Small Wars Journal

To Design or Not to Design (Part Three)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 9:00am

To Design or Not to Design (Part Three):

Metacognition: How Problematizing Transforms a Complex System towards a Desired State

by Ben Zweibelson

Download The Full Article: To Design or Not to Design (Part Three)

FM5-0 Chapter 3 Design describes design's purpose as a methodology used to "make sense of complex, ill-structured problems." The term 'make sense' deals with explanation of the open system. The previous article of 'To Design or Not to Design' demonstrated how military institutions have a strong propensity for describing an open system instead of explaining it. To make sense of a complex system, humans instinctively attempt to categorize information through descriptive monikers and reductive classifications. Knowledge is usually "pursued in depth in isolation...Rather than getting a continuous and coherent picture, we are getting fragments- remarkably detailed but isolated patterns." FM5-0 Chapter 3 Design follows military institutional preference for reconstructive and mechanical methodology prevalent at the tactical level of war by misapplying it to the operational level with design. Army design doctrine does not articulate why and how to transform a complex system into a desired one.

To understand something conceptual requires thinking about thinking, also known as metacognition. FM5-0 Chapter 3 Design implies metacognition by stressing the requirement of thoroughly understanding the nature of the problem and prescribing three frames through which planners operate to transform the system. Design doctrine graphically depicts the environmental frame, problem frame, and operational approach with minimal insight on how they function, or how operational artists actually 'transform the system.' Ironically, design doctrine stresses the importance of clear and illustrative graphics with explicit narratives for conveying understanding, yet the below vague and generally incomprehensible graphic is all that design doctrine offers for conveying design methodology.

Download The Full Article: To Design or Not to Design (Part Three)

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

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

About the Author(s)

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



Bob's World

Tue, 03/29/2011 - 10:45am


SOCOM is in the midst of a major reframing now. Send me a good email over the private message and I will share recent products that describe those efforts. I will also get you in contact with Mr. Joe Rogers who has been the steady, and capable, hand on helm from the very beginning.


G Martin

Tue, 03/29/2011 - 12:19am


Understand, and we heard lots about SOCOM's Design efforts in 2009 at SAMS to include visiting observers.

My own experiences come from last year in Afghanistan at ISAF, NTM-A, and IJC.

I'm curious- is there any way SOCOM has gauged their early efforts? Or how long will that take- if not done yet? Has SOCOM re-framed yet? What was that like?

It is good that you had the input/participation from ADM Olsen- in my experience the commanders were not engaged.

I guess a command that allowed at least the doctrinal version of Design would have been better than no version at all, I guess I was very frustrated with two things:

1) lack of commander buy-in or even interest in the doctrine, much less the "other" (addressing complexity through other ways/means)
2) even if we did follow the doctrine, our solutions were not valuable because they were missing a HUGE peice: parts of the environment. We were not privy (trusted?) with the politics behind our efforts- only the STRATCOM. Thus our solution relied on a lot of uninformed or politically-incorrect assumptions. This made our solutions unacceptable even if they saw the light of day...

How did you guys overcome internal and unadmitted external politics? Were you privy to ADM Olsen's communications with higher?

Bob's World

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 9:04pm


I'm just sharing how a real MACOM staff applied it to produce real products that provide the understanding of the environment shaping the latest GWOT plans and a wide array of other global strategic products; and that ADM Olson routinely employs in his discussions with his peers and superiors.

As I confessed up front, I'm not an expert on what doctrine writers are coming up with currently in the basement of Bell Hall; or the theoretical musings of every PhD who has ever written on the topic. I do note that as practioners we did not receive a lot of calls from the those that were working to codify the threories.

I am sure reasonable minds can differ; after all it is the art of war, not the science.

G Martin

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 7:23pm

The last post was mine- sorry!

- Grant

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 7:20pm


I think we may have different definitions of what "Design" is. I think many have made the plausible argument that the doctrine on Design has missed the mark if it is really about "acting in a complex environment". We took the literature on complexity theory, etc.- and then made it fit our current planning structures and worldviews (backwards, reductionist, and positivist)- thus totally contradicting the literature, which argues against trying to predict the future, against reducing things to pieces/parts to "understand" them, and against thinking human knowledge is based on unchallengeable, rock-solid foundations instead of conjectures.

Bob: ""Design" is just a fancy brand applied to the process of understanding a problem at it's fundamental levels in order to devise effective solutions."

The doctrine, yes- but the literature posits you can never "understand" a problem nor that there really are "problems". And- if "operating in a complex environment more effectively" is what Design should be about- then it has to include action too, not just understanding or planning. It has to encompass everything one does, really- and that is why it requires a philosophical shift as opposed to just an addendum to current planning processes.

Bob: "People who have a genius for that type of thinking make connections that others miss, and have the same type of multi-discipline discourse within their own heads that Design attempts to replicate with a room full of diverse SMEs."

I think the Design literature would have issue with this statement- that this so-called genius we believe some have has been misinterpreted into a heroic (and often cultural) genius narrative when other things actually contributed a greater weight to their success (chance, mistakes of enemy, perception of those who made it through, etc.).

Bob: ""Design is basically MDMP on steroids." In Mission Analysis one essentially gathers all there is to know about the problem one has been asked to solve in regard to the task they have been given. In design one sets out to understand the problem independent of any task one has been given."

Again, the literature that Design springs from argues against it being anything close to MDMP. That we've put that into our doctrine doesn't make it so IMO.

Bob: "Design is seeking to understand; Planning is then crafting a solution to solve the assigned problem based upon that enhanced understanding. ...Use design products to explain why, and then offer alternatives that are more likely to achieve the actual effects we seek."

I think there is enough "Design" literature (not doctrine) out there that argues the opposite of almost every idea in that paragraph: there is no understanding, planning is many times useless, solutions are a chimera since there are no problems, and aiming at effects that one seeks is just as likely to result in effects one doesn't seek because there are systemic processes at work in complex systems that are invisible to us.

This confusion- between the doctrine and the foundational literature was why many argued we couldn't dumb down Design into a Student Text or a chapter in our manuals. We have probably "educated" many more officers in the "dumbed-down" version of Design than we have officers who have read the underlying literature, and therefore we are arguing in circles. When the end result- our doctrinal description of "Design"- is that divorced from the literature it came from, then we have set ourselves up for failure IMO. The product isn't useful and the REAL concepts it came from are ignored.

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 5:20pm


1. Design doctrine remains FM 5-0 Chapter 3 in its current form- this series on Design takes the thesis position that design doctrine is confusing, and generally a poor application of design theory with many incompatible elements of the rival logic of detailed planning methodology.

2. If design is, as you say, "MDMP on steroids," then Design is part of the same detailed planning logic that MDMP forms upon. MDMP has procedures, steps, categories, and set doctrine. Therefore, do you propose to make Design conform to these rules and processes? What are the steps to Design? Is there a checklist?

3. "In Mission Analysis one essentially gathers all there is to know about the problem..." So, is volume of description more important here, or explanation? Are you answering 'What.." questions or are you looking at 'Why.." questions? The ARSOF Capstone Concept for 2010 describes Design incorrectly (in my opinion) by making this same fallacy. Mission Analysis starts with the Commander (or higher) telling an organization what the problem is, and the desired endstate in the future (or Commander's Initial Guidance, which hopefully has some of that in there). Design does not follow this logic. Design does make recommendations that may horrify a Commander- but why? Why would any Commander reject a logic that reveals or explains why a system is doing things, with the proposed solution on how to transform the system to a more ideal future state?

- The Commander is horrified if Design proposes a solution that does not include his organization, or recommends his organization do a role that is atypical (or unpopular) based upon institutional culture and self-relevance.

- The Commander is horrified if Design explains the logic of a system where the 'end-state' is not what/where the Commander (or Higher) expects it to be.

Design is a seperate and distinct logic that does not compress into an additional step or procedure that is tagged to the front of Step 1 to MDMP. While our military institution is sort of doing that by misunderstanding Design, until we recognize that Design follows a completely different Logic and is a unique methodology distinct from detailed planning (MDMP, JOPP, MCPP, etc), the military is going to continue to be completely confused with Design.

Just my thoughts-

I would not categorize design as an adjunct to planning; albeit, planning may be a route for design. Design deals in indeterminate situations while planning is an attempt to determine situations through identification of tasks and assigning them to subordinates. Design assumes tasks cannot be defined ahead of time (so planning, a.k.a. rational decision making, does not work well if at all).

I also would not suggest design leads to understanding (a better word was developed in British literature -- "appreciation"). Complexity, by definition, is hardly understandable -- complex social systems, in particular, have unexplainable dynamics and interpreting the dynamics involves more creative subjectivity ("framing") than empirical objectivity (scientific rationality).

In its ideal, design is not commander-centric. Command is necessary in time sensitive situations where decisions are perceived as "have-to-be-made" (even if the decisions are likely wrong in complex situations). I would suggest a reborn definition of "leadership" conveys the human involvement in design situations -- where leadership is more about "normative deviance" and not necessarily linked to positional or rank authorities.

Bob's World

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 4:21pm


Not an expert on what the latest codification of Design Doctrine says, I can only comment based on my experience in working with Shimon Naveh and being part of the J56 team at USSOCOM that embraced the process and applied it in a variety of projects; ranging from the Strategic Appreciation (compliments the JOE) and the first ever USSOCOM Command Strategy. Also a variety of drilled down looks at various problem sets.

But for me, as Marine COL Mark "Puck" Mykleby (a man with a unique gift for design, by the way) would say, "Design is basically MDMP on steroids." In Mission Analysis one essentially gathers all there is to know about the problem one has be asked to solve in regard to the task they have been given. In design one sets out to understand the problem independent of any task one has been given.

Design is seeking to understand; Planning is then crafting a solution to solve the assigned problem based upon that enhanced understanding. For us, a key concept of design was that it may well lead one to go back to the tasking authority and recommend that we not do what we have be tasked to do at all. Use design products to explain why, and then offer alternatives that are more likely to achieve the actual effects we seek.

Afghanistan example might be, instead of coming back to the boss and explaining how one will employ "Clear-Hold-Build" to achieve the neutralization of AQ, to instead come back with a completely different approach that has better promise of achieving the desired end due to superior understanding of the problem.

Puck and I briefed this to a couple SAMS seminars a couple years ago; half were thrilled, the other half were horrified at the concept of coming back to the boss with a counterproposal.


Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 2:56pm


If design is 'a process of understanding a problem at its fundamental levels,' then what is detailed planning?

If you take Design and consider the logic of that methodology, and then consider Detailed Planning methodology and the logic behind that, I see them as incompatible and different. Design seeks truth through different processes that have little in common with detailed planning methodology, and therefore have little in common with what a successful military leader considers if they only utilize a detailed planning worldview (they think, see, and do based on the detailed planning logic).

Military Commanders today are charged with some seriously complex responsibilities in juggling two incompatible methodologies that use different logics, speak in different languages, and use different processes. The Commander, according to US Army doctrine, is the central actor in both processes. The military is under great tension because we operate with a preference for the detailed planning logic- but we are failing to "solve complex problems" because we apply only that one methodology. Design compliments detailed planning in that although design operates in a different logic that is incompatible, the deep understanding (explanation of a system's logic) can be applied to detailed planning methodology in a sort of tandem process; detailed planning takes the fruits of design deliverables, and executes. Design reframes as necessary, and continues to explore the transformation of the complex system.

Does a great military leader do this all in their head? Perhaps. But if a great leader is successful while only operating with the logic of detailed planning methodology, then we cannot in reflection make the assumption that "this guy was doing design all along"- design is not a component of successfully dealing with complexity; it is using the logic of a different worldview and applying that to military action.


Bob's World

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 1:50pm


"Design" is just a fancy brand applied to the process of understanding a problem at it's fundamental levels in order to devise effective solutions.

People who have a genius for that type of thinking make connections that others miss, and have the same type of multi-discipline discourse within their own heads that Design attempts to replicate with a room full of diverse SMEs. Nothing wrong with the Design process to attempt to replicate for dummies what those with a genius for such thinking do instinctively; but one would be a bit foolish to confuse the every-man's copy for the original, or as somehow automatically being better simply because it involves more people directly. That genius is collaborating with hundreds of authors, past experiences of every ilk, etc and effectively has all of those SMEs around the "table" in his head.

G Martin

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 1:33pm

Mr. J-

Agree with much of what you say, but not sure i agree that great commanders will do design in their heads. The literature would have one believe that design requires collaboration, different and multiple viewpoints, discourse, and not just some genius artists intuition. The commander must be involved, but one that will be consistently sustainable in complex environments would be one that can lead groups of designers - or trust groups of capable people doing design and turn those efforts into action (if you follow the doctrine) or trust the groups to act based on their design with only the necessary minimum oversight.

Bob's World

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 11:32am

Design runs the risk of becoming the modern "COG Analysis." I say this being a fan of both COG Analysis and Design; but Army (Joint) Doctrine and our love of converting art into rigid, lock-step, complex staff drills can neither be under estimated or over stated.

But this is the challenge of "art for the masses." One must produce an elaborate scheme of "paint by numbers" or most simply won't know where to begin, how to proceed, or when they are finished. An true military artist does COG and design in his head; much as how an Einstein or a Newton saw equations when looking at nature; or a Michelangelo could look at a block of marble and see the David trapped within. Such men are rare, but they exist. I have no delusions about my own humble abilities, but I do appreciate the above to be true.

Guys like Dr. Strange looked at COG theory, and developed some very handy tools to help break down the problem into digestible chunks. Then the doctrine boys turned such theory into "rules" (art does not have rules!) and then trainers converted those rules into metrics, and soon COG became something that staff agonized over, Majors argued about, and Commanders soon lost interest in as it had become esoteric and immaterial to the practical problems they were tasked to accomplish.

Similarly guys like Shimon Naveh looked at Design theory and developed some very handy tools as well, but went on to begin that paint by number process of developing complex terminology and steps to follow. The Doctrine boys found their next new thing, and did for Design what they had done to COG: They over-codified it; stripped it of its artistic flexibility and value, and largely rendered it to be immaterial to Commanders. The fix: Go back to the doctrine and direct the commander to play a key role in this dogmatic dance.

Frankly that makes the problem worse. It is doubling down on a bad bet.

Go back to the art. Not everyone will be able to do art, but give them some simple guidelines and let them try. The final product must be simple and elegant to be a final product. If it is a complex jumble of circles and lines and concepts it is not wrong, it just is not final.

Great Commanders will do design, like they do MDMP, in their head. Their staffs serve more to confirm their beliefs and to identify small points they may have missed. In the US Army, those commanders will be punished by CTC evaluator who will accuse them of being lucky when they prevail, and incompetent for not following the steps when they fail. Their less talented peers who rigidly flog their staffs through the steps producing amazingly complex nonsense will be no more successful in the field, yet will be deemed "Professional," and marked for higher command.

We are our own worst enemy.

G Martin

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 10:38am

Steve- my .02:

1. How does 'Design' help the US Army/Military make a positive difference in the world?

In my experience it doesn't. Not as it has been incorporated: without commander and top-down buy-in. We've got a bunch of staff officers and mid-level officers who have been introduced to the concept, but without the commander involved it is useless.

In theory the doctrine is supposed to help us plan to address root causes as opposed to symptoms- but there's 2 HUGE assumptions in the doctrine: that the military can affect the political if the political is wrong and that the process the doctrine describes does enough to address root causes (I posit that it only describes one way of thinking about complexity- as opposed to encouraging experimentation when dealing with complexity and ways one might act within a complex environment (or at least how NOT to act...)).

2. What does 'Design' create, that the US Army/Military really needs?

It doesn't creat much- if you are talking about the doctrine. It creates a template for how to think about problems prior to creating a plan- and then talks fuzzily about reframing when things don't seem to be going the "right" way.

The wider movement to address complexity, however- would- in theory- get us to be much more effective within a complex environment. We would get after root causes, stop banging our heads with action that is counterproductive to our REAL objectives, and use effective methods and ways that will save money/time/lives.

3. What can the US Army/Military stop doing because of the advent of 'Design'?

Nothing. They actually added things with Design to our planning and nothing was taken away. You could do Design prior to MDMP if you follow the doctrine, then continue to do it (re-frame and gather information?) as you plan and then supposedly act, but it really isn't (according to doctrine) replacing anything.

Theoretically, however, the wider "addressing complexity" effort could possibly do away with planning- or at least planning as we know it. Instead there would be more trust in lower levels and adjustments based on the feedback that action generates.


Here's what the Design (doctrine) proponents would say:

Describe your environment, Define a problem, Offer possible routes to "solve" the problem. Then do MDMP. Re-frame as needed.

So- you'd describe in detail the merchants, trade routes, and insurgents; then you'd define a problem based on your study of them (maybe it is interdicting them, maybe not); then you'd offer up some solutions that would help frame your MDMP. After you acted on the system there would theoretically be a point at which you'd have to re-frame, but not really sure how you'd do that considering our processes.


Mon, 03/28/2011 - 12:41am


No problems with the AKO, and I am very happy that you are serving.

Keep up the good work my friend.




Mon, 03/28/2011 - 12:35am

Grant, (and Ben)

My 'free your mind, leave rank behind as you enter SWJ' comment is an invitation, for all involved, to think about the topic at hand without the constraints, blinders, and assumptions that are attached to rank. As the kids say, rank can be a definite buzz-kill in this environment.

So, in the ongoing spirit of helping things along, I am asking myself some questions as I watch, and occasionally participate in, the conversation. I am not looking for full formed answers at this point, but my questions to myself include:

1. How does 'Design' help the US Army/Military make a positive difference in the world?

2. What does 'Design' create, that the US Army/Military really needs?

3. What can the US Army/Military stop doing because of the advent of 'Design'?

Chai and cigarettes,


Ben zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 12:32am

Sorry if you consider my discourse as weakened by trying to contact someone through AKO. I am amazed I am still in the Army thus far- honestly, my recruiter would likely be shocked i am still serving; please do not think I would attempt to obfuscate my arguments with rank or any of that jazz. Please take me to court with the content and form of my arguments. Although the schoolhouse requires me to standard nameline this, consider all of my positions as merely an interested soldier moving along on one of many azimuths.

G Martin

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 11:42pm


In defense of Ben, the requirement at Leavenworth is to identify yourself in your published pieces.


Not sure if Ben or Dr. P are Design proponents- at least not as it is written into doctrine. I am a believer in the idea that we need to get better at dealing with complexity and we could learn a lot from other disciplines- but as far as "Design" has been written into doctrine, I think we missed the boat (and I think Dr. P and Ben would agree). The underlying literature is good- but somehow we left that out when we translated it into doctrine in my opinion.

I think one way to address complexity better might be to do what some of our COIN doctrine suggests: flatten our hierarchy and do more bottom-up initiatives. That isn't "Design" as much as it is taking advantage of evolutionary type forces (one way some disciplines describe we should deal with complexity).


I'd argue that it isn't because Design is a formal process (it shouldn't be IMO), it is because critical thinking is a small part of what the literature argues is needed to address complexity. Necessary, but not sufficient. There are many more things needed- and probably the last things are anything formal and anything procedural. Oh, and just remember the scene from The Matrix in the Oracle's apartment, but instead of a little kid saying 'there is no spoon', he says, "Just remember, there are no problems"... ;)

Design, as the Army teaches, is a process with which a commander and staff can assist in visualizing, understanding, describing, yada, yada. The literature of Design, however, says that Design (if that was the name- although I'd favor just "addressing complexity" or "complexity warfare") should be a philosophical shift in the way one percieves reality, builds one's structures to interact with that reality, and observes and interpreters the effects of one's interactions with that reality in order to learn and progress (as I read it). Somehow the military doctrine got only a small portion of the 1st and 3rd functions into its concept IMO.

Design SHOULD be as far away from predicting outcomes as possible. Design SHOULD be very far away from formalizing anything- and should only encourage a search for HOW to think about complexity through explaining the requirement to do so.

Mac and Madhu: The "classic example" of Design that we got was Wedemeyer before WWII. He was tasked as a LTC with a logistical problem: how should the country rapidly mobilize American industry for war- and what would that take in terms of numbers. To "solve" that problem he had to make several strategic assumptions about the goal of the war, what force level that would take, and how the allies should fight the axis with those forces. In essence, he- along with others- came up with "The Victory Plan" (this is as I understood it).

In essence, the "problem in war" that this kind of thinking would have been good at would have been any strategic planning prior to engaging in an effort- oh, say ... Afghanistan? Everyone I've interviewed on the planning prior to and after we went into Afghanistan has echoed the same thing: we had nothing past 6 months and "overthrow the Taliban/ kill capture OBL".

I would, however, caution against thinking the Wedemeyer example should be THE example for how to "do" Design. IF Design really means how we in the military should deal with complexity, then it really should describe the execution and adjustments, learning-as-we-went stories of WWII as well- to include re-structuring, etc. Not that that should be copied verbatim for every conflict we get into, but that it would be a good start.


Sun, 03/27/2011 - 8:16pm

Hey Ben,

Free your mind and ditch that redcoat uniform/body armor/crutch/rank; join the irregulars.

From this side of the hedge it appears that you are a strong enough thinker (and most certainly enough of a written communicator) so that you do not need to state your rank in order to bolster your argument or to hide behind it. ;)


Like the idea of the smuggler/trade route design experiment....


Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 8:11pm

Figures I would spell my own name wrong in a rush.
Zweibelson. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain...


Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 8:07pm


I tried finding you on AKO; lots of McCallisters; I might have e-mailed the wrong one. What is your first name? Or, try 'Zwiebelson' on AKO on your end if easier; I promise I am the only one!


Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 7:52pm

<em>Reference comment "the examples you and MAC are discussing are problems that you are trying to work through"... Please know that I am not trying to work through any specific problem... I created a hypothetical example... nothing more. </em>

Oh, sorry, I knew that and should have been more specific in my comments.

Ideas should be debated with vigor. That is not snarky. That's a good thing.

I think it does take a certain amount of intellectual, well, if not <em>courage</em>, then fortitude to open yourself up to the world. Not everyone will do it and not everyone will do it well.

But I've spent my entire life in some sort of academic setting and I've got my own hang-ups about intellectuals, their hobby horses, their ability to self-reflect (or lack thereof), the ivory tower, and all of that. It sometimes excessively colors my comments around here. I have my own biases and they don't always reflect well on me.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 7:27pm


I fear my reaction might be a bit defensive... please let me know... but here goes.

Reference comment "the examples you and MAC are discussing are problems that you are trying to work through"... Please know that I am not trying to work through any specific problem... I created a hypothetical example... nothing more. I do not have a dog in this fight... nor do I actually care if any of my questions are actually answered... The burden of proof to disprove is not mine... I am not trying to prove nor disprove that design as proposed by the design lobby is a more appropriate framing device.

The design lobby seeks to change an existing mental model... or as you so validly point out... to identify a fiction and to correct this fiction... I am all for adapting mental models and correcting fictions... as long as we don't blindly create another one without at least asking some basic questions... or as you state... critically thinking through the problem by asking critical questions... It is quite another discussion whether our questions are valid, or critical... or critical enough.

I've read some well worded comments penned by Dr. Paparone and Ben... but the comments have not done well to show me how the thing works in practice... Just show me and I'll leave you alone and who knows... I might even join the lobbying team to make design a mental model mainstay...

Your other valid point that "blog commenters have a tendency to take apart ideas, hypotheses and proposals with some vigor" makes us sound so snarky. In my opinion, vigorous debate is a requirement if you propose to change an existing institutional mental model... or are we saying that vigorous debate is akin to flaming poor Ben? I do not believe that subjecting your thesis to peer review is an intellectually courageous act as compared to sharing a personal opinion on a given subject. Peer review is a requirement if you seek to change the world... anything less is irresponsible... There might be a reason why Ben is sharing his views on the SWJ. Change simply for change sake is just silly.

So... I'll echo your valid questions:

What is a classic example of Design as practiced? What problem in war has this process been particularly good at?

Bob is going to send me an example and I am looking forward to reading it...



Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 7:10pm

Okay, I read through the thread one more time.

I'm just going to have to accept that I am stupid, I guess.

Is Design going to drown you all in more data? Data requires interpretation (an inherently value-laden process, postmodernists) to be meaningful.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 6:26pm

<em>Regardless, the vast array of comments and great perspectives that SWJ readers have thus provided on this series has broadened my understanding of design; I am humbled and most appreciative.</em> - <strong>Ben Zweibelson</strong>

You and <strong>Dr. Paparone</strong> ought to be congratulated for putting your ideas out into a public forum like SWJ. It takes intellectual courage to do that, especially if you are on the early part of a learning curve. Blog commenters have a tendency to take apart ideas, hypotheses and proposals with some vigor. Doesn't matter the type of blog. Always happens.

<blockquote>I'd argue that that is just one way to address complexity (read: "do Design"). There are probably infinite ways in which to address complexity and to try to simplify it into a template or just call it creative and critical thinking is, in my opinion, wrong and missing the depth of this subject.</blockquote> - <strong>Grant Martin</strong>

Why? Is that because critical thinking is not a formal process for working through a problem and Design is?

Is Design looking for patterns within seeming chaos? Is Design meant to predict outcomes? Is Design <em>formalizing</em> HOW to think about complex systems or wicked problems? I mean, the examples you and <strong>MAC</strong> are discussing are problems that you are trying to work through. That is critical thinking.

I'm getting confused again, aren't I? (But then, I am a physician and I've never been in the military. But you know what? I get a lot of things wrong around here. I'm probably mucking up the comments section except that <strong>MikeF</strong> hasn't kicked me out, yet, so I'll stick around.)

I am sorry if this is a stupid question (and yes, there are stupid questions):

What is a classic example of Design as practiced? What problem in war has this process been particularly good at? Sincere questions meant sincerely!

I still think the main problem is that we don't speak the truth to ourselves. It seems like we create a fiction of the world and design our strategy around the fiction we've created. Does design allow you to admit the fiction?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 5:31pm


... I hear you brother, but at present only interested in getting the design proponents to show me the actual application of the design concept... Here is my shot at a smuggle/trade route design...

First, imagine the smuggle/trade route itself and associated feeder routes.. inclusive mountain passes (chokepoints), bridges, river fords. Contemplate the second and third level beneficiaries of the physical route along the length of the route such as the collectors of security taxes, or participants in banditry, etc. All routes are dual purpose. I can move both licit and illicit goods on the main or feeder routes.

Second, imagine all the caravan brokers, organizers and drivers (wheeled or four legged modes of transport). Each function (broker, organizer and drivers) can actually be imagined in greater complexity and more detailed component parts. I have to assume that some families are really good at this stuff and are known for their skills. Just like smugglers...

Third, imagine the caravan (wheeled, four or two legged) itself and the assembly, storage, warehouses, and rest areas (caravansaries) along the way inclusive folks that operate the assembly areas, storage, warehouses and caravansaries... Contemplate the second and third level beneficiaries of the assembly areas, storage, warehouses and caravansaries such as folks running the eateries, mechanics, craftsmen, technicians, animal caretakers and providing security.

Fourth, imagine how financiers and money lending institutions work. Read Sinbad the Sailor (merchant) to get a feel for how trade and caravans are financed... hasn't changed much since Sinbad first decided to load a ship in Basra with his merchandise to go a trading...

Fifth, identify merchant families and their ranking in the merchant communities in Islamabad, Khost, Gardiz, Alam and Kabul...

Sixth, imagine how a burning warehouse in Islamabad or a number of assault on especially wealthy caravans traveling between Khost and Gardiz might play itself out... over time... in Alam... and how it might affect the folks we've identified in para 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 along the whole route.

... and then write the "interdict smuggle/trade route between Khost and Gardiz IOT deny merchant support of insurgents in the city of Alam" mission statement.

... am I tracking or do I owe the "design school" an apology?


G Martin

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 1:57pm

Mac: "hypothetical design scenario for the following mission statement: Interdict smuggle/trade route between Khost and Gardiz IOT deny merchant support of insurgents in the city of Alam."

I'd first caveat this post with the fact that most of the literature I've read would have issues with this for several reasons:

1) this doesn't seem to be, at first glance, a complex scenario. In other words, you don't need to use complexity theory tools to go to the bathroom and you don't need them necessarily to interdict a trade route (I might be wrong- but it doesn't necessarily need "Design")
2) one person will fail miserably in coming up with a "Design scenario"- especially if that person is divorced from the said environment

Having said that- just for hypothetical reasons I'll give my .02:

- if possible I'd task whatever assets that are in the area for their input into the purpose and mission statement. You might find really quickly that the logic linking those two is flawed and thus no action is required- or something different is required- IOT deny merchant support to the insurgents.
- I would try to get a team together to dig into the overall purpose of being in the area in the first place- and not the stated reason in our plans and STRATCOM, but the REAL reason (sometimes very hard to get- but usually the clue is in our actions rather than our words: I'd try to come up with a logic that explains our actions).
- All this time I'm capturing assumptions as I go. These assumptions will have to be tested, but also identified, defined, and the logic explained so that if they are falsified then we can adjust.
- Once I arrived at the REAL purpose of our overall efforts, I would try to look at what that translates into with respect to merchant support and the insurgency in general. So, for instance- if we are really in Afghanistan (hypothetically speaking, of course) to try to avoid domestic political fall-out, and that means no patience for short-term set-backs, then the purpose in this mission statement is perhaps flawed. If the guys on the ground inform you that interrupting trade routes will lead to short-term instability and negative metrics and you surmise that that will in-turn upset domestic support for the current administration, thus affecting a higher-priority domestic agenda- then a "Designer" would go back to his boss and inform his boss of the need to amend this mission statement. COAs could be developed that would more closely mesh with the REAL purpose for being in Afghanistan and therefore synch efforts on the ground with strategic reality.

This, of course, either requires a VERY savvy group of thinkers able to surmise from our actions our real purpose in the AO, or REAL trust in subordinates from higher that they freely share this information up-front and don't hit us with the same STRATCOM they are hitting up the rest of the world with. Unfortunately I think we say stuff so much we start to believe it!!

And in my experience rarely does higher (outside of SOF) listen to bottom-up suggestions like I am recommending... Too many paradigms to break before that can be done.

Thus, in order to entertain this type of "Design" effort, we'd have to change a lot: our culture and processes at the least, if not our structure as well.

As one great example of where the military missed the REAL reasons for being in an AO and didn't synch their actions with those reasons- look no further than Blackhawk Down. The lack of political situational awareness of the Task Force (the situation in DC and between the UN and the ambassador) contributed, IMO, to the scenario that unfolded.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 1:33pm


Sounds great... yes on AKO... I am the retired one.

Thanks brother...


Ben zweibelson (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 1:28pm

Mac- how about Mexico and the drug problem from a NORTHCOM perspective? Are you on AKO?

Doing this via phone is tougher!

G Martin

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 1:26pm

Ken- Agree with your comments- especially the one about Design not being a magic elixir. If anything it will cause as many problems as it solves... (but that may be good if today we are creating more than we solve...).

Ben- have you tried to get in touch with anyone from the Santa Fe Institute?

I had thought about trying to reach out to them and/or get one of their smart guys to come out to Leavenworth and speak. Some of our profs thought they were too theoretical to want to even talk to practitioners, but I wasn't so sure. Regardless, I didn't follow up with my idea. The bottom line to me on them is that they attempt to draw from all kinds of disciplines to collaborate on learning about complex adaptive systems- and the military could both add to and learn from them.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 1:12pm

Brother Ben,

... for sake of our conversation... lets not delve too deeply into conspiratorial thinking (although I personally embrace my own conspiratorial madness like no other)... Instead, could you provide me with a couple of short three-four sentences hypothetical design solutions (scenarios) one of which can include the military in a secondary and self-denial role... maybe even a hypothetical design solution that questions the institutions continued relevance all together. I am not being sarcastic...

How about a hypothetical design scenario for the following mission statement: Interdict smuggle/trade route between Khost and Gardiz IOT deny merchant support of insurgents in the city of Alam.

I once read that the accomplished teacher invites the student to stand beside him and to see what he sees... since I am blind... you'll have to show me :-)



Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 11:06am

Mac, Ken, Grant, Chris,

I agree that design needs to deliver the goods in some tangible form- preferably in successful military application in a real conflict where one can identify that traditional planning solutions did not suffice. But, design requires cohesive action across a broad spectrum that likely falls well outside the traditional military 'lanes.' With Libia, for instance, design would likely begin framing the environment well beyond the soveriegn boundaries of Libia, or the coordinates of the imposed 'no-fly zone.' I think that is where our military institution struggles with design deliverables- we say "show me" but I don't think we are necessarily prepared or even willing to consider proposed solutions. Why? Because design solutions often place the military into a secondary role, a role where they are potentially not conducting 'self-affirming' behaviors and actions, or a role that questions a military institution's continued relevance.

I don't think a 'show me' moment will occur until design implements with the next generation of military leadership...through professional education, discourse (on sites like SWJ!), application throughout active conflicts, and most importantly- through continued failures of traditional military problem-solving processes and procedure. Don't take that the wrong way- I do not encourage military failures; but to tie in with Grant's comments above, history demonstrates that the military continues to reinforce patterns of intellectual hubris and self-preservation of core tenets at the expense of adaptation and innovation. Linn's Echo of Battle, Wiegley's American Way of War, Builder's Mask of War, Jullien's Treatise on Efficacy, and Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife all make similar arguments.

The next article in this series addresses non-linear applications of design. It is geared towards explaining why linear is problematic, while non-linear is shunned by our institution for unnecessary and, in my opinion, outdated reasons. I do not subscribe to throwing the baby out with the bathwater in terms of linear applications, but I do want to generate some discourse on why our military institution has such a preference towards viewing everything in a linear, sequential, and reverse-engineered methodology.

The fifth article in this series deals with doctrine and design; again- it attempts to explain why current design doctrine is poorly constructed and utterly confusing, while future design doctrine should follow a radically different should not be labeled 'doctrine.' I do not reject existing doctrine aside from FM 5-0 Chapter 3, but I do wish to generate some discourse on how, why, and what 'design' should be incorperated into Army institutional understanding. Is doctrine the right vehicle? Should it remain theoretical (which keeps folks asking 'show me'), or is it a combination of new doctrine, theory, and professional education throughout military and non-military organizations?

Regardless, the vast array of comments and great perspectives that SWJ readers have thus provided on this series has broadened my understanding of design; I am humbled and most appreciative.

Ben Zweibelson
US Army

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 03/27/2011 - 1:06am


Thanks for the response. Much agreement here. Couple of points for consideration.<blockquote>"Commanders command, subordinates are micromanaged...much less make informed decisions with."</blockquote>I very much agree and have seen the same things -- all too often. However, I've also seen units and Dets that work the way they're supposed to. That good and bad unit syndrome is obviously still about.

IMO the difference was simply having an intuitive, competent and confident (that is an important and much overlooked aspect of command presence...) Commander and at least average staff and subordinates. If good fortune (as opposed to design, small 'd' -- ponder that ;) ) provides folks with better than average capabilities, life is <i>really</i> good. So while I agree that bad things happen and know the system is not optimum, it has been my experience that good people can obviate much of that.<blockquote>"I still hold that if Design means a way an informed way of addressing complexity- then we haven't done it in the past or today...It is necessary- but not sufficient."</blockquote>Oh, I don't disagree with that aspect, I think that's totally correct. However, I also believe some people have been practicing many aspects of Design, enough to be effective and without knowing they were doing so. I acknowledge that codifying the practice (if that is not a dichotomous idea...) can aid those who are not competent and / or confident to do better. My concern is that, once again, the Army is looking for a magic bullet to make square pegs fit in round holes. i.e. it will <i>not</i> create the intuitive combat commander...

While I understand that is far from the goal of Design, I have too much sad experience watching the Army take beneficial programs or ideas and twist them into almost unworkable shadows of their intent in an effort to make poorly Designed (large 'D') programs or processes at least marginally effective.

That square peg can be made to fit -- but invariably it will be less than optimum size; you have to take a lesser peg as it were. In my experience that is not a good idea in combat (it doesn't even work that well in peacetime...).

So, Design is here and has potential. I sincerely hope it works out well -- but if anyone thinks it will be the elixir that fixes the ills of the Personnel System or our inadequate initial entry training, Officer and Enlisted, I suspect they will be disappointed.

Still, if it aids, speeds, simplifies or eliminates MDMP that would be a major benefit... :>

G Martin

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 11:41pm


The only reason I mentioned SF teams was because the description Eric Beinhocker uses of the ways in which companies should empower small teams in order to address complexity reminded me of how SF operates- more bottom-up- than conventional- more top-down.

I would actually have to agree with your description of using MDMP and the standardized training regimen as being detrimental to thinking and military ops in general. My point was that there are still many military tasks that are similar to what a factory does: generate things on a time schedule. MDMP is still useful for some of the things the military does as are the other tools we use today. But, I'm in total agreement with you that it has probably gone too far.

In terms of Design- I'd have to disagree. Based on what I learned from family about the generation before me and based on what I've seen in my own career- I would say that rarely, if ever, have I seen or heard examples of even the military doctrinal definitions of what Design requires being incorporated into operations. Commanders command, subordinates are micromanaged and mainly pay deference, assumptions aren't questioned, logic is not explained, those closest to the problem are routinely ignored, and staffs drown everyone in way too much data to even read- much less make informed decisions with. I still hold that if Design means a way an informed way of addressing complexity- then we haven't done it in the past or today. Yes, if it only means critical and creative thinking then we've done it. But that isn't an informed way of addressing complexity. It is necessary- but not sufficient.

Good results are fine- at the tactical level or if we're just looking for a "win" in terms of limited objectives. But if we're looking at getting at root causes- then good results won't cut it. We needed a "Wedemeyer" prior to Afghanistan. Instead we got short-term "good" results. And every year we get some more good results.

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 10:15pm

Sorry, timed out on me. The 9:13 is me.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 10:13pm

<b>Grant Martin:</b>

Some years ago the Army -- including SF -- was populated by good and bad units. Some were quite effective in combat, some less so, a very few to the disastrous level. That does not seem to have changed though the cause may have.

Couple of points occur to me. Not to snipe at you but at the 'system' unfortunately, as you mentioned these things, I'll use them:<blockquote>"Sure, you'd still need MDMP, TPFDD, Task-Conditions-Standards, Doctrine, etc.- for many military missions..."</blockquote>Why? Having operated in two services and SF in units that were effective and achieved good results with none of those things other than doctrine (modified to suit the METT [the -TC came later]) I would hope the first three items that came into being since that time added value. My belief is that they have not. I am convinced the Task-Condition-Standard process, well embedded before I retired, significantly and adversely impacted Army training at the macro level. It has some merit for training a mobilizing force, it has none for a professional force.<blockquote>"...but for those that could develop into a complex situation or, going in already are (COIN?)- you'd need to do something differently."</blockquote>Again, why -- or is that an indicator that the first three items and flaws in the fourth you mentioned have <i>created</i> a problem that did not previously exist and which it seems some hope to solve with design...

I agree with <b>MAC</b>, we always did design -- until they perfected the straitjacket and started telling people what to think.

G Martin

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 7:49pm

I think there are three issues here:

1) Ben, Dr. P, and many others are still trying to explain/explore the logic behind the need for something (Design) to address complexity. For those who say we already "do Design"- I'd say the only reason that may be right is that Design- the way the military has defined it so far- doesn't do an adequate job of addressing complexity.
2) There are still massive disagreements on the need to do Design (or something)- some question if things are more complex, if we haven't addressed complexity adequately, and/or the philosophical underpinnings of several topics within the Design methodology.
3) Because of the confusion mentioned in #2 above, the attempts to figure out how to "show me" are immature at best. But, even without all that confusion we shouldn't be too surprised answers aren't falling out of the sky. The other disciplines attempting to address complexity are also taking a long time to figure out just what to "do". Lots of theory and good ideas, but mixed positions on the implications.

I offered a few "what we should do" ideas in a paper on complexity on SWJ awhile back ( ), but it was like many other efforts- immature and very limited in scope. My thoughts basically were that we could apply "Complexity Economics" concepts to warfare and get something like the way SF teams develop concepts and their higher HQs mainly just support them- and apply that to conventional units- mainly in complex environments. Sure, you'd still need MDMP, TPFDD, Task-Conditions-Standards, Doctrine, etc.- for many military missions, but for those that could develop into a complex situation or, going in already are (COIN?)- you'd need to do something differently.

I'd argue that that is just one way to address complexity (read: "do Design"). There are probably infinite ways in which to address complexity and to try to simplify it into a template or just call it creative and critical thinking is, in my opinion, wrong and missing the depth of this subject. If other disciplines are having the same issues the military is, then maybe we shouldn't be so easily frustrated in our slow search for a "better way". As many say when talking about this topic: "be comfortable with being uncomfortable." I'd submit the easy answers on all this- or the "how"- won't come quickly and probably won't come from the same guys who are struggling with trying to explain the foundational concepts to us.

I will attempt to offer a few ideas based on how economists are addressing complexity that I don't think I covered in the paper mentioned above- that I think we could apply to warfare- in an SWJ article in the next few days. Hopefully this will get more towards the "show me" piece many are craving.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 6:20pm


... after twenty-plus years of military service actually thought that I had wrapped my brain around the concept of design... but the more detailed the explanations provided the greater my confusion...

I accept and embrace the complexity that is the real world... I revel in it for there is opportunity in complexity (chaos)... but there also comes a time when the philosopher king must simplify the complex so that his armies can do what they are called upon to accomplish... This is the point in time and space that I call the "good idea cut off point".. This is also what I call accepting at face value my philosopher king's assumption (design and imaginings) as my facts all the while knowing that the world keeps turning, that human behavior is reactive and that once I cross LD everything that my philosopher king may have assumed to be correct will require constant updating to reflect the world as it is...

Yes... the military is a living, breathing organism influencing and being influenced by the world and the things in it... Be that as it may... the military is an instrument and there are times when I as the commander want that instrument to "stay in its lane"... "remain inside the box I have drawn for it" or to "acknowledge that problem X is someone else's problem". There are actually times when all three are quite appropriate and the text book/real world solution. Warning follows: embrace design but don't throw out the linearity with the bath water.

I get your frustration when told that thinking about y or z is not in my (your) lane... or outside my (your) box ... or is someone else's problem... Been there... but this does not negate the fact that there is a distinct linearity to what the military instrument is designed to do and expected to accomplish... especially within complex, conflicting and overlapping opinions and worldviews...

I have to remain a member of the group of design critics that state "we have always done design"... until you can show me the Emperor's new clothes in action... Please stop explaining what it is.. and show me.


Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 12:19pm

Gents, sorry I am tardy to the conversation.

Chris makes a great point on how the word 'desgn' is now, unfortunately, a 'dead metaphor' in the military- where Chris suggests other terms for it such as 'philosophy' or something along those lines, I thought about the opening quote of this Design Series in my introduction. I put a Marcus Aurelius quote there from his book, Meditations. Perhaps he is a useful metaphor for this section of design discourse.

Aurelius was a head of state, the Roman Emperor. He also was a military general, and conducted military operations against Persia and later Germanic forces to accomplish military objectives that benefited the Roman Empire. Lastly, Aurelius was a philosopher, and was educated by philosophers to be a 'critical thinker.' Is not Aurelius an example of what we are asking for here? Show us someone that thinks conceptually, seeks holistic understanding, ties strategic aims to tactical objectives, and at the end of the day, directs a legion of Roman soldiers to conduct military operations that ultimately are nested back with conceptual and strategic (Rome) processes? Was not Marcus a 'designer' of sorts?

So, this metaphor, if you concur with it, backs the group of design critics that state, "we have always done design- we are just calling this thing 'design' while great military leaders have done this in other terms since the beginning of organized civilization." Perhaps there is some truth there; but I see the challenges of today's complex world as different from earlier periods where the transition from strategic to tactical was not as dynamic. In keeping with this metaphor, when Marcus operated as a philosopher king and military general in a world where things moved at the speed of sail and horse, he was able to focus the transition from conceptual to detailed (thought to action) planning rapidly and often internally. Looking at how that functions today, Libian dictator Qadaffi is also a 'king' of sorts, and head military leader of his organization- therefore his speed of transitioning thought to action remains as rapid as an ancient Roman emperor. However, this is not working out well for Qadaffi.

Today's military does not enjoy two key luxuries of previous eras; the military commander is subordinate in the strategic pecking order- the military serves the nation as one component within many; secondly- democracies do not employ leaders with combined authorities (a king-general-philosopher); our modern era uses coalitions, congresses, intra-government, inter-agency, and multi-national approaches with conditions that span multiple regions, timezones, boundaries, and populations.

So, a modern Marcus Arelius figure would essentially be, in my opinion, larger groups of people within layers of organizations and sub-organizations that share overlapping worldviews that share similar concepts, vocabulary, processes, and values (creativity, adaptation, learning to learn, and critical introspection). We can no longer seek this in a single individual- the world has grown too big. We can foster educational reform within our military and throughout our entire society to emphasize critical thinking; but as 'concerned citizen' makes the point of, the rubber needs to meet the road eventually. I agree- and like Marcus Aurelius of ancient times, the conceptual understanding of a philosopher king need to convert over into the tactical application of Roman steel and flesh against an enemy on some objective. The modern paradigm shift for us is actually a shift AWAY from our dependence on tactical linear processes with unique individuals (Caesar, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc...) fusing some or all of the Marcus Aurelius factors of being the head of the state, senior military leader, and conceptual designer.

I hold that tactical applications of military power do require procedures such as MDMP, MCPP, JOPP, etc.. to synchronize and direct a military organization to accomplish tangible objectives; BUT design brings to the equation holistic understanding that seems to always reach well outside the traditional boundaries of military scope and responsibility. "That is not my lane, that is outside by box," and "that is someone else's problem" are common replies to this line of thinking.

Design, when applied by groups of people throughout the military organization and, more importantly, whole of government, creates holistic overlapping worldviews that, in a complex world, create a combined application of Marcus Aurelius...not in a pedantic sense such as five lions forming Voltron, but in the linking of nodes of people throughout organizations sharing adaptation, learning, and understanding to make a faster, more cohesive institution that does precisely what Marcus Aurelius did. Combine the conceptual understanding of philosophy and strategic considerations with the precise application of Roman steel and flesh for concrete objectives. The language within the Roman senate or the Emperor's head-chambers may differ from the tactical commands and vocabulary on the front line in much the same way my second article argues for operational and tactical vocabulary to become distinct and seperate, but at some point in the middle, both must jump a gap and maintain content while changing form.


concerned citizen (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 11:01am

Once again, I'm loving the feed-back.

I'm just looking at this like,"I'm fairly intellectual and I like this subject...why doesn't this make sense to me?" In which case, this thing isn't going to have much sticking-power in the real world.

What I'm seeing from the last post, I could possibly categorize it under creative initiative.

I'm not seeing what the new paradigm is supposed to look like.

While something doesn't have to be absolute or static, shouldn't it at least have some type of concrete non-platonic reality counterpart if we want to apply this in the real world?

Maybe it would help to show what operations would look like if planned on the old paradigm and what operations might look like based on the new 'paradigm.'

What is the new product you're selling?

"Basically, you're going to have to eventually break it to everyone that you want them to do the same thing they've been doing, just better and more creatively. Otherwise, people are going to brush you off as a pseudo-intellectual that talks too much and doesn't 'know how its done.'"

Well, you've pointed to the paradox of the philosophy that considers knowledge malleable.

This is not Chevy Chase, the golfer, in Caddyshack. If the fundamental idea is to educate and train practitioners face "indeterminate zones of practice" any attempts to tell them "how to" or "what to" is not longer indeterminate.

The institution has to find ways to "de-standardize" or at least lessen the value of standardization in education, training, and practice.

"Jargon" like "best practices" and "lessons learned" and "task, conditions, and standards" have to be subordinated to a more flexible (and reflexive) view of knowledge-in-use.

A more sophisticated view of knowledge has to replace the "replication" view of knowledge the institution has created and reinforced into cultural artifacts.

We have to "honor" ephemeral forms of knowledge that are invented and improvised in the uniqueness of the situations faced, and while they may "rhyme" with other situations, they are not transferable.

We have to begin to deconstruct the structures in the institution that are linked to the positivist philosophy of knowledge -- the very idea of "doctrine" has to be challenged.

The suggestion here is not so much oriented on those "in" operations as the institutional structures that create and sustain forces (still very much tied to a machine-like, engineering approach).

I would wager that the "new jargon" will have to be different from the "old jargon" (as Grant points to the "Jominian" models we are seduced by). We still need jargon and perhaps more flexible jargon (I'd argue we cannot operate with the illusion-of-science-like-jargon we use now). This will be uncomfortable...

concerned citizen (not verified)

Sat, 03/26/2011 - 6:17am

I really appreciate all the responses, and the attempts to make me understand.

I can understand that there might be a situation when an old institution like the armed forces doesn't like change. Anytime change comes around they dumb it down and make it 'their own' and the 'creative metaphor' dies a death of meaning deprivation.

I think this design thing is just a reaction to that feeling that many creative people in the armed forces have.

My question, is why such a feeling has to be expressed in metaphysical jargon? Also, why does this have to be seen as something like entering the star-gate?

If it wasn't for the fact that the military likes to divest words of meaning, to me all of these comes down to: fog, friction, creativity, critical analysis, open-mindedness, contingency planning, etc.

At the end of the day, sitting around saying 'OOOOOMMMMMM' making O's with my fingers is not going to win a war. Eventually I have to snap out of it and start doing real world stuff.

Basically, you're going to have to eventually break it to everyone that you want them to do the same thing they've been doing, just better and more creatively. Otherwise, people are going to brush you off as a pseudo-intellectual that talks too much and doesn't 'know how its done.'

concerned citizen,

I think you speak for many who demand closure.

I also think you speak for a culture that demands a science for action (at least science in the way of positivism).

Let's not lose track of the origins of the word design -- first and foremost it is a metaphor for where "replicable technique meets the uniqueness of art." (original meaning of "design" is "of image", so it involves imagination and symbolism).

Since it has entered the lexicon of the military community (about 3 years ago), in no time "design" became a "dead metaphor."

It is not meant to be much more than a idea about philosophy (and we really need to continuously resurrect it as a metaphor - a stand in for an ever-growing extension of meaning creation).

Philosophy by definition is an open-ended approach to examining our existence in the world and how we create knowledge about that existence (ontology and epistemology for short).

For centuries, we have believed that we "cracked the code" on how we examine and how we create knowledge. We call this empiricism and our knowledge is believed to be objective -- measureable and seen through our five senses or our tools that extend our five senses--we call the latter technology. Anything that is not "objective" is something other than knowledge (this is the "promise" of positivism).

Lately, the professional deisciplines (medicine, law, and, yes, military) have realized their sense of the "objective" world at its accompanying "objective" knowledge is not adequate when faced with indeterminate zones of practice.

Even physicists (the ultimate "hard" scientists) in the last 100 years have reached an impasse about objectivity and have to cope with "relativity").

The "crisis of the professions" is that we (as an insitution) have not done a good job of valuing aesthetics (perhaps, and this is speculation on my part, because we have a machismo culture associated with despising the "touchy feely" view of philosophy?). When we say "art" it is really a catch phrase.

If you think this line of reasoning has merit, then the questions (that we used to use the "scientific method" to frame ands answer) are expanded to include questions like:

Can artistry be taught?

Researchers, particularly those who might qualify themselves as "post-positivists," have argued "Yes!" We can examine ways music, drama, dance, etc. schools teach. We can also see the way interns in medical practiec are coached and tutored as they attempt to practice. We can witness how psychotherapists engage in the practice of psychotherapy. These ways of approaching education are rather foreign to the way the Defense communnity has developed their structures (mostly around the ways of the traditional, Newtonian engineering sciences).

To begin the process of reforming our institutional way of structuring the world (which has been tied to future-telling, task analysis, gap analysis, and the R&D of technological solutions -- an engineering frame), we needed a philosophical "rally point" -- DESIGN.

We now have the mission of discovering our way into the artistry of our profession. We can no longer get away with using "art" as a catch word for things not taught in our education processes. Art has to take an equal (if not more important) role in the profession and in our education of practitioners.

Hope I have summarized the argument. It's not that Ben Z or others who have been writing about design can give you definitive answers to the "artistry" crisis. It is the community (that has been adicted to the engineering sciences) that has --as would an alcoholic in AA -- first admit that we have a very serious philosophical problem:

We think we cannot refocus our efforts on artistry -- because we cannot conceive ways to do so. Unless of course we can use the engineering paradigm to frame the problem-- hence no wonder the insitution gets frustrated (like you are) with the proposition of artistry.

Quick side story. Some faculty members and I visited a liberal arts college about a year ago for the puspose of glimpsing at how they approach artistry. The trip was amazingly insightful. Consider this -- they cannot compete on the scales of the US News and World Report...why? Because the measures the USNWR uses are not relevant (much) to artistry.

G Martin

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 2:48pm

Robert and concerned citizen:

I think the problem is that no-one can provide an answer without people first having an out-of-body experience as CC calls it- or at least is introduced to the philosophical underpinnings of how other disciplines are addressing complexity. I'd submit that we in the Army think this can be accomplished in a few classes and readings during a year-long course (SAMS), an elective during CGSC, or a few pages in a manual. I'd propose that it would take no less than the dismantling of a lifetime of mis-education, cultural hubris, and a terribly biased worldview before we can even begin to be introduced to the concepts- much less understand them.

Reading about and understanding subjects like punctuated equilibrium, complex adaptive systems, heterodox economics, endogenous evolution, chaotic systems, emergence, information entropy (I could go on)- which I submit are crucial to operating more effectively in complex environments- makes it impossible to boil this stuff down to simplistic and/or popularly-used terms. We don't use language or the conceptual thinking required on a daily basis to begin to communicate about these hefty topics. In short: we can't simplify it!

Implications: this stuff is heavy and requires not only a worldview shift from our "war theorists", but a restructuring of our institutions both inside AND OUTSIDE of the military (education, government, etc.) in order to better address the reality that has been in place for most of history prior to the recent anomaly (or perception) of state-on-state warfare with limited objectives and easily-identified beginnings and endings.

In as simplistic-speak as I can muster:

I could easily apply Eric Beinhocker's ideas on how economists should address complexity to military subjects (borrowed from:

"For the past century, [military theorists] have viewed [war] as an equilibrium system made up of perfectly rational agents with access to full information, who produce and consume [information and orders from and for their subordinates] with optimally efficient [process] and institutions. This theory, known as [neo-Jominian warfare by those outside of the military and characterized within the military by MDMP, JOPP, TPFDD, Task-Conditions-Standards training, etc.] has dominated mainstream [warfare] theory, particularly in the US and UK, since the late 19th century [when it was borrowed from Newtonian Physics and the processes of the industrial era].

Beinhocker argues that neo-[Jominian warfare] is fundamentally flawed, has a poor record of empirical validation, and that the strong assumptions the theory requires serve to make [the study of warfare] of less relevance to real world issues than the field otherwise might be. Beinhocker claims that neo-[Jominian warfare] theory is in the process of being supplanted by what he calls complexity [warfare] - the view that [belligerent parties within the world] are complex adaptive systems made up of realistically rational agents who dynamically interact with each other in an evolutionary system. Complexity [Warfare] is in turn built on foundations of a long-standing tradition of heterodox [warfare] that includes areas such as behavioral [sciences], institutional [theory], Austrian economics, and evolutionary [biology].

...[one] practical implication of these new ideas are... that the standard solutions of [identifying an end-state desired that is mostly divorced from the historical context of the area under consideration and mobilizing military forces for initially limited objectives] does not address the root causes of the cycle [of belligerence]; they merely address the symptoms."

We can't just add to what we already have and use concepts that are familiar to most. The literature that underpins "Design" actually calls for (although we rarely acknowledge it officially- if we even recognize it) wholesale social, institutional, structural, and cultural overhaul. You can't be half-pregnant and and we can't apply "Design" fundamentals to only the fringes of our institution. It WILL fail because it will fail to show positive results- but it won't be because the concepts are flawed, but because our method of employing the concepts is flawed.

Grant Martin
MAJ, US Army

The above comments are the author's own and do not constitute the position of USAJFKSWC(A), the US Army, or DoD.

FreshFit(TM) (not verified)

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 2:41pm

concerned citizen-

Since you read all the articles and the posts, could you perhaps explain, "why not design?"

There are many ways of looking at the world, and attempting to solve these complex problems. Military design offers an alternative methodology to traditional planning and decision making. That seems to be the whole point of these articles.

From your post, I gather that you disagree. How? Why? Do you prefer detailed planning alone? If so, why? If not, then what do you recommend?

Do you think in linear forms? Do you think in non-linear forms? Do you pretend to do non-linear, but only do linear, as you state above? Why?

Which generals are stupid? Are all of them? Some of them? Just a few? Why? If you could replace them with other people, what sort of people would you use?

concerned citizen (not verified)

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 11:45am

I read all 3 parts of the 'to design or not to design' series and I've read much of the above discussion.

My question is this:


I feel like I'm being asked to go on an acid trip and contemplate the circle of life.

How is all of this: "It's not real...nothing is real" trip supposed to help people plan for fighting wars?

It doesn't matter how much you want to take the menial managerial modes of operation out of the system, the world is still moving in real time.

Throw away your sundial and the sun is still moving.

So now what?

Is all of this just a book to be thrown at the heads of stupid generals who haven't understood the 'fog' of strategy making and the 'friction' that occurs in its practical implementation?

Do you really have to come up with a bunch of pictures and models to pretend that you are not being 'linear' in your thinking?

Why not just have a spectrum and constantly point out that there is no clear-cut position ever because war is always hovering in between different phases and can change quickly and drastically depending on time and space (fog, friction, or fubar..whatever you wanna call it).

Can I get an answer that doesn't require me to have an outer-body experience first?

ben zweibelson (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 3:40pm


I agree; this series is a bit of a challenge to read for the general force- but I sought publication from SWJ because the folks that participate and read SWJ, especially those willing to click on a link with the word 'design' in it, are likely more than capable of reading this; whether they gain something or move on to other topics is all about the discourse, I suppose.

When I wrote this series a few months back, I was early in my 'design journey' and in reflection, I figure I had to write this in order to (hopefully) break through to a level where my current work (pending publication) does get to where you might prefer it- my current work tries to demonstrate design without losing the widest practical audience. Whether I get there or not depends on how my future articles are recieved.

On the link between design and linear/non-linear; my next design article on-deck is all about that topic; hopefully I scratch that itch for you.

May I push back on your last comment about 15 pages for doctrine. First, my last design article (#5 in the series, the last one is a conclusion essay)deals entirely with design and doctrine. However, if you take a look at FM 5-0 chapter 3, and read those 15 pages, then go check out FMI 5-2 (unpublished draft, available online if you Google it)- that abandoned design doctrine version is about 40 pages. I submit that the 40 pages, although longer, makes so much more sense to me than the confusing 15 pages of FM 5-0. Perhaps someone could write 15 pages on design and make it better, but I will take the FMI-5-2 draft any day over FM 5-0 chapter 3 when I need to explain design to my organization. Other doctrine sources outside the Army that seem to do a better job: Australian Adaptive Campaigning doctrine- also a short read, but superior to FM 5-0. Why? And even the USMC, their MCDP 5 has many elements of design brilliance that outshines FM 5-0's 15 pages, and also it fits in your cargo pocket; I always liked that about Marine doctrine manuals for the most part.

Cheers- and thanks for the feedback

Bob's World

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 2:49pm


Not to dumb this down, but you need to "simplicate" this a bit, brother. In fact, from the first time I sat in Shimon's class my only real beef with design was that the greater goodness of the concept was buried in a barrage of new terms and processes, causing the average guy to just shut down and tune out.

My other observation/question is on this sentence toward the end of your paper (well done, PhD-level stuff, by the way):

"Although design products must ultimately be transferred into linear processes with concise and clear narratives to support tactical level operations and detailed planning, this does not mean that design theory should accept the overt tacticization and teleological methodologies that the military institution generally expects at all levels of planning."

Do you really mean that "design products must be transferred into linear process," or do you mean more along the lines that "design must ultimately support the production of mission orders"?

I just don't see it so much as a conversion, but rather as a reference. I also wonder why the need to become "linear"? I realize we love phased processess, such as "Shape-Clear-Hold-Build-etc;" but such linear processes tend to drive us to become far more focused on executing our steps rather than on accomplishing the mission.

Last point (I thought Doctrine Man was being a smart ass, but truth is indeed odder than fiction). I looked at the 2001 Battle Command, the 2008 Battle Command, and then the current "Mission Command," and had to ask "WTF"? While I will grant that the long paragraph defining Mission Command is better than the long paragraph that defined Battle Command, why not simply state:

"Command is the exercise of authority and direction to accomplish the mission."

Leave the other 50 words on the cutting room floor. In fact, I would recommend that the entire manual of 3.0 be handed back to the writers with the guidance "Great job, now reduce this to 15 pages without changing the font."

"...sources you recommend for me to read?"

Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality

Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphor We Live By

Schon, The Reflective Practitioner (and his follow on, Educating...)

Burrell and Morgan, Sociological Paradigms

Mintzberg, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning

Weick, Sensemaking in Organizations

Ben Zweibelson (not verified)

Sun, 03/20/2011 - 12:36pm


We seem to agree on many points, but use different terms. Permit me to explore your above post in detail.

1. "Design offers little as tools"- I see this in the military organization/institution as the emphasis for procedures over process. The USMC planning doctrine nails this conceptually; although my impression of MCPP is that they have a hard time putting it into action. 'Tools' to me is the classic design detractor's demand of "sounds nice, but give me the STEPS or FORMAT to do an environmental frame...". This is why I think FM 5-0 should not recommend procedures like PMESII-PT or LOEs to initiate design. Even the term 'tool' implies a conceptual device that can be codified into doctrine, placed on a shelf, and pulled into action when needed by a design team or commander. That defeats the entire design worldview of ontological exploration of a dynamic and adaptive complex system. 'Tools' do not work- but a holistic worldview that applies a 'PROCESS' to a complex system can.

2. Affirmative Postmodern Research- ah, a three-word conceptual container. It reminds me a bit of Systemic Operational Design, which has become the intellectual persona-non-gratta of the design world unfortunately. For me, 'Affirmative' and 'Postmodern' reflect the onotological approach, or the 'Systemic' in SOD. The 'Research' relates to SOD's design. Where the two terms do not match up is 'Postmodern' and 'Operational.' 'Postmodern' seems to fit within the 'Systemic' as a worldview of sorts; what APR may lack in the title is SOD's 'operational.' I know designers debate on where 'design' needs to function- does it work at all levels (strategic, operational, and tactical)- or do we really think that Platoon and Squad Leaders are going to do problem frames? I am still working this one out, but I do feel that at the operational level, design gets the most application- that is the level at which a military institution has the breadth of influence to coordinate with other non-military elements and pursue a ontological approach at transforming a, I am not saying design has no role at the tactical level, but if SOD has a component of it in the title that APR does not, that might be worth some pondering. Let me converge back to the thread.

3. 'Deconstruct' as you use it strikes me as the same concept as 'problematize.' To pursue 'revolutionary changes' as you put it- agreed; the problematizer does this; Deleuze and Guattari use some challenging metaphors in their section titled 'War Machines' but they are talking about the same thing; the cycle of creation and destruction in the exteriority of the system; where they talk of their Nomad and how he creates and destroys while the merchants (interiority) continue known patterns (procedures!), I see them saying essentially the very same thing.

4. 'Mixing and matching styles'- again, agreed; this is the design process of favoring learning to learn, metacognition, and adaptation instead of the rigid reductionism and proceduralism of the detailed planning worldview- how most of science and academia function.

5. 'Traditional research and old ways of thinking'- this goes back to interiority versus exteriority. The old ways of thinking and linear causality; reductionism, positivism, and mechanistic structures and procedures. The emphasis of DESCRIPTION over EXPLANATION. This gets at the heart of design- design does not describe, but it will use some description to start the process towards 'cognitive synergy' or 'deep understanding' or 'reflective practition' to explain a system holistically. At times, the problematizer brings forth something novel- a NEW way of understanding; this cannot be confused with slapping a buzz word on a pre-existing idea...explanation and adaptation comes from the vast exteriority, not the known and bounded formalized interiority of a system. At times, this novel explanation generates a cycle of destruction- destroying traditional procedures and tenets of the interiority so that creation and innovation occur for the organization. This is where problematizers get their heads cut off by angry Kings that may recognize the truth offered, but reject the transformation suggestion because it destroys something of great traditional value. For some, it is better to go on doing the same procedures that define themselves yet cost a fortune in blood and treasure because they maintain institutional relevance; breaking with these core tenets threaten the interiority of the system!

6. 'Celebrate and deny tradition'- again, the Problematizer requires some knowledge of the interiority- the vast tomes of description that detailed planning harks for. One cannot begin the process of explanation of a complex system without understanding the rivals, key actors, and cycles of phenomenon within it; to understand where tensions exist. This was why in the third article on design, I placed the 'Ecological Frame' in my suggested graphic for design around EVERYTHING- I see the complex ecosystem as the true exteriority- everything including our operational approaches, reframes, rival actions, and desired systems manifest within the larger exteriority known as the ecosystem.

7. "Suspects paradigmatic consensus as an outmoded value"- Chris, you have to help me on this one. You lost me on that completely!

8. 'Normal science prevents paradigms'- 100% agreement; Kuhn and Taeb (Black Swans). Now, I do modify this in my approach because I do not think that design can replace the detailed planning worldview. Unlike Kuhn's paradigms that destroy the existing worldview and replace with a better one, I think that design is something that functions throughout and beyond the reductionist linear worldview of detailed planning, and enhances (does not eliminate) detailed planning. Our military institution functions dependent upon the rigid linear worldview- design (in my opinion) does not replace, but ENHANCES it. Thought leads to action, action to reflection, reflection to deeper understanding, and then on to more precise action.

9. 'Voices previously silent'- the hierarchy of the military institution and the dependence upon the reductionist worldview of detailed planning makes this a tough nut to crack. Design is supposed to encourage an environment where rank is immaterial- where the problematizer can bring the emperor 'deep understanding' without losing their head. This is very personality driven, and I don't think it works often in practice. In theory, it does. Perhaps the best option is to promote educational reform within our PME system so that our force collectively understands the value of design where 'voices previously silent' can add to discourse without fearing the fruits of their problematizing will be thrown back at them! Naveh talks about this in his long article about how the IDF rejected SOD prior to the 2006 Hezbollah War. He clearly has his own dogs in that fight, but the points still remain- the theoretical design discourse environment is a tough one to make happen within our military institutionalism.

10. 'Out of the box sensemaking'- agreed; I see this as 'learning to learn' and 'metacognition'- all aspects of problematizing. Process is valued over procedure.

11. 'Objective world is really a subjective interpretation'- Chris, you talked about this in a previous post. I went back to some readings and went over Peter Novick's 'That Noble Dream' and one of my favorites, Baudrillard's 'Simulacra'- I think both those authors are saying the same thing you are. I agree, but with the great passion for military history within our profession, it is challenging to both apply and respect history while at the same time, not putting historic content on some pedestal without thinking about the HISTIOGRAPHY and the concept of simulacra or desimulation; this is where EXPLANATION by design trumps DESCRIPTION found in the reductionist (positivist) worldview.

Do you have any sources you recommend for me to read?


The Pap

Sun, 03/20/2011 - 11:30am

p.s. The "referee" in this approach is (and should be) the "profession," not-so-much the hierarchy. Inherent to professional governance of knowledge is openness.

Those with hierarchical power should serve the profession as "stewards" (not oligarchical deciders).

This will require a culture shift (that may be underway in the US Army with General Dempsey's view of decentralization and "mission command" as a philosophical replacement for C2).

May also require a rather radical reconstruction of what we mean by "doctrine."