Small Wars Journal

Design is Dead!

Mon, 11/26/2012 - 5:30am

We should make no mistake: great commanders have not “done” Design thinking in the past; adding three steps and some critical and creative thinking to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP)[1] does not mean we “do” Design; and even if our doctrine did incorporate Design thinking our current institutional paradigms are incompatible with the concept. In short, a brigade-level staff doing Design thinking would be undermined by the greater organization in every way possible and, thus, I submit, it is impossible for the military to “do” Design at this point in time. So why do we argue about things like whether we should incorporate Design with MDMP?


I believe this confusion comes from a misunderstanding of what Design is and where our current concepts come from. For starters, Design is to MDMP as the universe is to apples. MDMP is a rational decision making process that relies on some pretty specific factors to be present in order to be useful (such as a mission and a clearly defined end state). Design is a way of thinking (a philosophy) that rests on the assumption that in uncertain situations (some like to call them “complex”, “wicked”, or “sticky”[2]), a wholly different epistemology (the theory of how we learn and gain knowledge) is necessary- not just a different theory than the current one, but one that allows different theories to emerge that will eventually best fit the situation. Unfortunately, the military is stuck on attempting to force Design principles into our current epistemology, a wholly impossible mission.


In this paper I will attempt to explain why the current debate about Design is wrong-headed by offering an explanation of what Design was meant to address. I will then explain the issues with how it was eventually incorporated into doctrine. Finally, I will offer a way ahead, both for units attempting to “do” Design and for the institution as a whole. First, however, I would like to address “complexity” and clarify a concept that continues to plague us: that concept being that complex operations (like counterinsurgencies) are the “PhD level” of warfare. This is simply not true.

The False “Complex”[3] versus “Conventional” Comparison

Is it harder to do complex operations than it is “conventional” operations? I think this is like arguing whether we should do MDMP or Design. Conventional operations can be complex depending on the situation and executing a complicated operation can be more difficult than a complex one. The key isn’t which is more difficult, it is the approach one requires and the different tools one needs for each that are important. A force geared for counterinsurgency, for instance, would most likely fail miserably at a frontal assault on an armored division. Likewise, a Combat Aviation Brigade conducting unconventional warfare would also, I submit, normally have a difficult time. The frontal assault would, in my mind, be very difficult, perhaps “more” difficult, but it is again like comparing universes to apples. Organizations are fit for a purpose and organizations built to conduct complicated situations are not fit to handle complex situations.

The Invasion of Normandy, Operation Overlord, for instance, is a good example. I have heard many military commentators state that Normandy was complex and that Eisenhower was using Design to execute it. This line of reasoning belies a misunderstanding of what the term complex means, assumes that something is complex because of its size, and asserts without foundation that Design was used (the reasoning is often, “it must have been Design, because it was complex and we were successful”- an illogical statement on several levels). Normandy was a very difficult operation, but it was not complex[4]. Instead, it was “complicated”. The term complicated does not imply it was less difficult than a complex operation, it simply implies that a different approach was needed than what would have been required had it indeed been a complex situation. I am wholly convinced that Overlord was much more difficult than any operation of the same timeframe during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq (the trouble in proving that, of course, is that the term “difficult” implies some subjectivity). OEF and OIF may indeed have required some “PhD level” conceptual thinking, but that is only because most military members exposed to those concepts are those who have had some post-graduate level instruction. The concepts themselves are not that difficult to grasp, but they are outside of the usual scope of military education.

Complex operations normally are characterized by ambiguity (uncertain time and scope limitations and imply a difficulty in figuring out what is going on in the given situation and what our interests are), interdependence (understanding linkages between entities are at least as important as understanding the entities), emergent forces (characteristics of the environment have come from the environment and thus causality is very difficult, if not impossible, to figure out). This implies that one cannot simply observe behavior to understand something in a complex situation- complex entity behavior is unpredictable over time. Complicated operations, which again can be just as difficult to do if not more, are normally characterized by less ambiguity (being more limited in time and scope and imply a greater clarity in what the situation is and what our objectives should be), and not being as dependent upon emergence or interdependence. In order to be successful in complicated operations the military must be good at the synchronization of combat forces and effects in a given time and space (something very difficult to do). It implies backwards planning, scheduling of movement, decisive action, exploiting the initiative, decentralized execution, innovative thinking, and concentration of effects. Complex operations, on the other hand, imply the possibility that detailed planning can be counterproductive, what to do is often counterintuitive, and perhaps the most essential task is to learn as an organization.

A Better Term than “Complex”

As noted in the first footnote, I prefer the term “uncertain” to the terms “sticky”, “wicked”, or “complex”. I have to caveat the term, however, by further describing what I mean by uncertain. It is obvious that when we do not understand what is going on in a particular situation or what our interests are that we should describe it as “uncertain”. But I would go further and define most uncertain situations, or at least those that need a Design approach, as those in which we think we understand the situation and what our interests are, but in actuality we do not. Unfortunately we are usually unaware of this ignorance until it is too late politically to admit it or to do anything about it. I submit that this description characterizes the vast majority of our operations as of late and, further, that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I think this is a very important point that should not be glossed over: it goes to the crux of why I argue we must incorporate a Design approach and why we do not do so currently.

If our only problem was that we were finding ourselves in uncertain situations, then some of the concepts that have made it into our doctrine might indeed be, if not sufficient, at least a good start. If, however, I am right and we have institutional barriers to even acknowledge that we do not know what we are facing or how our interests are tied to situations, then I submit we face a much more difficult problem, one that requires a different approach[5]. Design, or at least the foundational literature, acknowledges that this more confusing circumstance actually characterizes most situations, even ones that are seen as more “conventional”[6].

At this point I would like to ask the reader to imagine for a moment that the foundational literature that underpins Design supports the idea that an organization operating in an uncertain situation must engage in some specific activities. First, the organization must already be a part of an institution that rewards long-term and on-going results, demands organizational honesty and official modesty, is comfortable with failure as long as it is tied to learning and an institutional-wide acknowledgement and discussion of failures, is anti-hierarchical, anti-regimented, anti-doctrinal, and anti-bureaucratic. Second, the organization must be expected to constantly question paradigms and constantly be learning- learning beginning with constant exploration of “self”: how the organization itself learns, what its philosophy and epistemology are, what obstacles exist within the institution, the organization, and the current situation to learning, and ideas on how to overcome those obstacles (ideas that are not limited to coming from inside the organization or institution). Third, the organization must be held to a learning standard. I propose using Peter Senge’s disciplines found in his book The Fifth Discipline[7] as well as Chris Argyris’ work on double-loop learning organizations[8]. Fourth, and finally, the institution as a whole must learn from the organization’s experience.

If, as I propose here, these are necessary activities, then I think most who are familiar with the military would agree that this does not characterize the current institution and would see why subordinate organizations conducting their own versions of Design- even if they were effective- would not be sufficient. If, to be successful over a long-term period in an environment of uncertain situations, an institution must have these characteristics and this is what Design advocates, then one can begin to see what Design was meant to do for the military. This is very important, since many pronounce that Design is intuitive, good commanders have done it in the past, or all we really need is some tweaking to our current processes[9]. Much of what one faces in uncertain situations is actually counterintuitive, good commanders alone- even if they engaged in Design-like thinking- could not do Design without their organization also doing Design thinking and the institution writ-large built to take advantage of that thinking by encouraging action linked to learning.

What Was Design Supposed to Do for Us?

In the beginning[10] Design was supposed to assist us in overcoming those situations wherein we do not know what is going on or our objectives are nebulous at best, or, the more likely condition, we think we know what is going on and what we are aiming for, but we are wrong. This ignorance of one's own shortcomings in terms of understanding a situation implies that a more fundamental solution is required, as opposed to simply tweaking one's current planning constructs.

Design, therefore, was supposed to help us in those situations wherein we do not know what our objectives should be or what we are getting involved in and, most likely we do not acknowledge that we do not know. The early military thinkers associated with this task turned to the latest in complexity theory and systems thinking as a start and naturally that is what most influenced our doctrine[11]. What they ran into, however, was an institutional resistance to too much change, especially change tied to esoteric concepts or concepts wherein the application was a little fuzzy. What was missing in the effort was a clear example of how the military should change in order to take advantage of some of the latest ideas in dealing with complexity. Although many different disciplines have confronted the topic, the military quite naturally shied away from sociology, psychology, and fields that were related to the “softer” sciences and preferred to turn more to the harder sciences[12]. The field of architecture provided much influence and even the term: "Design".

Unfortunately Design was meant to help us deal with that focus of the softer sciences that the military usually reluctantly addresses: humans.[13] Because humans are unpredictable and enough of them thrown together to be called a population group exhibit very complex behavior, operations involving influencing population groups is seen as very complex. These situations require a different approach than, say, an operation limiting itself to influencing a division of enemy troops (although one should quickly protest that divisions of enemy troops are made up of humans too…). Moreover, if one's involvement with said population group is difficult to connect to one's interests and the scope of the operation seems to be unlimited, then it makes sense that a different approach may be warranted.

In order to address a situation wherein one does not acknowledge that one does not understand the situation, the early Design thinkers realized that a philosophical change was needed, and that the first step was to understand the current philosophy[14] that defined the military and kept us from acknowledging our ignorance in certain matters. Many realized that the current philosophy of the military was wholly incompatible with dealing with uncertain situations. This philosophy was positivism: a discredited philosophy that few disciplines have followed since the mid-Twentieth Century.[15] This philosophy holds that one can understand how the world works- to include complex adaptive entities like population groups- by simply asserting a universal law and then observing and gathering data that will either assist in proving or disproving one’s hypothesis. It not only assumes there are universal laws for all entities, but also that we can discover these laws through data gathering and deductive analysis. This, of course, goes a long way towards explaining the military’s fascination with metrics and grandiose processes that purport to be able to predict decisive results.[16]

Instead of the military’s current philosophy, these thinkers supported a turn to one that most of the rest of the science world has already turned to since about the time of the development of the concept of Quantum Mechanics, and that is postpositivism. Postpositivism, not to be confused with post-modernism, is a philosophy that acknowledges the difficulties with measuring and gathering data on and assigning universal laws to such abstract notions as “insurgencies” and especially complex and adaptive entities like humans and social populations. Unfortunately, the military did not accept several key findings of the original Design thinkers: 1) that we do not acknowledge our own ignorance in uncertainty, 2) that the solution requires a change in the military’s philosophy, and 3) that the foundational literature of Design concludes numbers 1 and 2. Therefore, what our doctrine today describes as Design will not help us; it is in many ways "anti-Design".

What Has Design Instead Done?

Instead the military attempted to incorporate some of the concepts in complexity theory and systems thinking into its current doctrine. That many of these concepts are actually at odds with our current doctrine did not stop the powers that be from forcing them together. In the resultant atmosphere, some Design advocates relented and hoped for incremental change, reasoning that some systems thinking and complexity theory in military doctrine was better than none- no matter how badly incorporated. Others jumped on the bandwagon and began promoting the pseudo-Design in the doctrine as a panacea which, along with MDMP, would supposedly make us more effective in uncertain situations.[17] A smaller group protested that because the problem rested at least partially with the way we thought as an institution, tweaking current planning processes without addressing our flawed and antiquated philosophy (how we think) wouldn't change a thing[18]. Perhaps the largest group, however, reasoned that we had always done Design (defining it more in terms of critical and creative thinking and doing mission analysis correctly) and that current processes like MDMP just needed to be done “right”.

This is perhaps the antithesis of Design thinking (how the Design concepts have been incorporated into doctrine), but I submit there is a reason we are like this: it is something ingrained in the institution itself, arising as an emergent phenomenon tied to our culture, education, domestic forces, the natural evolution of bureaucracies, and our traditions. As Ian Morris posits in Why the West Rules- For Now[19], social development paradoxically sows the seeds for its own failure. Similarly, I submit that bureaucracies develop to a point that they naturally evolve into irrelevance as well. Instead of fighting this natural force (since it is emergent it is also very resilient), we must understand it (Design would demand that we understand ourselves), attempt to mitigate it, and start thinking of ways to best overcome it and usher in something that is relevant.

Today we find ourselves in the challenging position wherein other disciplines have recognized the need for fundamental philosophical change in order to address uncertain situations and yet our institution seems to be fighting that requirement. We are either in denial that there is a need to change or in denial as to what change is required. We might not see change is needed because we are assured that conventional war is all we need to worry about and/or that conventional war does not require a Design approach.  In terms of what change is required, tweaks to planning constructs is juxtaposed with fundamental philosophical change. This has led us to the current situation wherein we argue about how to incorporate concepts into the institution that are incompatible with our current understanding of how the world works. Therefore, the reason most are confused with Design is not that it is esoteric, but because the concepts are naturally at odds with our institution and no amount of doctrinal or process tweaking on the fringes will fix that. The question becomes, then, what do we do now?

Where Should We Go From Here?

Since Design requires such a fundamental change and so far we have either denied that or we are okay with small, incremental change regardless of whether it really helps us or not, it is easy to become cynical and declare that Design is dead and we should just limit ourselves to worrying about conventional fights or doing poorly in those other-than-conventional activities we are forced to engage in. After all, most, if not all, of those activities are so complex that we can often spin the results to look like whatever we want them to look like[20]. No perception of harm, no foul. Surely that keeps us from enacting fundamental change as the institution does not readily see any need for it.

Another option would be to stress the requirement for us to be focused on something we should be able to understand: that is the need to "learn". In my understanding of uncertain situations, the best way to be effective is to learn as fast as one can. Even though the overall effort: to turn our institution into one that supports a “learning organization”[21] at every level- really would require fundamental change, this can also happen at other levels independently in the interim. If a brigade sees itself as needing to write its mission statement as, "setting up an effective, efficient, and quick learning system" anytime it goes into a potential uncertain situation, it may assist in breaking that brigade out of some of the institutionally-forced obstacles to being effective in uncertain situations. Of course, it won't be able to overcome a centrally-managed and inflexible personnel system, a uniform and insufficient educational system, a non-adaptive compensation system, and many of the other roadblocks in his or her way, but it is a start and could allow subordinate units and headquarters to stop fooling around with “enterprises” and other surface changes and instead work on learning.[22]

In the long-run, though, in order for our entire institution to be more effective in uncertain situations and for us to be able to most effectively take advantage of organization-level learning, we must be able to turn every unit and headquarters into a learning organization and support them institutionally. To fix this the institution itself must be geared towards learning. Part of that learning must take into account the current institution's philosophy- how it thinks about the way it thinks. The current philosophy[23], I submit, is one that comes from our own education, our military and national culture, and our own institutional systems- they reinforce one another. But, it is antiquated and not even in keeping with the latest hard sciences, much less the softer sciences, of which I think we should look to more often as we are, after all, dealing with humans. Since philosophy underpins everything else, this is at once a massive call for change as well as a very necessary one[24]. Simply put, one cannot be more effective in uncertain situations unless one understands one's own institution, how the institution thinks, and how that affects one's understanding of situations.

The second step would be to determine if changing our philosophy is warranted (do we need to be more effective in uncertain situations and what does that change mean in terms of the law, our traditions, and views on conventional warfare, etc.). It might be that we are okay to accept risk in not being very effective in uncertain situations. It might be that the change required would be too painful and at this time is not warranted. At least as long as we are making that decision within a critical process of self-reflection and the idea of the ramifications of what we are able to offer our nation – and not offer – then that would be better than what we are doing now. What we cannot do, I submit, is to pretend we are getting better at handling uncertain situations by utilizing the current doctrine on Design.

The third step, assuming we recognized the need to change, would be to change the philosophy to one more in line with being effective in uncertain environments. The current philosophy is a positivist philosophy and is conducive to seeing the world in an anti-Design fashion. All of our doctrine, training, education, and personnel systems are steeped in positivism. It results in us believing things about how the world works that do not match the current scientific understanding of the world. Lastly, it results in an increasingly bureaucratized and process-driven institution that seems to make progress, but in reality simply increases the complexity of even the simplest of tasks.[25][26]


Philosophy is not something that most in the military are comfortable with. We intuitively understand the world and that intuition holds that observations allow us to see the real world, that we see the world objectively and that we can learn about the world objectively and base improved processes on that knowledge. This way of thinking- our philosophy- comes from a complex combination of multiple sources: our national culture, our educational system, our military traditions, and even our religious backgrounds. This philosophy drives what we do and it is not conducive to operating in uncertain environments, environments wherein links to our interests are fuzzy and what is going on is even fuzzier- and yet we are usually ignorant of our uncertainty. If we cannot learn faster, then we will become irrelevant. Design originally offered us a better way to learn faster than our current philosophy. The question now is, are we curious enough to investigate our own philosophy and confident enough to question whether it is the best one to have? This must be the crux of our debate going forward, not how we can or if we should tweak our current processes: our current processes are increasingly making us irrelevant. Design is dead- at least the way we’ve incorporated it into doctrine, it was dead on arrival. Long live what Design was intended to do.

[1] Military Decision Making Process (MDMP): the military’s preferred process for planning, originated with other rational decision making processes during the Industrial Age and advanced during World War I. Consists of analytical steps that result in a detailed Course of Action that can be turned into a detailed set of orders for subordinate units that purports to assist higher-level units in their missions by “nesting” the higher’s intent within the subordinate’s concept. Is reliant on higher level units understanding the situation, a clear end-state, and linear and logical assertions.

[2] I prefer the term “uncertain situations” to the faddish expressions “complex”, “wicked”, or “sticky” simply because the latter words are intertwined with complexity theory and although some complexity theory concepts are useful, it is, in the end, simply another paradigm we would be trading for the current one. Design thinking, I submit, would have us avoid all paradigms.

[3] see for an excellent description of some of the phenomena covered in complexity theory

[4] One way, I propose, in which complexity can be artificially limited is to limit one’s purpose and objectives in time and scope as opposed to, say, Haiti in 1994, wherein some SF teams were told to go into an area and "establish peace".

[5] See Chris Argyris’ work on organizational defensive routines and skilled incompetence explaining the barriers to institutional learning.

[6] I think it is a mistake to assume that conventional warfare is not associated with uncertain situations or that future conventional engagements will not require a Design approach. I submit there are growing systemic forces that may be resulting in all military operations having a certain element of situational uncertainness to them (writ large, as I defined it in this paper), not the least of which are that national interests will be increasingly difficult to clearly articulate and the situation individual troops are faced with and the way they intuitively react (intuitively including that which emerges from institutional pressures) will be more likely to be divorced from what is deemed effective policy.

[7] Senge, Peter M., The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday/Currency, 1990.) His “disciplines”: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. As an institution, I do not believe that the military encourages, much less requires, knowledge of, much less behavior shown in, any of these disciplines.

[8] Argyris, C.; Schon, D., Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading MA: Addison-Wesle, 1978. Argyris proposes that most organizations engage in single loop learning- effects are sought and objectives linked to those preferred effects are achieved. Double loop learning means that not only is the organization focused on the preferred effects, but also is responsible for questioning whether the effects themselves should be preferred. Also see and

[9] Dr. Alex Ryan has described three common responses to Design as “the deniers, the stretchers, and the missionaries” and that all are equally dangerous to effective use of Design. “Deniers (“Design is nothing new”) usually use cynicism to hide their ignorance, stretchers (“Design is just another tool in my toolkit”) adopt some of the metaphors but not the mental shift required, and the missionaries (“Design has changed my life!”)” who can come across as too esoteric and call for change totally beyond the pale of possibility.

[10] Design was a response to the feeling that we missed something in the planning run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom

[11] All kind of disciplines have approached complexity (or, uncertain situations) in different ways suitable to their situations. It is my belief the military should have turned to economics (“complexity economics” according to Eric Beinhocker in his book The Origin of Wealth, Harvard Business School Press, 2006), evolutionary change mechanistic theory, quantum mechanics, sociology, and psychology before it turned to the world of architecture for guidance. If the military had approached the topic in a Design thinking fashion, it is my position that we would have studied all of these disciplines and then developed our own concept for further study.

[12] One good example is Design thinking influence on business schools that has emphasized ethnography and qualitative research methods to improve upon simple rational business school concepts. See Rotman and Darden Business Schools’ concepts for instance.

[13] As one example, notice the current effort to incorporate “the human domain” into doctrine with Special Operations Forces as proponents. See:

[14] A better word might be “worldview”, although I think both could be used. I think the source of much of our philosophy is our worldview, but the word “philosophy” to me explains the effects of one’s worldview on everything one does and how one thinks.

[15] For a good description of positivism as it relates to the military, see COL (ret) Paparone’s article here:; Paparone, Chris, “FM 3-0: Operations on the Cusp of Pospositivism”, Small Wars Journal, 28 May 2008.

[16] See for an easy to understand explanation of the difference between how science used to view knowledge before the mid twentieth century and how it views knowledge today. Trochim, William M. The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition: From the article: “In a positivist view of the world, science was seen as the way to get at truth, to understand the world well enough so that we might predict and control it. The world and the universe were deterministic -- they operated by laws of cause and effect that we could discern if we applied the unique approach of the scientific method…” “The positivist believed in empiricism -- the idea that observation and measurement was the core of the scientific endeavor. The key approach of the scientific method is the experiment, the attempt to discern natural laws through direct manipulation and observation.”

[17] Buchanan, Richard, “Is Army Design Methodology Over-Designed?”, Foreign Policy, 1 NOV 2012.

[18] A good example of our flawed philosophical approach is something that I often hear when peers comment that "MDMP is good enough for any situation." In conversations, very few, if any, know where MDMP comes from. The fact that educated people in our military are willing to support a process without even critically examining where the process comes from suggests a flawed approach to knowledge within our institution. The fact that we do not reference most of our doctrine exacerbates this as it leaves us with a choice of either spending a lot of time researching the doctrine or taking it on faith and, unfortunately in my experience, most simply take it on faith.

[19] Morris, Ian, Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History, and What they Reveal About the Future, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.

[20] Progress in Afghanistan, for instance, seems to be reliant on the observer: General Keane recently commented that General Petraeus turned the effort around in Afghanistan, others argue that nothing different happened while he was in command. Some have argued recently as well that progress in Iraq was exaggerated and more of an information campaign vice progress tied to long-term U.S. objectives.

[22] Of course, this will require leaders who are willing to take risks- career risks, trust subordinates, and have enough self-confidence to allow dissension and demand input from the bottom-up. That the current institution possibly would punish leaders like this makes me doubtful this will be incorporated by many and sure that it will not be sufficient.

[23] Dennis, MAJ Matthew B., “Systems Thinking and Design: Making Learning Organizations a Reality in the U.S. Army”, SAMS monograph, 2010: Dennis’ paper traces the Army’s current philosophy back to General Dupuy and his methodological approach to the preparation for war. He contradicts that approach with Senge’s learning organization and argues for a broader epistemology (way of learning and gaining knowledge) to enable a learning organization.

[24] Although I advocate for a shift in philosophy, that is a very tall order, if not impossible. I do, however, think it would be useful for the military to at least investigate what our philosophy is as an institution and make it part of every level of our professional military education.

[25] And that is why I submit we must “do” Design for all types of operations, not just those that appear “complex”: because our society has changed to an extent that internally we make things complex- and there’s little that anyone can change about that. Many argue we need clear guidance from politicians- clear end-states and objectives. Maybe the reason we can’t get that is because of the way our society has progressed- and at this point we are incapable as a society to identify clear objectives and end-states. I propose that this condition will only get worse.

[26] One example of this is that as bureaucracy has expanded, the amount of people and time required to procure weapons within Special Operations Command has increased exponentially to the point wherein even when Special Operations units have money and authorization for weapons, it is still a struggle to obtain them. This, in my mind, would be correctly categorized as a “simple task” versus the task of “disrupting Al Qaeda in Yemen”, for instance.


About the Author(s)

LTC Grant M. Martin is a Special Forces officer in the U.S. Army. He has served in Korea, Afghanistan and South America. He graduated from The Citadel, has an MBA from George Mason University, and an MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies. He is a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University’s Public Administration program with special interest in researching the organizational obstacles within SOCOM and DoD to effective Irregular Warfare. He has been published in the International JournalMilitary, and the Small Wars Journal, in addition to contributing to chapters in two textbooks on Design Thinking.


Bill M.

Sun, 02/14/2016 - 1:09pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Agree strongly with your comment, the majority of recent writing I have seen on design comes off as pseudo-intellectual hogwash. The authors fail to explain it meaningfully, and then blame others on their shortcomings to explain it. Most concerning, is that few of these activist proponents have demonstrated the utility of design. At best they can tell you why your current car sucks, but they can't demonstrate why the car they want to sell to you is better. Beyond writing in a way that is comprehensible, they need to demonstrate how design compliments or replacing current processes. One method would be to take a current complex problem, and demonstrate how using design to develop an approach is an improvement over existing systems.

I'm writing from the perspective of someone who embraces design thinking, but is opposed to excessive pseudo-intellectual hogwash often associated with it that ensures it will not be embraced in a meaningful way.

Having read some of the writings of the proponents of Design, I have to think that they contributed significantly to its demise, by wrapping their ideas in an unnecessarily dense shroud of jargon-laced verbiage. I got the feeling that nobody ever really understood what they were talking about in the first place.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 1:04am

From the article:

<blockquote>Philosophy is not something that most in the military are comfortable with. We intuitively understand the world and that intuition holds that observations allow us to see the real world, that we see the world objectively and that we can learn about the world objectively and base improved processes on that knowledge.</blockquote>

I don't see the military doing this in an effective way, observing objectively. Well, at least the politicized COIN discussion that I watched from afar on a variety of blogs. There seems to be the assumption in the quote that the military is doing a good job at observing (or rather, it's a confused paragraph. Is the military doing good observation badly, or bad observation well?), that metrics or a certain kind of political science study is the only useful form of observation, that the fashionable or prominent military intellectual is intellectually rigorous. Some of the work from this intellectual community is not at the standard that is found in other academic disciplines. Others far more knowledgeable than me have made this claim.

At any rate, design is observing the military and based on those observations, attempting conclusions.

Years and years ago, in medical school, I had a patient, an old schizophrenic in the psychiatry ward. You could talk and talk and talk with the patient but there was no "there" there in the sense that all conversations were nonsensical. Trains of thought drifted, or stopped short.

<em>What are you thinking about today?
Oh, I am thinking about that day.
Would you like to tell me about that day?
Oh, it was a day.
I see. And would you like to talk about something else.
Oh, I I I say it's a stream down a road of a day. That day.
I see.</em>

(An observation from faulty memory....)

I sometimes feel that some military themed papers I read are of this variety, they meander and meander but never really establish a pattern or any kind of logic. I don't mean the Design papers, necessarily, but that the search for a philosophy to guide study is shallow and unproductive, or perhaps, people should learn to walk before they run.

I should have done that here, I should have read academic journals or a certain kind of book. Yet, others I read do read those sorts of academic journals and books and still, the thoughts seem shallow.

Interesting phenomenon. And no, I am not going to name names and I don't mean this paper. I liked reading this paper. The break has done me good and I am in one of my "try and be fair" moods.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 12:12am

On the joint planning that I mentioned in another comment in this thread?

I don't know what the following methodology is, whether it is design or intuition or curiosity or "organized skepticism" or anything else, but it is my own particular way, and I find it useful:

Go to any search engine, or, better yet, to Google Books search. Enter this:

Centcom Islamabad 2001

What do you see? What do you find? What can <em>be</em> found? The pattern I see is this:

Bureaucracy does its thing.

Liaisons, cells, joint committees, meetings. An entire creaking administrative apparatus, slowly strangling itself, no, slowly strangling those that are at the rougher edges of warfare, civilian and military alike.

I think I understand the impulse toward Design or toward some way to take on the mess.

Don't mind me. I can be calm and rational about other areas of conflict, but I am still working on Afghanistan, still working on being more calm and rational and fair.

(But, you see how emotional I can get? That is how it is for other areas of conflict around here, everyone is emotional about something. It is hard not to be that.)

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 11:58pm

Well, I am a liar now, because, lo and behold, here is another comment....

There is no self-containment for a stone-cold narcissist. Maybe I can join the edges of the Washington Consensus now and make some money. Does it get easier, this lying? Not the little exaggerations and white lies of daily life, but the real deal lying of being close to power?

<strong>Golly, How Truth Will Out, Ogden Nash</strong>

<em>How does a person get to be a capable liar?
That is something that I respectfully inquiar,
Because I don’t believe a person will ever set the world on fire
Unless they are a capable lire.
Some wise men said that words were given to us to conceal our thoughts,
But if a person has nothing but truthful words why their
thoughts haven’t even the protection of a pair of panties or shoughts
And a naked thought is ineffectual as well as improper,
And hasn’t a chance in the presence of a glib chinchilla-clad whopper.
One of the greatest abilities a person can have, I guess,
Is the ability to say Yes when they mean No and No when they mean Yes.
Oh to be Machiavellian, oh to be unscrupulous, oh, to be glib!
Oh to be ever prepared with a plausible fib!
Because then a dinner engagement or a contract or a treaty is no longer a fetter,
Because liars can just logically lie their way out of it if they don’t like it or if one comes along that they like better;
And do you think their conscience prickles?
No, it tickles.
And please believe that I mean every one of these lines as I am writing them
Because once there was a small boy who was sent to the drugstore to buy some bitter stuff to put on his nails to keep him from biting them,
And in his humiliation he tried to lie to the clerk
And it didn’t work,
Because he said My mother sent me to buy some bitter stuff for a friend of mine’s nails that bites them, and the clerk
smiled wisely and said I wonder who that friend could be,
And the small boy broke down and said Me,
And it was me, or at least I was him,
And all my subsequent attempts at subterfuge have been equally grim,
<strong>And that is why I admire a suave prevarication because I prevaricate so awkwardly and gauchely,
And that is why I can never amount to anything politically or socially.</strong></em>

Emphasis mine. And isn't it typical, me turning my own prevarication into an accusation directed at others?

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 11:12am

<blockquote>This philosophy holds that one can understand how the world works- to include complex adaptive entities like population groups- by simply asserting a universal law and then observing and gathering data that will either assist in proving or disproving one’s hypothesis.</blockquote>

No, studying Afghanistan is not like solving a math problem.

It doesn't mean that careful observation, collection of information, and drawing of conclusions isn't useful.

After all, that is what you are doing here.

And the problem with the self-love of the military intellectual, whether a certain kind of Clausewitzian or Design proponent, is that while you are looking in the mirror, the world is passing you by. A new philosophy can be espoused by the ignorant as well as the knowledgeable.

You still have to do the work. No one discipline will solve all your problems, you need an interdisciplinary approach.

Guys on the ground in Afghanistan made several observations that were ignored by the higher ups.

The Design authors over the years on this site have made observations and based on that collection of observations, concluded that a new philosophy is needed.

So, observation is kind of important? And, just because the world is complex it doesn't mean that observation, study, gathering of data, and drawing conclusions is entirely inappropriate altogether and should be ditched.

I mean, if you spend all your time studying a philosophy, then maybe you remain ignorant about other aspects of the world that can help you.

That is my main problem with the Design writing here. So much time is spent focused on the self, that basic things pass the authors by, including the fact that you are observing the military and finding its philosophy wanting.

If observing is so awful, if collecting information is so awful, if attempting to understand information is so awful, then why are you doing that in every paper you write here?

What you are really sensing is that the military is doing things improperly, and needs to change its processes. Which you've said in this paper, of course So, you think you've found a magic bullet in Design thinking.

I'm sure it can be useful but nothing is perfect, nothing will ever be perfect.

But even if the Design methodology is properly implemented into the military, how are you going to decide that it is properly implemented? You will make observations.

This constant focus on the self to exclusion of everything else is, well, I don't get it. And I am a huge narcissist.

Aww, and the military isn't any worse or any better than other large organizations in a lot of ways. We are just reaching the limits of some organizations as they were designed. That's all. Medicine too.

You're all awesome--I mean, I am in awe of some of you even if it doesn't show-- but I really felt burned by the way in which many of you bought the propaganda by your favorite Pakistani elites.

The joint planning between Centcom and Islamabad post 9-11 will be a very rich area of study in the future. Very rich area indeed. The CIA must have breathed a sigh of relief when America moved on. Nice misdirection, what did the Pakistanis know and not know when the question was, "why did you think you wouldn't make the same mistakes you always do with them?"

If Design is great, then why didn't the design papers pick up on this?

Oh, I don't mind reading the papers. I've learned and that's what I care about. It's fine, too, some of it, but it is just one more example of arguing over theory and ignoring everything else in the world.

This worked for me on the Pakistani Unconventional Warfare paper and thread since I've kept my promise (the only real example of a kind of useful design I've seen here), let's see if this works for me this time as a form of self-containment:

This will be my last comment on this site.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 11:01am

<blockquote>This philosophy holds that one can understand how the world works- to include complex adaptive entities like population groups- by simply asserting a universal law and then observing and gathering data that will either assist in proving or disproving one’s hypothesis.</blockquote>

No, studying Afghanistan is not like solving a math problem.

It doesn't mean that careful observation, collection of information, and drawing of conclusions isn't useful.

After all, that is what you are doing here.

And the problem with the self-love of the military intellectual, whether a certain kind of Clausewitzian or Design proponent, is that while you are looking in the mirror, the world is passing you by. A new philosophy can be espoused by the ignorant as well as the knowledgeable.

You still have to do the work. No one discipline will solve all your problems, you need an interdisciplinary approach.

Guys on the ground in Afghanistan made several observations that were ignored by the higher ups.

The Design authors over the years on this site have made observations over the years, and based on that collection of observations, concluded that a new philosophy is needed.

So, observation is kind of important? And, just because the world is complex it doesn't mean that observation, study, gathering of data, and drawing conclusions is entirely inappropriate altogether and should be ditched.

I mean, if you spend all your time studying a philosophy, then maybe you remain ignorant about other aspects of the world that can help you.

That is my main problem with the Design writing here. So much time is spent focused on the self, that basic things pass the authors by, including the fact that you are observing the military and finding its philosophy wanting.

If observing is so awful, if collecting information is so awful, if attempting to understand information is so awful, then why are you doing that in every paper you write here?

What you are really sensing is that the military is doing things improperly, and needs to change its processes. So, you think you've found a magic bullet in Design thinking.

But even if the Design methodology is properly implemented into the military, how are you going to decide that it is properly implemented? You will make observations.

This constant focus on the self to exclusion of everything else is, well, I don't get it. And I am a huge narcissist.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 11/29/2012 - 3:56am

I constantly champion Trust in the Design debate for the following reason---taken from ADP 6.0

"Commanders position themselves where they can command effectively without
losing the ability to respond to changing situations. They seek to establish a positive command climate that facilitates team building, encourages initiative, and fosters collaboration, dialogue and mutual trust and understanding. Commanders understand the importance of human relationships in overcoming uncertainty and chaos and maintaining
the focus of their forces. The art of command includes exploiting the dynamics of human relationships to the advantage of friendly forces and to the disadvantage of an enemy. Success depends at least as much on understanding the human aspects as it does on any numerical and technological superiority"---now my words---ie the Science of Control with all the mission command C2 systems."

It is all about the "art" and here I tend to agree with some of Bob's comments---it will never be a "science"---I tend to call it a "black art"
where really only a few of the current O5s/O6s tend to "get it" as they were fortunate to have key mentors along the way that passed on the "black art".

BUT back to "Trust, collaboration/dialgoue". This is where I go out on the limb and state for a certainly MDMP has long lived it usefulness--it was great in Desert Storm where MDMP could handle multiple targets and multiple events in near real time in killing the enemy BUT with the way the current world is with a multitude of "non conventional" problem sets-MDMP no longer cuts it and in fact is causing Staff problems.

WHY if one looks at the current Staffs (Officers and NCOs)they are in fact in a number of ways already changing or adapting MDMP---following the broad outlines but never to standard, or shortening or only doing one or two steps---NOW they will argue that based on so many deployments they fully understand and are practicing MDMP---but then ask them the ever present question of WHY they are doing something and a blank stare comes back.

If in fact through mission command the Cmdr has built his team, instilled trust and dialogue and sets a clear intent and mission orders are clearly issued and the Staff/Cmdr "understands" their OE and the TOC is driving nicely using cognitive hierarchy WHO cares how decisonmaking feels or looks like in the current world threat environment. Following the example of the German WWII Tank Commander Guderian whose famous mission order to his subordinates was simply "see you at the last station"--meaning the last railroad station on the English Channel-and then he turned his tank division loose and the subordinate Commanders drove the assualt and never checked back with him.

NOW kicks in Design---this is the core problem solving driver for the future and the Army is having extreme difficulty in adjusting to it---now Bob has an interesting point---Design has to a degree become associated to many as a "science"---even the Army Research Institute for Behavior Sciences seems to think that as well and an article from myself in FP asks the same question "have we over engineered Design".

But back to Grants idea of is Design dead?-as long as we continue to have a distinct lack of trust and dialogue in Staffs and between Staffs and Cmdr's--until subordinate Cmdrs can drive simply on mission orders without checking in with the Cmdr every hour befoire they make a decision---then yes both mission command and Design are slowly dying before they got a true start.


Perhaps the most prophetic post yet on design; I sadly agree 95%. The one spot we may differ on- that design can do what EBO never could...adapt ahead of the attempt to destroy the paradigm shift.

To use a movie metaphor to play with- Appolo Creed picked a name out of the local boxing registry looking for a symbol to use in what he considered a fight he could not lose. Rocky ended up still losing in terms of the "rules" of the match, but symbolically he not only destroyed Creed, but replaced him. He ushered in a paradigm shift of sorts for that fictional boxing movie...

Can design emerge as the Italian Stallion? Does big Army realize what is taking place in the fertile minds of the current (and next) generation of officers- particularly the field grades and 'new' senior NCOs in particular specialized fields? Eliminating design with the same process as EBO (or to go way back...Pentamic Divisions) may not work this time.

Grant- brilliant work as always. My favorite line on the design versus MDMP is framed by you perfectly; comparison is like the universe and apples... but I think that the majority of our military still puts them on the same scale. I like to think of design as beyond a theory or field- it is perhaps better described as a 'mata-field' or 'meta-theory.' I prefer of course to use the term 'assemblage' - but we lose many folks with that term. Currently finishing an article on assemblages to give it another go at explaining that concept and familiarizing military practitioners a bit more with it.


Robert C. Jones

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 6:57am

I don't know if "design is dead," but certainly the bureaucratic core of the military institution is plotting its death. They will kill it in the same way they killed "effects based operations" and in the same way they will ultimately kill "mission command" as well.

Step 1. Embrace the brilliance of a new concept that in truth, is really not a new concept at all, but rather is just a formal name applied to some essentially fundamental, instinctive, aspect of the art of war. Giving it a formal name begins the process to make such art more scientific.

Step 2. To make it scientific (translation, to convert an artistic process requiring artistic talent into a scientific process only requiring scientific knowledge), they will hammer a broad concept into a tightly defined box, and then smother it in a thick doctrinal process of how to perform this process properly. A "paint by numbers" on steroids. Soon ones knowledge of the process and one’s ability to implement the process flawlessly will grow to become much more important than one’s ability to actually generate valuable products. Those who can recite the steps from memory and perform them perfectly while in a sleep deprived state will be deemed "good officers," regardless of how worthless the outcomes of those efforts might be. Those who apply the concept instinctively with the mixed results that are inherent with art, from brilliant to misunderstood, to products as flawed as those from the doctrinaires will be dismissed as dreamers or amateurs, and will be declared "lucky" when their results bear fruit. Step two is like that wife who feeds her unwanted husband poison slowly over years. The poor unwitting bastard fades without recognizing it until it is too late and his death is only a matter of time.

Step 3 is the Coup de Grace. Some new 4-star commander is appointed and lays a hammer blow to the head of the wounded, and now professionally disgraced, concept.

No, design is not dead, but many are plotting her death and we are well into step 2 even now.

Meanwhile there is tremendous insight that come from thinking about the effects one actually hopes to achieve, and those that are likely to occur whether one wants or intends for them to happen or not. In fact, those are often the most important effects of all. Too bad we killed the soul of EBO along with the Zombie of doctrine we encased it within.

We act similarly with the essence of design - an essence which is to seek true understanding of the nature of some problem one is seeking to resolve. Actually, perhaps more often than not, what we are seeking to resolve is more accurately more a symptom of some deeper, seemingly unrelated or unimportant problem that is not in our mission statement at all. Design helps us avoid throwing our energy into efforts to "defeat, disrupt, deny" some symptom at great cost, and perhaps in a much more benign way actually change our behavior to positively address the true problem.

Even now the system is churning to begin Step 2 of elevating, and at the same time, slowly killing mission command. Too bad, a lot of good in that concept as well. But it is the art of war, and the technicians who dominate the profession simply cannot let it live.

Nice piece Grant. Keep thinking, keep writing. (Buy you a beer 12-13 Dec when I'm up at Bragg).


Move Forward

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 9:30pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, I was a guest OC at NTC once in the 80s but was referring to things you have witnessed as an OC that have metrics and therefore require something akin to MDMP and detailed planning.

Finally found ADRP 5-0 on the Doctrine 2015 site on line and noted that it provides the best description of Design seen to date. Figure 2-2 shows:

* Frame the Operational Environment couched in terms of current state and desired end state
* Frame the problem (this is the area where the military may have no control)
* Develop the Plan (using MDMP)

My beef with your assessment was that it appeared you were saying we did not need something like MDMP for detailed planning. Design seems more applicable to conceptual planning. Paragraph 2-45 says "The staff uses (design) operational approaches to develop COAs during detailed planning." There is lots of talk about "critical and creative thinking" and "collaboration and dialogue" in the 5.0 and 6.0 ADP/ADRPs which both seem applicable to Design...but also could occur during MDMP and execution to include updating Running Estimates to facilitate collaboration. There is talk about including Unified Action Partners (civil and coalition) but at least one reference seems to realize that they probably won't be present (there's the pesky wide area security OE and problem frame again keeping them in Kabul) but someone must represent their viewpoint.

Yeah, I understand your point on trust, mission command, the Art of Command, thoroughly understand the Operations Process, and the Integrating Processes and Continuing Activities. In other words, we already ask staffs and leaders to do a lot with relatively little time and resources depending on the situation. Design in many circumstances and lower echelons is perhaps a bridge too far. As for sychronization vs synergy I might advocate that as long as you synchronize all WFF into the collaboration and plan (to include unified action partners and SOF) that synergy will take care of itself. JIIM + Combined Arms = synergy.

How far down do we want to trust staffs and leaders. Do we use RSTA assets to verify an operational approach before it becomes a COA? Do we trust every new 2LT platoon leader to fill in the blanks on the "how" of a mission order and to exercise disciplined initiative when things change and he loses commo? How about a staff guy who may have been kicked up to the brigade or battalion S-3 shop. The staff at Ganjgal certainly did not earn the commander's trust but then he was on leave and could not alter or supervise their actions.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 2:57pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward---just a few side comments.

From your comments am assuming that you have CTC OC experience---if so then the simple question.

As you were researching Science of Control did you spend time on the Art of Command?

You will notice that the Cmdr is responsible for the building of the team ie his Staff---as an OC how many times in the last two or three years have you seen Staff's (Officers and NCOs) in open dialogue in a fear free environment---if you read ADRP 6.0 in detail you will notice the terms Trust and dialogue mentioned a number of times.

As a OC have you ever critiqued/or praised a unit Staff in the areas of Trust or the lack of Trust---the areas of micromanagement or lack of micromanagement or the five dysfunctions of a team ie absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidence of accountability, or inattention to results?

Or as a OC have you critiqued/or praised a Cmdr and or Staff in their use of the cognitive hierarchy in the moving of data to knowledge and understanding in the six TOC functions or how the cognitive hierarchy improved the COP.

Have you seen OCs critiquing or commenting on the relationships between the NCOs/Officers working in the TOC or in the Staff sections---if poor did they have suggestions on how to improve the Officer/NCO relationships if great was that mentioned as a unit plus? Have you seen an OC discuss with the Staff/Cmdr the 13 behaviors of trust and which ones' were at work or if any at all were present in the Staff.

OCs tend to spend way to much time on the synchronization checklist and less on the relationship between synchronization and synergy---synergy is the secret in Design.

Will go out on a limb and state that if a unit Cmdr has spent time in building his team ie Staff and all subordinate Commanders instilling trust in an open dialogue fear free environment, if dialogue/discourse rules in the various WGs, if the Cmdrs provides clear intent/guidance and clear mission orders---and if everything goes south in an operation the subordinate commanders will carry on using their independent decisionmaking and achieve the end state without checking back in with their Cmdr.

How many units have been seen operating using the above example--why does it not occur--you hear the standard argument all the time "we simply have no extra white space".

Mission command is where we need to go and it can only be achieved via Trust and open dialogue.

If mission command is fully functioning--then you will notice a subtle shift in how MDMP is modified by the unit---modified in order to gain speed which Trust does provide, modified to handle the cognitive hierarchy which allows for both synchronization and synergy to exist side by side---ie Design then inherently begins to occur on it's own inside the MDMP process-to the point that MDMP is matching the ebb and flow of the OE and battle rhythm starts to match as well the ebb and flow of the OE not the strict hierarchy we force in the BR integration we now call syncronization or we start MDMP when we think we see a new problem set.

As long as the modified MDMP even if only three, four or five steps is fully understand by the unit Staff/Cmdr and their subordinate Commanders and ties into lateral and higher units--- who cares if it does not look like/smells like/seems to be MDMP.

Move Forward

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 1:00pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

<blockquote>The science of control is based on objectivity, facts, empirical methods, and analysis. Commanders and staffs use the science of control to overcome the physical and procedural constraints under which units operate. Units are bound by such factors as movement rates, fuel consumption, weapons effects, rules of engagement, and legal considerations. Commanders and staffs use the science of control to understand aspects of operations that can be analyzed and measured. These include the physical capabilities and limitations of friendly and enemy organizations and systems. Control also requires a realistic appreciation for time-distance factors and the time required to initiate certain actions. The science of control supports the art of command.</blockquote>

Could not access your Military Review article but did use your link to get the above quote from ADP 6-0, paragraph 32. Also did some searches of various Design articles out of CAC and SAMS last night, thinking it would make Design easier to understand...well maybe a bit, but still confused.

As a CTC guru, this quote illustrates realities you see every rotation that dictate continued use of MDMP and detailed planning. Artillery, rockets, missiles, and mortars shoot only so far, take time to authorize if not preplanned, and have danger close, airspace, and collateral damage concerns. During maneuver, boundaries, control measures, and limits on direct fire range remain and WFF must be synchronized. Vehicles and dismounts only travel so fast on given terrain, using applicable movement techniques, and run out of gas/supplies in a given amount of time/distance.

Enablers? IEDs, mines, gaps, and obstacles require engineers or EOD and specialized route clearance packages and vehicle/dismount gear. Only limited aircraft and RSTA assets are available, and sensors/platforms have range, human, maintenance, and weather limitations and there often are time delays in processing and disseminating intel/info while avoiding info overload. Radios and EW only reach so far and emit, may not function well on the move or when intervening terrain interferes. Design helps commanders understand, visualize, and describe the big picture and its localized solution, but MDMP remains essential to spell out the nuts-and-bolts metrics of COAs and future operations.

Design is misnamed which leads to some confusion. It seems to be related to Systemic Operational <strong>Design</strong> and the corresponding EBO aspects in themselves are troubling. Design also was somewhat related to actual "design" in terms of art and architecture. The five pillars of design (history, theory, doctrine, philosophy, and practice) also may relate somewhat to architecture. However, architect and car designer teams are blending both aesthetic form and efficient function. There are no aesthetics involved in a military operation, and once the building or car is complete, there is no more adaptation or reframing required or possible. Renaming Design might help to clarify its collaboration and red teaming aspects.

Speaking of framing and reframing, if an environmental frame relate to PMESII-PT operational variables for the big picture and the operational frame relates to METT-TC mission variables… then we still are breaking down WFF into understandable and planned chunks. CPOF may bring together the stovepiped ABCS capabilities, but staffs still must plan MDMP metrics at some point inside and outside the collaboration sessions that bring together the staffs to study the big holistic and smaller valley picture. The Design “solution” still must continue to an MDMP optimal commander’s intent, planning directives, and COAs. And of course that takes time that may or may not exist unless we are in a long war that we say we will (and should) avoid in the future.

Design appears intended as a holistic, time-consuming exercise to fully understand and visualize "decisive action" involving a mix of offense, defense, and stability operations for complex, wicked environments like Afghanistan. However, many of the factors influencing such environments are not under military control. If President Karzai wants to restrict air-to-ground fires, releases prisoners, and appoint corrupt or inept governors, there is nothing the military commander or even State Department can do about it. If Pakistan won’t attack Taliban in North Waziristan than an enemy sanctuary exists. So we can study the environmental frame using PMESII-PT all we want without necessarily being able to change essential aspects. Wicked problems are not eliminated just because we practice Design.

Many aspects of wicked problems are beyond our control due to host and adjacent nation leadership decisions; religious, cultural, ethnic differences; and unemployment and illiteracy issues. Yet we, ourselves, often self-impose additional constraints that make wicked problems more wicked. If well-meaning State Department civilians cannot secure themselves to operate routinely outside large embassies and consulates, then the interagency part of the big picture has limits until sufficient military wide area security exists.

If U.S. leaders in Washington appear unwilling to offend the host nation and therefore accept inadequate security around facilities and attacks subsequently occur, things like Benghazi and suicide attacks further scare off potential civil JIIM participation and weaken home leadership and citizenry resolve to stay the course. If commanders decide we should wear less body armor and interact more with the population and host nation forces, then the enemy will adapt and plan suicide, IED, and green-on-blue attacks. Our interaction and attempt to be less threatening often only serves as a predictor of where we will be and when…which in turn may lead to innocent civilian deaths who hit IEDs intended for us.

If commanders must leave their CPs and civilians must leave the green zone and lack aircraft or route clearance packages to circulate routinely, than COIN aspects and key leader engagements may not occur, thus reducing commander and staff understanding and visualization of the big and local picture. If the national government imposed control of the gem and lumber trade, then could locals in Waigal and Korengal valleys every have supported the Karzai regime and coalition outreach efforts? Military, Department of State, USAID, or Agriculture official interaction and shuras would not change Afghan state policy.

Numerous times at Wanat, for instance, key leaders were attacked after leaving shuras which calls into question their utility and whether anything was learned/achieved from shura participants who were being dishonest. If instead, junior leaders conduct the shura as equals with elders at a secure COP site, then society norms are neglected and the meeting may offend village leaders. We can announce the design “mission narrative” to local external or shura audiences, but that does not mean they accept it. Ganjgal started with an attempt at a KLE that was an ambush. Keating was not closed as fast as originally planned because the Nuristan governor complained to President Karzai that better security was required prior to the 2009 election. Design PMESII-PT big picture efforts to understand and visualize do not alter the harsh realities of the environment and its actors.

So guess that understanding and visualizing the “frame” is not of much use when the frame or reframe is hard to change due to factors beyond our control. Pashtuns still adhere to Pashtunwali which means they must welcome al Qaeda and Taliban guests and will practice revenge. The northern alliance ANA leaders still will speak Dari while the Pashtun speak Pashto. Infiltrators will make their way into the ANA and deserters will leave with training. Locals will still attempt to exploit local military CERP funds or PRT projects because there will be insufficient supervision or expertise in how to conduct projects or they may lack adequate security or will be destroyed or taxed by the Taliban afterwards. Poppies still will grow and be harvested. Design understanding and collaboration changes none of that, nor would small SF teams covering only a few villages and valleys.

Syrian fighters still include multiple actors, none of which is necessarily a preferred ruler of the country and controller of WMD. Gaza’s Hamas is less preferable than Fatah in the West Bank but Israel knows that Hamas could end up controlling the West Bank if territory was ceded leaving rockets and mortar fire a distinct possibility. Egypt could turn more radical and end 1979 agreements with Israel. None of these situations are solved by Design or air and seapower.

Do agree that AirSea Battle advocates should practice Design and realize that the big picture of multiple Chinese missiles does not translate to a corresponding capability to take and hold Taiwan or the South or East China Sea. Neither does interdependence with the US economy offer any incentive to use such missiles, nor would attacking our bases on foreign soil win friends or trading partners with local neighbors. The recent Onion article about the North Korean leader being the sexiest man alive, however, could point to how easily talk of AirSea Battle and a pivot to Asia could be misunderstood by paranoid and isolated leaders and citizens of China.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 2:48am

Grant---merged two responses from other articles that BZ responded which goes to this discussion that I think get to where you are headed and which also goes to my thinking that MDMP has to be modified and now not in ten years as it has run its course in this brave new "hybrid threat" world that is facing the Force.

What you are boldly proposing is what many of us have raised in the past; which itself is dangerous...changing MDMP (dismantling it; building a new model that avoids the mental pitfalls).

This is why I continue to bring up the concept of "problematization"- I discussed it at length here in the recent Military Review design article:

When we challenge core values and self-organizing tenets of our institutionalism, we are poking the bear. Poke him wrong, he lashes out- and he can "kill" you. Whether killed by isolation, marginalization, evaluation, or simply not following Dan Aykroyd's advice to avoid feeding bears marshmallows from your mouth; to be the design advocate in your organization is a risky thing to do. It is safer to rigidly defend MDMP- to cast out those that threaten it, and enjoy the false security that the structure and reductionist logic of MDMP provides.

You continue to also champion "trust." I agree, because in environments where there is significant trust between professionals, there is discourse. Where there is discourse, we can problematize. If we cannot discourse due to trust issues, we will never problematize, thus never challenge the institution to correct things it does poorly but loves doing regardless.

Consider the difference between the word "synchronize" and the ugly yet critical design word, SYNERGY.
1. To synchronize something means all of the elements are moving in a specific planned direction/activity at the planned time, so that the overall unit accomplishes a mission. Consider the sport "synchronized swimming"- one could synchronize a unit staff to produce MDMP outputs just as a team of swimmers learn a routine. The issue becomes not as much about the action (everyone appears to be in synch), but of the output- bad processes coupled with poor understanding of the situation leads to synchronized swimmers moving to a bad routine. They may all move together, but they are moving in the wrong directions!
2. To synergize: I like to use the metaphor of bicycles. A staff that uses only MDMP uses a reductionist and analytical logic that makes huge piles of bike parts. Each staff section has tunnel vision on their specialized part, and while they can fill volumes on what a bike chain does, they do not relate it to the rest of the parts.

A Commander with a reductionist staff might synchronize his team to do MDMP, but they end up with piles of bike parts, moving in the wrong direction, although synchronized. Training centers tend to reward these staffs instead of critiquing them because they too confuse synchronization with synergy.

The staff of synergists assemble the bike parts together into working bicycles and ride them. The synergist leader runs a bike repair shop, and manages his staff to see the big picture while also putting out useful, meaningful outputs. Thus, the synergist also synchronizes, but he is not a slave to outdated and redundant practices.

G Martin

Tue, 11/27/2012 - 7:07pm

RedBaron- I hear you, brother. I feel like Robin Williams listening to the student read how to score a poem with points to determine which is best. We really believe that we can follow a bunch of formulas and then devise a plan in an "uncertain" and complex environment like we would when battling an armor company as part of a battalion task force.

The unity of effort comment is well-stated as well- if the institutional pressures are anti-Design (anti-learning?) then great work is undone.

I have introduced- very informally- some of the concepts that Design has in terms of the limitations of doctrinal approaches to uncertain and complex situations, but it is very difficult to overcome institutionalized brains!

Bill M.: brilliant!!

Outlaw- good points on trust and mission command. If we don't have those, Design is also dead. Assuming we have them without critical analysis, however, comes from our anti-Design culture/worldview, I'd argue. So, maybe if we started working on those (I know, cultural change... yeah...), then that would address those problems IMO.

I sort of agree with the concept of independent decision making and individual learning styles- but the comments about defining the problem, etc.- are very deterministic and thus, although they can work in some situations, I'd posit that they would fail in most, if not all, complex situations. Root causes being impossible, the need to define a problem gets in one's way, and coming up with a solution ties one emotionally and institutionally to a decision in which the sunk cost mentality and our personnel system fight against ever admitting the solution was wrong- if it was.

Although that "cross-talk" sounds great, unless the unit understood why they were thinking the way they did and where it came from- I don't think they were approaching their situation in a truly Design-like manner.

In other words, falling into some Design-like activity without understanding one's self- one's philosophical approaches- leaves one blind to institutionally-pressured systemic behavior and cultural paradigms. I don't hear anyone talking about those things in our educational/training institutions.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/27/2012 - 2:44am

Grant---maybe in fact Design is alive and well-we simply do not see it.

MDMP is a problem solving model--Design is a group sport---therein lies the problem.

I just completed a long series of mission command training events with a specific Staff that handles a specific Tier One exercise--at first we had major Trust and dialogue issues between the Staff and NCOs, and the Cmdr having doubts about his Staff and by the end of four CPXs, FTXs, CAXs within three months--even I was surpised as was the Cmdr.

Surprised at the way they internally modified MDMP, how they did away with the old concept of scheduled BR and let the OE drive them to the point of understanding the OE so well they were ahead of the OE curve---meaning they were anticipating changes in the OE all because of "dialogue".

Planning took a life of its own and was running parallel to the intel cycle and the TOC information flow all driven by what the Cmdr called "cross talk"-what I call open dialogue. "Cross talk" driven/supported by the Cmdr which focused on one simple idea---understand as much as you can about your OE and maintain that understanding in a concise COP. It is all about "seeing and understanding"

If you look at what is called group problem solving the following steps tend to follow Design and if driven by open dialogue with no fear to communicate-- actually ths was what the unit above was conducting. They definitely were not on the MDMP model;

Define the Problem
Identify and Define the Root Causes
Generate Alternative Solutions
Evaluate the Alternatives
Agree on the Best Solution
Develop an Action Plan
Implement and Evaluate the Solution

Especially interesting when coupled with the following four examples of learning styles mentioned by Kolb. One could in fact recognize these styles in the unit's Staff officers and NCOs---finding the right mix/balance in the group solving is the key and it must be driven by the Cmdr as part of his team building;
1. Diverger
2. Assimilator
3. Converger
4. Accommodator

Vesus say the old standard MDMP where elements of this do also occur-but in a more structured/standardized fashion and dialogue/trust often takes a back seat.

So maybe in fact the problem solving model MDMP needs an overall to match the hybrid threats of the world by allowing a unit to create it "own" concept based on the OE around them as long as the Cmdr issues clear intent and they drive on mission orders.

This is actually the concept behind the term "mission orders" which if one looks at ADP 5.0 under Execution---they mention "independent decisionmaking" that officers need to be trained and educated on---so maybe

Design is the way forward and MDMP needs modifications to "allow" for "independent decisionmaking" and individual "learning styles".

I'm going out on a limb and sharing a few relevant quotes from former martial artist and more importantly the philosopher Bruce Lee that in my view address what design thinking proponents attempt to get at in an over complicated way.


“Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there.”

“A good teacher protects his pupils from his own influence.”

“Using no way as a way, having no limitation as limitation.”

End quotes

Bruce was famous in martial arts circles for criticizing what he referred to as the "classical mess" in martial arts (the blind faith in traditional martial arts styles). Imitation in the classical mess was the highest form of learning, when in reality the highest forms of learning resulted from expertmenting and incorporating what actually worked for each individual. His philosophy led to today's mixed martial arts where less effective traditional martial arts have been replaced by hybrid styles (that are not really styles at all). The goal isn't to imitate, but to identify what actually works.

The parallels of the classical mess in the martial arts to much of doctrine and indoctrination are obvious. All to often doctrine encourages imitation, not learning, so we trap ourselves at the lowest level of learning which is imitation (2-3 years olds do this out of necessity). We stay in this trap by choice, not because we have to.

Quote: "You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it".
Paulo Coelho

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/27/2012 - 1:34am

G Martin---just a side comment-fully agree Design is dead before it got started--BUT this is where I differ. It is dead on delivery as the environment that both Design and mission command demands in order to succeed are two quite simple things that the Army assumes is working but they are not "Trust and open dialogue without fear" between Staff sections, between officers and NCOs and between Staff's and Cmdrs.

IE look at our current Army values---not a single mention of the word Trust---Why?-- the Army assumed it exists--in this current Army assume nothing spell it out.

Until we get there---and believe me we are a long way away from even getting close as examples are currently showing us---heavy amounts of distrust between officers and NCOs, heavy officer and Cmdr micromanagement, and delivered via Powerpoint literally no "open dialogue without fear".

Until Trust is reestablished and until dialogue is developed as envisioned by the Cmdr under mission command we are failing daily in Design and in mission command.


Mon, 11/26/2012 - 12:28pm

I appreciate the "frontal attack" position taken in the essay. I have tried to adopt design as I best understood it in order to work in my environment. I currently interact with many conventional advisor forces, Battle Space Integrators (formerly Battle Space Owners) and other conventional elements all trying to coordinate and advise foreign partnered forces. What I see on a daily basis is just the frustration Martin is describing - a rigid tactical planning process to determine advisory key tasks in an environment where military leaders from team to national level have to understand how the elements of national power (DIME) drive everything.
The system we (US forces) have set up right now is for O-4s, regardless of branch, to get assigned as an SME advisor to foreign battalions. These advisors are composed of officers who come from all branches of service and MOS backgrounds. They are handed the mission of "advise the partnered force and make them capable of self-sustainment". The advisors then fall back on everything they have been taught in our rigid organization: MDMP. Not just MDMP but MDMP in a very different type of army than the one they are advising. Therefore the endstate for their partner force, to them, must be something they have learned to identify with: make their partnered battalion have all the same successes and failures as an American Battalion Staff. These advisors become martially focused and try to advise and employ these battalions as though that was the only thing happening in the country. What is lacking is an understanding of their true operating environment: A country with a new style of government, a culture that does not see the world like we do, a lack of understanding of the influential hierarchy (social, political, and military influential hierarchies), and (back to design) what is truly the problem with the partnered force's effectiveness? Do these advisors understand all the diplomatic, social, political, economic, and information-network nuance of the district, province, and country to properly design an effective solution? The answer is resoundingly no. I cannot claim to have the answer either – the troubling issue is these advisors do not have the answer because they don’t know what they are trying to accomplish.
I have had the opportunity to meet with many of these advisors and listen to their struggles. Once I can regurgitate their concerns back to ensure understanding I have had incidents where I begin mentioning operational art; operational design. Almost always I am met with a melee of disapproving comments and shunning. Unfortunately, this sometimes occurs from within my own ranks from senior officers who give me the task to go somewhere and just "figure it out".
It, the lack of a true design – a true concept of understanding the real problem to solve and derivative tasks, has become such an issue with all the various entities operating on redundant and ineffective efforts I have actually begun reporting in my mission briefs what I coined “The Invisible LOO – Operational Design” as part of my current operations. While reporting on the other LOOs I must operate on as dictated by theater command, I also report on my own LOO. I use those briefs as a chance to communicate that to truly achieve the desired effects we are sent to accomplish, I have to also conduct tasks on the LOO of Operational Design with the various conventional forces and inter-agency entities. One of my SOF imperatives is “Facilitate Interagency Activities”. ADP 3-05, Special Operations, submits the following expansion of that imperative: (Paragraph 45) "Army special operations forces must actively and continuously coordinate their activities with all relevant parties—U.S. and foreign military and nonmilitary organizations—to ensure efficient use of all available resources and maintain unity of effort." The implied task in a complex (term as Martin intends it to be used) environment is to truly understand what “Unity of Effort” means. If we have some leaders defining a problem one way, others in a different way, and some not even knowing what the problem is how is there unity of effort? I argue there isn’t unity until the diplomatic, military, and social efforts are all functioning to achieve the same effects. In the AO I work in, I submit that Security Force Advisors, Provincial Augmentation Team members and higher positions MUST understand the partnered nation’s IDAD strategy and the current application/context of the elements of national power (DIME). The advisors, who months before were chemical officers, aviation, or battery commanders, are not getting exposed to training opportunities to “operationalize” a more philosophically-centric approach to their job. They complete ILE, know how to be chief of staff for a battalion, and are now advising foreign forces without understanding their role in our own nation’s National Strategic Policy, the State Department’s diplomatic agreements with the partner nation, or what the partner nation’s own IDAD, National Strategic Policy, or Ministry of Interior policies and endstates are. While I understand that reads as an attack on those officers, it is not. They are well-accomplished in what our national military leaders have agreed on as necessary traits and skills needed to succeed. Just as Martin describes, they are good at what they were task organized to do: Conventional War.

I guess the idea of Design will have to enter the military like every other generational issue is marshaled in or out – with the assumption of power by the next generation. Martin is at a position to influence this with the new leaders he is training to operate in the current and up and coming complex problems. I hope he will be supported to include this in the pipeline.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 11/26/2012 - 8:13am

Some good thoughts here from Grant that we should consider (though some may be taken aback at the "frontal attack" of his argument). I think this illustrates how the military sometimes "absorbs" new ideas.

I also think that this statement needs to be emphasized:

"First, however, I would like to address “complexity” and clarify a concept that continues to plague us: that concept being that complex operations (like counterinsurgencies) are the “PhD level” of warfare. This is simply not true."

I am somewhat optimistic though as I think the "design philosophy" or way of thinking as he describes it is useful and important for dealing with "uncertain" problems (I also concur with Grant that uncertain is better than wicked, sticky, or complex). And I think design is especially important for conducting Special Warfare but also needs to be used throughout our military. I think we do need the way of thinking that Design brings.