

Framing should call upon systems theory as well as other frameworks. Design is very pragmatic in that regard -- design seeks to find/invent meaning in the situation, so the more theories the better -- and we just extend and displace them as necessary.

Unfortunately our US military doctrine (particularly the US Army's) is so unreflexive as to be worrisome in the strategic sense.

I agree with Lenny's assessment. The sexy assignments are muddy boot's ones. I just spoke to an 06 yesterday who was so very proud to have stayed out of anything by tactical units his whole career. He struck me as strategically challenged.

The next essay (#6) in this series will address "decisions." That is, I hope to present a typology of decision making that is beyond the traditional programmatic and analytic models that the military is wedded.

You are prescient. To address you last question, Essay #7 my co-author, George Topic, and I will address educating the practitioner...with emphasis on artistry rather than technique. Our current system is based in technical rationality -- it needs to shift to be based in artistry. That's a tall order and is another reason I am a bit pessimistic on whether design will catch on in our culture.

ML -- I have looked at your website. VERY IMPRESSIVE!!! You have a very unusual and unique grasp on the issues, particularly in the study of complexity and philosophy. Someday I hope to meet you over a cup of coffee (or beer)!! I'll buy.

Dr. Paparone,

Another fantastic essay. A couple of questions for you:

1. In reference to general systems theory, do you have any thoughts regarding Ackoff and Gharajedaghi's ideas on socio-cultural systems as the next generation of systems thinking?

2. Dr. Leonard Wong published an article about five years ago called "Fashion Tips for the Field Grade" ( which he lamented the lack of broadening assignments for the Army's up and coming senior leaders. Most had chosen the "muddy boots" track, and had been successful. I don't think much has changed since then.

Given your caution against the military becoming "self-referencing", or spiraling into an inward oriented OODA loop on design, what are your thoughts on broadening the education and experiences of senior leaders beyond the muddy boots track.