An Application of Theory: Second Generation Military Design on the Horizon

An Application of Theory: Second Generation Military Design on the Horizon

Ben Zweibelson

Editor’s Note: This is a draft chapter from a military design book project that the author is working on pursuant to his doctoral degree completion.  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or positon of any agency of the U.S. government.  Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of any U.S. government entity. The author will lecture using concepts from this chapter at the upcoming Canadian Army “Army of Tomorrow” Conference occurring on 20-22 February in Kingston, Ontario. The author will also lecture on this topic with the Joint Staff J-39 Strategic Multilayer Assessment Community on 24 February 2017.

“Creating new structure takes more resources than maintaining the old: alteration and creation of organizational structures do constitute costs for the organization.”

-- Pamela Tolbert & Lynn Zucker, The Institutionalization of Institutional Theory

“Claims for the ‘non-linearity’ and the ‘breakdown of vertical hierarchies’ in contemporary warfare are also largely exaggerated. Beyond the rhetoric of ‘self-organization’ and the ‘flattening of the hierarchy’, military networks are still largely nested within traditional institutional hierarchies, units are still given orders, and follow plans and timelines.”

-- Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land

Despite the overused moniker of ‘design’, for the past generation of persistent conflict and military transformation, theorists and practitioners continue to experiment with some form of novel problem solving and decision-making (Beaulieu-Brossard & Dufort, 2016; Gracier, 2016; Pazdziorek, 2016; Ryan, 2016). Typically lumped under the all-encompassing term ‘design’, this eclectic and multi-disciplinary construct seeks critical and creative thinking to break beyond what military planning alone is increasingly unable to provide. However, this is not a criticism against analytical problem-solving and decision-making methodologies entirely; those models indeed work remarkably well in many complicated security environments and demonstrate great value in a wide range of applications. They are not universal nor infallible, which shifts part of the failure back towards military institutions that wittingly or unwittingly seek to apply them exclusively to all possible problems (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996, p. 183). This is where design provides alternatives and opportunity.

There are many different tribes of design, with groups of experts, theorists, as well as doctrine writers and practitioners (Banach, 2009; Delacruz, 2007; Grome, Crandall, Rasmussen, & Wolters, 2012; Martin, 2015; Naveh, Schneider, & Challans, 2009; Paparone, 2013; Reilly, 2009; Ryan, 2009). There are a multitude of different parents of military design, and increasingly there are many different arguments on what exactly design provides, how it should be applied in military contexts (Grome, Crandall, & Rasmussen, 2012), as well as who might declare the correct design concepts and discard the many other competing design versions and hybrids  that continue to confuse as well as intrigue the international military profession (Graves & Stanley, 2013; Grigsby et al., 2011; Nocks, 2010; Vego, 2009). The past generation of military strategists, theorists and practitioners have made multiple arguments for and against military design in myriad forms and roles.

In this expanding multi-disciplinary field of design theory and practice, perhaps a more general perspective on the larger international military design movement is required to offer some clarity, as well as a proposal on what is next to come. Currently, there are no comprehensive studies available of international military design movements, nor are there any studies of design theory beyond a single service, doctrine or design construct.[i] There is documentation on specific design processes, techniques and inquiries in isolation, yet there are no comprehensive multi-service and international summaries of the larger design movement for the past generation of persistent and irregular conflict.  Due to the youthful nature of the design movement, this lack of academic study is both understandable and likely indicative of design development in the near future.

If this past generation might be framed broadly as the ‘first generation of military design concepts’, what distinguishes this grouping, and more importantly, what might be the form and function of a second generation for design? The intent for this design study is to offer the necessary theoretical and practical framework for such a study in multi-service and international military design models, and frame that movement to illustrate why military institutions are increasingly turning to design thinking, as well as where the next generation of design models might lead.

Two Major Design Movements Currently Ongoing

Before the first generation of military design is described, the two major trends across the international military community ought to be addressed in order to establish the overarching context for how and why this military design movement is emerging. Despite the early development of military design concepts in the first generation largely isolated to Israel, America, Australia and Canada (Boyd, 1976; Butler-Smith, 2016; Gracier, 2016; Mitchell, 2015; Naveh, 2007; Ryan, 2016; Weizman, 2005), by 2017 military design movements have expanded to Eastern Europe (Pazdziorek, 2016), Scandinavian countries (Sookermany, 2013), South America, as well as multiple war colleges, national defense universities, and advanced military schools worldwide. [ii]  Military design is growing on every continent in the world, and manifesting in distinct forms that relate to cultural and value-based constructs associated with that military organization’s perspective upon war, security and complexity.

In this broad and international context, two patterns seem to be distinguishable when considering the various design theories, doctrine, practice and education currently in use across various disciplines and military institutions. The first pattern promotes an international expansion where societies that grapple with the technological and global developments of this new Information Age are becoming increasingly frustrated with traditional military decision-making and analytic based planning processes alone.  Whether one terms this the ‘Post-Industrial’ Era or apply popular monikers such as the ‘Gray Zone’, ‘Low Intensity Conflicts’ or ‘Conflicts Short of War’, military organizations view an increasingly fluid and dynamic world as less predictable, with non-state actors now able to employ state-like instruments of power with novel and surprising efficiencies. Societies may now be drifting into a ‘Post-Modern World’ where, despite the objections of Post-Modernists on the appropriating of their term, the very assets that made militaries able to secure and protect in the Modern Era are now unable to accomplish with the same satisfaction.

With this drift towards a new phase or period of military transformation, the past generation of military professionals has experimented with military design thinking as an attempt to augment traditional military planning and organizational development. Multiple models have been developed, with an emphasis on seeking non-linear and iterative processes that desire creativity and critical thinking rather than convergence and rote application of established principles and processes. Military design has become both international and nested, where multiple schools and services share strong design similarities in specific processes, language, philosophies and practice (Beaulieu-Brossard, 2016; Beaulieu-Brossard & Dufort, 2016; Butler-Smith, 2016; Paparone, 2011; Ryan, 2016). Yet most all military design developments also appear to share a generational trend towards several core goals that emanate deep from within military institutions overall.  These deeper institutional choices may prevent the first generation of military design from accomplishing original intents, but also might offer convenient frames for theorists and researchers to bound first generation design efforts from subsequent ones. For institutions, resistance is often highest when there is action to change routines and favored processes (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996, p. 181).

First Generation Design Defined

In the late 1990s, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) began to experiment with what would be the first design construct for military application (Weizman, 2007, pp. 188–190). Although visionaries such as John Boyd might have identified earlier post-modern perspectives for a military to consider complexity (Boyd, 1976; Osinga, 2006), the IDF under the intellectual leadership of Shimon Naveh were the first to organize and implement a radical departure from traditional planning and strategy (Dalton, 2006; Naveh, undated document, 2007; Ryan, 2016). Termed ‘Systemic Operational Design’ or SOD, Naveh and his gang of eclectic intellectuals forged a revolution within the IDF prior to the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah. Yet despite Naveh’s charismatic and deeply intellectual efforts to blend philosophy, architectural design, complexity theory and operational war theory into a new way of thinking about conflict, the dense language and obtuse multi-disciplinary components made SOD a difficult new tool for the IDF to latch onto (Naveh, 2007; Vego, 2009). Yet just as Naveh and his SOD disciples were being purged from the Israeli war machine in 2005-2006, both the American and Australian military took notice and invited Naveh to educate on this new design process

By 2005, variations of SOD began appearing in American and Australian military schools, although only in very small and specialized teams that had the academic focus on seeking out radical concepts for potential military appropriation such as at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies (Bernard, 2007; Davison, 2006; Delacruz, 2007; Lauder, 2009) and in various Special Operations organizations (Naveh, undated). Naveh’s SOD originally held to four frames, termed the ‘rival of rationale’, ‘command as a rationale’, ‘logistics as a rationale’, and ‘operational framing’ set within a geometric and architecturally structured design iteration. Once SOD gained traction in the American and Australian militaries, much of Naveh’s original design constructs were replaced.

The Australian adaptation of SOD appears to tilt towards the complexity theory and architectural inspirations of Naveh’s original work (Naveh, undated document, 2005; Tschumi, 1997; Weizman, 2005, 2007) while eliminating much of the dense philosophy (Jackson, undated draft version; Ryan, 2009). Although less is available on the Australian development of design thinking, there are several monographs and articles addressing the Australian application of complexity theory with a nod to John Boyd’s ‘OODA Loop’ cycle in the Australian assimilation of select SOD concepts (Bassingthwaighte, 2011, p. 15).  While complexity theory alone likely had significant influence on the last generation of Australian doctrine writers and theorists, Naveh’s exposure of SOD to the Australians had significant ramifications (Gracier, 2016; Naveh, undated; Ryan, 2009, 2016). 

American endeavors to reshape SOD into something simpler for a larger general-purpose force have been studied by sociologists, historians and doctrinal researchers alike (Banach, 2009; Graves & Stanley, 2013; Grigsby et al., 2011; Grome, Crandall, & Rasmussen, 2012; Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2015; Martin, 2015; Ryan, 2016; School of Advanced Military Studies, 2010; Zweibelson, Martin, & Paparone, 2013). For the U.S. Army, the dense poetry and abstract philosophy of SOD became streamlined into ‘Army Design Methodology’ where three elemental spheres of ‘operational frame’, ‘problem frame’, and the solution frame known as the ‘operational approach’ create the interrelated elements of ‘sense-making’, ‘idea-making’ and ‘decision-making’ for military designers (School of Advanced Military Studies, 2010, p. 18).

Since 2010, the U.S. Army has published entire design chapters in capstone doctrinal publications such as ‘Operations’ and subordinate documents (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2012, 2015; United States Army, 2010) while still unable to overcome numerous design complaints from the larger organization on how design does not seem to be helping as promised (Dalton, 2006; Grome, Crandall, & Rasmussen, 2012; Martin, 2011; Nocks, 2010; Paparone, 2010). While the U.S. Army has modified the Army Design Methodology model through changes in education, doctrine, as well as practice, other military institutions have either followed the U.S. Army or broken off towards different design destinations.

The Canadian Army has experimented with design since 2013 at their Canadian Forces College (CFC), with significant credit owed to Paul T. Mitchell and his vision and curiosity of various design constructs (Beaulieu-Brossard & Dufort, 2016; “CFC DS/CF 548 Programme,” 2014; Mitchell, 2015). Mitchell, along with various faculty in Toronto have shaped a multi-disciplinary design program that draws from U.S. Army Design Methodology, Systemic Operational Design and Naveh, and other design theory such as the work of Christopher Paparone, Grant Martin and others. [iii]

The CFC is unique in that it draws from design applications from civilian design institutions such as the Stanford Design School and associated variants. [iv] The next figure below provides several civilian design methodologies where prototyping occurs prior to developmental processes for sequential reasons. The prototyping period of divergent thinking permits critical and creative thinking (idea making) while sense making with the environment also occurs. Civilian design processes do share several similarities with first generation military design models, despite different goals and emphasis (products and consumer experiences instead of complexity in war). With these overlaps and interplay, it is understandable that some military design programs have included or assimilated elements of civilian design processes, and this trend likely will continue.

Since the arrival of SOD, a multitude of design variations have manifested in various military programs and practice, to include the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) where an “ADM-inspired” three phase iterative process is employed, although the JSOU model moves well beyond ADM and includes civilian design, sociology and complexity theory.[v] SOD itself has gone through two more variations in Israel and elsewhere, with the original model evolving into two subsequent versions depicted below (Gracier, 2016).

The different evolutions of Systemic Operational Design by Shimon Naveh for Israeli Defense Force application represent deep and sophisticated design models as well as long-term consideration from practitioners seeking to advance military design concepts using academic as well as multi-disciplinary sources. [vi] In both of the evolutions of SOD, Naveh demonstrates an appreciation of the limits of organizational frames (legacy, self, interiority) as well as the need for non-linear and emergent methodologies within the design process; essentially to become a disruptive thinker is to reflect and challenge institutionalisms and one’s own view of reality in complex warfare.

While design developments by the Americans (Army Design Methodology and associated variants) and the Australians (Adaptive Campaigning) move towards integrating planning with complex adaptive systems framing, Naveh’s various evolutions of SOD appear to move further afield from simplifying design language and concepts. For critics of SOD and Naveh, this likely adds gasoline to the fire, in that making SOD more esoteric and academic may not resonate with efforts to educate design across a broad audience of adult learners seeking to apply it in a variety of shared military activities.

Yet of all of the first generation design processes, Naveh’s third evolution of SOD may come the closest to breaking out of the linear processes and towards a second-generation development for design practice. For this article, the “Z-Pattern” SOD depicted as Naveh’s third evolution is currently provided to IDF senior leadership and design practitioners in educational environments quite removed from the original approaches that earlier design education took, to include original SOD. Most adaptations and derivatives of Naveh’s early SOD work (such as ADM) continue to hold to those early design constructs, and therefore retain all of the first generation limitations to be explained below.

The Indoctrination of First Generation Design and Major Limitations

Ontological and epistemological choices occur within any organization’s framework for combining ideas and actions within what is understood as reality. These philosophical terms are essential for any deep discourse on design, whether first or second generation. To consider ontology, philosophers address what an organization or group thinks about what exists, and how those thoughts are structured within structure and meaning; it forms the framework for a belief system of how the world functions (Burrell & Morgan, 1979; Gioia & Pitre, 1990; Lewis & Grimes, 1999; Lewis & Kelemen, 2002). Epistemology is another philosophical inquiry into theories about knowledge itself; the analysis and critical reflection upon how humans know what they know, and deeper consideration on the rationalization as well as limits to that belief (Hardy & Tolhurst, 2014; Schon, 1995; Sookermany, 2013). Both of these concepts are critical for addressing topics beyond the methodologies of first (and second) generation design models.

First generation design models attempt to move beyond the traditional military models for strategy and detailed planning. These models are surmised as ‘analytical decision-making models’ or termed ‘positivist’ by military theorists due to the ontological and epistemological qualities of traditional planning and strategy making (Jackson, 2013, p. 4-6; Paparone, 2013, p. 38). Most all Western approaches to strategy and planning assume that reality can be deconstructed or reduced down to elemental principles that govern the system, that the formalized planning model can be described in detail, and that the entire analytic approach can be rationalized using scientific methods (Mintzberg, 1994).

Traditional military planning and strategy making starts with clearly defined goals, assumes all information needed for a decision can be acquired, all viable options can be considered by strategists, the environment is stable and predictable, and there is enough time for planners to rationalize the process using analytic approaches (School of Advanced Military Studies, 2010, p. 12). The rise of design thinking occurred in the last generation of persistent conflict primarily because these conditions no longer appeared applicable to militaries seeking strategy and decision-making within contexts that lacked clearly defined goals, where information could not be comprehensive or complete, options emerged in non-linear ways, and the environment was anything but stable and predictable.

Thus, first generation design attempts to create non-linear processes for critical and creative thinking, hence SOD, ADM and other methodologies seek an iterative process where designers might circle back to prior steps frequently. This is a departure for strategists and planners used to the sequential and linear methodology of analytic decision-making and traditional planning, which likely contributed to military organizational resistance to design concepts and education (Grome, Crandall, & Rasmussen, 2012; Naveh, 2007; Ryan, 2016; Zweibelson, 2015).

Yet despite rocking the boat with iterative design methodologies, first generation design models in practice still held to a sequential practice much like civilian design does where prototyping iterations occur well before committing to development and deliberate design. In other words, one can always move from aquariums of living fish to delicious fish stew, but a designer cannot move back from fish stew to an aquarium of those fish again. Once cooked, the process becomes irreversible, just as for civilian design applications, prototyping must occur extensively prior to the commitment to a design and the development of the selected prototype. Fresh ingredients into soup, but never the reverse is the paradox for design applications for consumers.

First generation design models attempt non-linear processes and frequently use the concept of ‘iteration’ for discussing the cyclic and sometimes random looping of a design team back and forth through those frames that permit flexibility and cognitive discourse. Yet along with the iterative aspect of first generation design models, militaries insist upon the design deliverable becoming something that leads to or inspires detailed planning and execution. This is not an issue until the design desired output takes over the entire design process and disrupts innovative thinking entirely.

For many designers that have conducted Army Design Methodology sessions or other similar applications that require a design deliverable to be handed to an operational planning team, a bit of “mission creep” seems to occur where planning language, processes, and concepts work their way into the design iterations. Typically, this is when a design team ends up using ‘centers of gravity’ or developing ‘lines of effort’ and ‘phases leading to a desired end state’ which starts to convert the design process into a detailed planning session. First generation design models are susceptible to this due to their structure and frequently an inability to prevent dominant paradigm processes (including planning language and other concepts) from asserting influence on the design methodology. Even efforts to “re-frame” are limited in first generation design models in that any attempt to go through framing once more requires the design team to hold to the design structure that may encourage the dominant paradigm to continue to influence the design journey.

First generation design models have a structural challenge that best parallels the concept of ‘emplotment’ offered by Paul Ricoeur as well as Hayden White (Ricoeur, 1983, pp. 33–34; White, 1980, 1990, pp. 52–53)  Ricoeur originally proposes the concept while White adds significant contribution in subsequent study. Emplotment occurs in narrative philosophy where all societies implicitly build a ‘plot’ with a beginning, middle, and end into nearly all processes that take on ideological and representational knowledge construction. “A narrative…is neither an icon of the events of which it speaks, an explanation of those events, nor a rhetorical refashioning of “facts” for a specifically persuasive effects. It is a symbol mediating between different universes of meaning by “configuring” the dialectic of their relationship in an image” (White, 1990, p. 52). People understand reality through these plots when combined with ideologies, tropes, and tensions, and later can add any artifacts or factual observations as details supporting this constructed worldview.

For first generation design, emplotment occurs before the designers even begin, as each design model has a starting frame (usually the ‘environmental frame’, or ‘appreciation of the context’, or ‘rational of rival’) and despite the number of iterations, design ends with a deliverable (often termed the ‘operational approach’) that has a rich picture and written narrative. The emplotment of first generation design tends to force many designers into a sequential and rather linear (even if iterative) process that is closer to stock cars speeding along a race track accumulating laps towards a final victory lap instead of a non-linear and emergent design process. First generation design models remain locked onto the process of the race track, whereas second generation design might break free of such limitations.

On the notion of reframing, first generation design models are decidedly adapt at rebuilding the content of design, but not the form.  In Army Design Methodology, a re-frame requires designers to return to the original step for creating an environmental frame, while the Stanford Design model would return designers for another round of empathy consideration. These are not criticisms in that iterations of repeating the frame might produce exceptional design results; however the issue here is that all first generation design models cannot change their own design forms.

Returning to the metaphor of the race track, the designers become drivers that must design using particular rules that cannot be violated, as they form the context for which content is added to the design form. Most first generation models have a problem frame, an opposition system or reason that they must ideate to generate prototypes. What if designers have “a problem with the word problem”? First generation design models might have begun as sense-making models, but they have all in practice become analytic models where the design process must fall within the established design frame, with an allowance for iteration between them. Yet even the iterative nature of first generation design prevents adaptation or innovation where designers might break free of the design model entirely.

First generation design models take great care to avoid the strategic goal-setting that plagues analytic decision-making and problem-solving models. Yet in many first generation design processes, the language that supports military engineering, science and architecture remain deeply entrenched, to the point that some design models actively use principles of war and other planning processes to support the design endeavor. When designers establish single ‘desired end-states’ or attempt to change a complex system’s behavior towards something more stable and friendly to their goals, they are implying that the reverse-engineering and analytical processes of detailed planning still can be used even if obfuscated in practice. First generation design models feature these issues because they were the first design constructs to gain even limited acceptance in the organization. However, second generation design models will potentially move in directions that no longer require any homage to the dominant military paradigm and the necessity of integrating into detailed planning logic. This is a radical departure that will be addressed in the next section.

First generation design models feature a few more related limitations. Sociologist Donald Schön provides his theory of ‘displacement of concepts’ where the ideas of a current process use metaphors and language to create new knowledge when innovation and adaptation occurs. With new ideas and meaning come new language, and a displacement of concepts from the old or obsolete towards the new and emergent. Yet through the indoctrination of many first generation design models into published doctrine, the demand for checklists, sequences, shared lexicon, and established language produces a barrier to this necessary displacement of design concepts. 

Design, through practice and new theory application, is supposed to expand and grow in unexpected and surprising directions; this likely challenges the traditional processes of most military hierarchies. Many first generation design models are initially flexible to permit multiple theories and constructs in, however after a period of practice and institutional hardening, that period closes and design becomes increasingly rigid, or institutionalized by the institution (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996, pp. 183–185). In some ways, this is a welcome development for first generation design models, in that the calcification of these models weakens their potency, and makes the way for discussions on what might be next.

Theorizing on Second Generation Design Form and Content

At this point, there only exist first generation military design models in practice as well as in doctrine and theory. There are no second generation design models yet, and therefore the remainder of this discussion is entirely theoretical. In fact, it is “theorizing about theory”, which can be even more esoteric and experimental. “Structures that are altered or created must be believed to have some positive value for the organization, or decision-makers typically would not allocate resources to altering or creating new formal structure” (Tolbert & Zucker, 1996, p. 180). To suggest a second generation of design is two-fold risky, as a theorist might be dismissed by critics of design as well as advent design enthusiasts.   However, the ongoing design discourse demands perpetual theory and critical reflection as well as experimentation and emergent practice.

If readers were to accept that all existing design might be framed as a first generation design, then what might a second generation of design move towards? How would second generation design differ from predecessors, and would they seem related or unrelated in the context of military development in complexity? The figure below outlines the first generation characteristics and patterns in order to establish what a possible second generation design model might take form as.  

First generation design models adhere to a general pattern where the radical development and introduction of novel critical and creative thinking is also beset with first generation flaws and problems. The first generation of automobiles, airplanes, and management approaches all featured strengths and weaknesses that subsequent generations improved upon. Original military design models are if anything a primary bridge for military professionals to consider significant alternatives in thinking about theory, military practice, as well as different ways of organizing and influencing system change within complexity. These first generation design models not only had to introduce extremely complex concepts as well as produce an entirely new language for the military profession, they also had to challenge the many institutional barriers that continue to resist design opportunities when set within complex adaptive security contexts.

Second generation design models might possess significant improvements upon these first generation strengths, although theorizing about emergent concepts is inherently risky. Nonetheless, if a major drawback of first generation design models is the adherence to an established methodology that cycles designers to reframe through the same methodology, there is an epistemological failure that may only plague first generation designers. Failure here implies only that if design attempts to provide divergent thinking and the conditions for innovation in a military organization, first generation design models potentially prevent quite a bit of innovation from occurring before designers start. This requires further explanation on design epistemological choices.

The process of reframing should make this more apparent. In the U.S. Army’s design methodology, designers that do not end up with sufficient design outputs (or if the system changes and renders a design solution irrelevant) are instructed to repeat the design methodology in order to develop a novel solution that differs from the previous one. What happens if the epistemological choice of framing the environment first becomes an obstacle for the design team to gain a truly innovative perspective? Regardless of how many times a design team reframe, they remain locked within the epistemological as well as methodological forms that undoubtedly shape the content.  A child on the beach armed with a bucket can make any sandcastle they might imagine, provided that all possible sandcastles are constructed by buckets of sand. If the child is allowed to create new containers of many different forms, the potential for unexpected (innovative) and novel sandcastles increases exponentially. Reframing should include not only the sand (content), but also the design form (methodology set through epistemology). 

What would happen if a design epistemology permitted designers to develop entirely new design methodologies throughout each iteration of framing and reframing? While first generation design efforts can change their design content but not the design form (the theory for design theorizing), a second generation design model might intentionally choose a fluid form for design methods. Second generation design might feature iterations of designers transforming both the content (the design process and deliverables) as well as the form (how designers think about designing). This concept will be demonstrated in an example below.

Second generation design will likely increase the fluid nature of the design process, and by considering the concepts of White’s enplotment theory as well as the latest artificial intelligence research by robotics theorists such as Stanley and Lehman, the traditional strategy-making models associated with analytic decision-making as well as first generation design models might be transcended (Stanley & Lehman, 2015).  Stanley and Lehman originally addressed applications for artificial intelligence and organizational innovation without considering military applications. However by 2016 their work had caught the attention of multiple military design programs and been introduced into various workshops, exercises, and into practical design discussions.  Second generation design should investigate the sophisticated concepts that researchers such as Stanley and Lehman offer, if only because their theories challenge entire establishments on management and organizational theory as well as most process-improvement methodologies.

For second generation design, strategy and goal-making will become emergent, and the concepts of ‘start’ as well as ‘end’ will soften so that designers might enter and exit a design inquiry in nonlinear iterations through a different way of structuring the design epistemology as well as methodology. For first generation military design models such as ADM, this is not permitted in doctrine nor observed in practice. Designers tend to start with ‘environmental frame’ and eventually finish with a final iteration of ‘operational approach’ to produce the design deliverable. A second generation design model would not feature these requirements, and render design as a process and a deliverable in a different and emergent manner. This places the concept of ‘drift’ as a design metaphor deep within a second design epistemology so that any methodology becomes nested in the critical elements of nonlinearity, emergence, complex adaptive systems, and the inability for designers to remove themselves from the environment for objective or analytic-based reasoning.

A leveled criticism of first generation design comes from the traditional military planner’s perspective that any design endeavor must eventually produce some tangible output that enables subsequent planning and/or execution. This has influenced nearly all first generation design models in that the institutional pull for analytic-based and reductionist planning processes tends to infiltrate the design process. At times, design teams with inexperienced designers frequently move right into detailed planning processes despite the objections of first generation design doctrine, theory and practice. Second generation design models might break further away from this tension in order to protect what the design process is intended to do. Design deliverables in a pure sense are what the organization needs in order to gain advantage and improve within a complex and adaptive context. Ironically, while a military organization might set out to develop a new plan or strategy, the design deliverable that the organization will realize over time may come in an entirely novel and unrecognized form. It may not be a plan, or related to planning at all. While first generation design tends to prevent this from happening, second generation design models might encourage it.

Second generation design models may take Schon’s theory of the displacement of concepts for new knowledge construction and enable designers to not only build new language and concepts, but realize emergent forms of doing design and producing deliverables. This means that when a design inquiry begins, the design form (methodology) first used will change over time, as designers move through iterations and learn through designing. The emergent form for the later design process cannot be recognized or predicted at the beginning, and only through the fluid and open design process will the design team discover the novel design content and form. Designers will conclude their design efforts potentially using an entirely unfamiliar design methodology that has essentially grown with the team during the iterative and nonlinear process of designing.

Here, ‘theorizing about theory making’ becomes the actual design process. The displacement of concepts changes the language and shared concepts that the design team uses so that the team has novel language at the conclusion instead of a set lexicon throughout the process. Lastly, each design iteration and challenge is unique and a one-shot opportunity. The design content as well as form cannot nor should not be re-applied to future design challenges with any expectation that “what worked before ought to work again”. Each design iteration and process becomes a custom build; a one-of-a-kind, and resistant to indoctrination or application of ‘best practices’ for manuals and universal implementation. Second generation design models will be similar to second generation design practitioners; requiring a community of practitioners that exchange ideas and share design concepts in a plural and non-hierarchical manner. To demonstrate what one possible second generation design model might look like, a few metaphors require introduction.

One Possible Second Generation Design Example: Drifting with a Compass

As all design models can be considered first generation, there is only theory available to propose what a second-generation design model might look like in form, function, as well as deeper epistemological and ontological choices. The previous section applied organizational theory and sociology towards all major first generation design models to determine shared patterns as well as potential shortfalls. Here, using theory and the utility of metaphors that rely upon shared concepts of emergence and innovation, one possible model for second generation design takes form. Theory cannot replace practice, and until a military organization experiments with design models such as this proposed one (or others), theory remains theoretical.

Human civilization has admired explorers since the dawn of recorded history, with tales of brave adventurers seeking discovery and new worlds being some of the best known tales passed through oral and later written traditions. While merchants sailing a known sea from port to port face dangers, they have maps and the ability over time to rely upon experience to make journeys more predictable and stable. Many readers likely drive to and from work daily and can almost do it without paying much attention because human brains work to familiarize repetition with automatic responses and learned behaviors. Maps exist for this reason as well. But what happens when a familiar road is closed, and the traveler has to find an entirely new route through unfamiliar territory? Consider the explorer sailing towards what is the edge of the known world where all maps end, and only a vast unknown exists beyond.  

Figure 7 depicts this tension between stable worldviews that reduce uncertainty and the dark and scary unknowns that require full attention and creativity. The merchant sailing the known route faces many perils, yet the known route and accurate map works much like analytic based decision-making and problem-solving models do for military organizations. MDMP, JOPP, MCPP and others are for somewhat familiar yet still hazardous activities in security contexts. Design attempts to provide the military with a framework for thinking when one has reached the “end of the map” and must improvise as well as innovate as one discovers novel destinations that are yet to be named.

During all journeys that lack a map, the explorer routinely creates a new one, but this map becomes subordinate to whatever nonlinear and emergent path that explorer takes. Early maps of North and South America were not only inaccurate, but distorted and incomplete due to the emergent ways that explorers ‘made sense of where to go’ along the way. Over time, later travelers gained the predictability and stability of established maps, but for explorers the design process becomes the journeys where no map exists and the journey requires the creation of a new one. For this proposed second generation design model, the compass is used as an organizing metaphor to apply certain design epistemological as well as ontological choices to prevent the model from returning to first generation examples.

In Figure 8, the compass metaphor features the familiar cardinal directions in the established symbol for navigation. The metaphor has utility because it features several significant implications that are recognizable by most audiences. Explorers using a compass are not set to sequences where they must go in order; the compass is instead used to navigate in many different paths that occur in non-sequential and emergent ways. This provides important epistemological structures for design nonlinearity as well as introducing the concept of drift. Explorers may set course and rig sails to aim for a particular strategic goal over the horizon, yet drift and the complex adaptive system of ocean currents and weather prevent explorers from ever getting precisely where they planned to. Drift is important because with the compass it acknowledges the incompleteness of any design endeavor; designers do not know where they will end up until they are deep within the design process.

The compass as a metaphor for a second generation design model possesses one additional critical component. As first generation design models only permit the displacement of concepts through the content and not the design form itself, the compass directions here are temporary and replaceable. The cardinal directions are to be swapped out with various design components as the design team seeks to change the design form over time. While second generation design models should feature largely unrecognizable design components, for the purposes of illustration Figure 8 presents four of the first generation design model methodological components.

Figure 8 might have a team start with Systemic Operational Design methodological components inserted into each of the compass cardinal directions. A design inquiry might move north (rival as rationale) first, and then on a southern course (command as rationale), while turning east (logistics as rationale). Another team might take the compass and apply civilian design components instead, starting north (empathize), then turning south (ideate) and later turning east (prototype). Unlike first generation design models, a second generation process expects the design team to not only change their design content over time, but to experiment and innovate with the design methodology itself. The cardinal directions embolden nonlinear and emergent iterations, while the fluid aspect of the design methodology encourages the development of new and unexpected design epistemologies.

Due to the radical departure of second generation design models from what first generation design currently provides, designers should first consider the importance of each of these developments separately. The nonlinear and iterative nature of second generation design means that like a compass, the design inquiry might enter from any direction and move through each part of the design process without any set order. The team might conclude their design inquiry with a design deliverable, but that conclusion might occur at any of the compass points. Figure 9 illustrates one such possible design evolution for a second generation design model.

Starting with the red lines with the upper left compass, the design team enters the inquiry with the methodological component associated with the north cardinal direction. This first design iteration has the design team simply moving counter-clockwise, and exiting the inquiry after reaching the methodological component associated with ‘west’. In the next design example, a team begins moving ‘east’ and then towards west, and subsequently moving north and back to east without going south at all. Second generation design may not require all of the methodological components to be exercised, as only the design team will realize during the design process whether their iterative journey requires it or not. The last example in Figure 9 offers what will likely be closer to most design inquiries. Design teams should move through many course directions in nonlinear and emergent means, with each design inquiry being distinct and non-repeatable for other applications. Every time a design team sets off for a second generation design inquiry, it is a new exploration of a complex adaptive system where no maps exist and likely there are novel discoveries awaiting.

Depicted separately here for convenience is the second critical aspect of a second generation design model’s epistemological difference with first generation approaches. Figure 10 depicts how a design team might develop their design methodology (the form) along with new design outputs (the content) along the iterative process. Starting with the red lines in the upper left, a design team might begin with using Systemic Operational Design as the starting methodological components in each compass direction. Again, true second generation design models will feature their own and likely highly novel design components, however for purposes of illustration Figure 10 provides existing design examples from first generation design models.

Moving from red lines to green lines, the design team completes their first iteration of a design inquiry and after assessing the design content, they determine that a reframe is required and a change in the design methodology. In the green lined compass, two of the compass components that held SOD structures are replaced with civilian design components. This illustrates not only the hybrid possibilities of second generation design, but the expansive variety of options for a design team to explore and experiment with. Figure 10 moves from green lines to purple lines on the third iteration. Here, the hybrid design methodology is again advanced with two methodological components replaced with ‘novel concepts x and y’. These are labeled novel intentionally to illustrate how the design team will only realize new design concepts only while conducting the design process within second generation design. In other words, explorers would name new locations only after they discovered them, and capture those new concepts on maps for when they returned home. New discoveries require new language in design and complex security contexts as well. With Figure 10, the design team completes their design inquiry as depicted with the orange lines where the entire design methodology is novel. Each component associated with the compass metaphor is a new design process to itself. Figure 10 illustrates how the entire design epistemology for second generation design encourages the transformation not just of the design outputs, but the design methodologies themselves for designers. This becomes a true manifestation of ‘theorizing about theory making’ so that the conditions for innovation, divergent thinking, and emergence are primed for organizational learning. Once complete, the design team will establish another independent design journey as directed by their organization while not making the error in attempting to force a previously successful design methodology or output into a new design challenge. Some deliverables might have application in future design challenges, but they may also risk setting the organization off on the wrong direction towards greater risk and harm.

The Organizational Risks Increase with Second Generation Concepts

Second generation design models, if they follow the patterns and structure as proposed above, face multiple additional risks beyond what first generation design models struggle with. The U.S. Army invested significant sociological and doctrinal study of why Army Design Methodology was not integrating well into the organization in 2012-2014. In these reports, scientists offered that design had dense language, elitist aspects of the process, and that practitioners became frustrated on both sides due to communication and information breakdowns. Second generation design faces more of the same in that the paradox of overcoming first generation barriers likely creates even larger organizational divides.

Second generation design will require greater education as well as deeper appreciation of multiple disciplines and fields, to include sociology, philosophy, complexity theory, organizational theory, management theory, and military doctrine. To develop second generation design practitioners will require significant investment for military senior leaders, with the understanding that design education cannot be completed in five day courses or producing new manuals. Second generation design will be cultivated and embraced at an advanced education level, thus requiring military recruitment and retention of new and specific academic skills that will run counterculture to the current demand for increased focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Social sciences, theoretical disciplines within sciences and philosophy represent rich fields for multi-disciplinary approaches and second generation military design models. However, the fluid nature of the second generation design methodology itself will likely be the largest barrier to institutional acceptance.

Designers as well as senior leaders requesting design deliverables will initially have little tolerance for something that from the outside may appear to have no predicable form at all. Design teams composed of individuals without the necessary skill and experience will feel quite adrift “without a working compass” if the second generation design form requires emergent transformation. This process will be the diametric opposite to everything that works well in convergent and sequential analytic problem-solving.  Second generation design will resist being templated into a planning schedule, nor can an execution checklist make sense of the iterative and emergent process. Deep specialists in the analytic decision-making (such as ORSA, strategic planners, campaign design experts) will potentially find second generation design alien or counterproductive; leaders that re-task planners in their organizations to participate on design inquires may find their design efforts quickly turning into planning activities. Essentially, second generation design moves in the opposite direction of most accepted analytic-based planning and decision-making methodologies.

This issue should not be one of “design versus planning”, nor should a design process feed into or provide a planning product when considering second generation design models. Instead, design is done for separate reasons, using separate processes, and producing outputs that may transform the organization, influence a complex environment, or generate novel conditions within which that organization must simultaneously plan and act as well as continue to design. Second generation design becomes a parallel yet distinct “meta-function” that expands to impact all that the military organization senses, acts, and reflects upon. This requires significant educational reform as well as a new talent pool for military organizations to consider who ought to be designing, and why this might be. Second generation design will not work well as an additional skill set, or something crammed into a course to produce a higher quantity of graduates. Second generation design sacrifices quantity for quality, and considers individual and organizational learning at generational phases instead of military tours or election cycles. Again, this likely runs up against multiple institutionalisms across political, organizational, and even ideological positions on security, war and human conflict.


There are no second generation design models that exist in practice. Theoretically, one model has been presented using an overarching framework and the study of what might be termed first generation design. The military design movement is expanding rapidly, with many creative and experienced military professionals reaching into many different disciplines and fields. Current design discussion occurs at the academic as well as pragmatic levels, with a wide and eclectic mix of professionals developing new techniques as well as concepts.

Readers might assume that an argument for second generation design implies that these theoretical models are building upon first generation in what might be considered a teleological progression of incremental organized military thought and action. Teleology is an important philosophical point for considerations on whether the entire military movement encompassing strategy, tactics, and operational planning has some sort of ultimate purpose in human organized conflict. Does the nature of war channel military institutions over time to progressively create and advance more sophisticated ways of thinking, organizing, and acting to achieve military advantage? Or is it entirely constructed and illusionary, where potentially ancient military tenets and principles might have been the optimum way to wage war, with modern developments including design merely distractions? This article does not attempt to argue either position, and instead suggests only that second generation design is not an advancement upon first generation design in an incremental and collaborative direction.

If readers suspend belief in war theory being teleological for a moment, any design movement radically different than both analytic problem-solving and first generation design is not progress, but merely different. The theoretical assumption implicit here is that the next generation of military professionals will use second generation design thinking because it functions better in the expanding complex reality where developments such as technology, globalization, and social media are making earlier military thinking models obsolete. Second generation design is a dramatic departure from first generation design thinking. It is a different game, with different purposes recognizing a different perspective on war and military organizations. It only has proximity to first generation design for temporal reasons; one came first.

Militaries today are struggling with an ever-increasing complexity in the world, to include war and security contexts that previously defined entire military organizational purpose and form. Militaries are losing their identities because the very things that used to define them are now being deconstructed, rejected, or turned inside out. When design entered the military lexicon nearly a generation ago, it met with great institutional resistance, as do most radical ideas. Over time, many different design models took shape, with the traditional military institution adapting and even interacting in what those new design forms might become. Various services introduced doctrine, manuals, pamphlets, white papers, research projects, and entire educational modules for design exploration and development. If this entire generation of design development might be considered the first generation for design thinking, eventually a second generation will emerge. Any second generation is distinct from the previous, and ideally has improved upon it while also moving in a different and usually unexpected direction. No matter what potential form it takes, eventually a second generation design model will emerge for military practice and theory. In order to distinguish it from the first generation, that model will feature new and creative processes that likely will be associated with different epistemological and ontological choices about design and war. From different ontologies and epistemologies come novel methodologies. The first generation of design encountered institutional resistance from the majority of the military before gradual acceptance through an adaptation of the content and form. Will the same occur for the second generation of design thinking?


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End Notes

[i] The author has focused his doctoral research on a study of Anglo-Saxon military design and strategy in what is termed the post-modern era of conflict. Not only are there not published examples of military design beyond a single service or institutional premise, there are not any comprehensive studies of Anglo-Saxon military doctrine either.

[ii] The author, as the Course Director for the USSOCOM Joint Special Operations University as well as a doctoral researcher for the Australian National University on Anglo-Saxon Military Design Movements has engaged with military design programs developing in Colombia, Poland, Canada, Australia, various Special Operations organizations as well as in War Colleges and other advanced military schools.

[iii] The author has participated as a design lecturer and seminar facilitator for the past two academic years at the Canadian Forces College to enable their design courses and ‘Operation Shifting Sands’ design exercise.

[iv] The U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey also uses the Stanford Design Methodology as the basis for a yearlong post-graduate program in design thinking as of 2015.

[v] The author was one of multiple design experts and consultants assembled at JSOU in the spring of 2015 to assist in the establishment of the JSOU design model. Since then, the author contributed to the JSOU faculty first as adjunct faculty for design theory instruction (2015-2016) and later as the course director for the JSOU design program (2016-present).

[vi] The graphics depicted in Figure 5 are from handwritten notes of the presentation and slides that Dr. Gracier provided during her lecture on past and current SOD efforts. This presentation was at the Canadian Forces College to a design workshop panel in October 2016. The Journal of Military and Strategic Studies will dedicate an entire issue in the Spring of 2017 to design articles written by presenters and select design experts associated with this workshop.


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Great article, Ben.

I am playing around with this theory right now: a military unit can "do" design through one of two ways:

1- the commander leads the design effort either through brilliance (not the same as awesome execution) or through exposure in formal education
2- the commander has a staff who are either brilliant or have exposure to formal design education and both the commander and staff participate in the design effort

The last part of #2 is worth repeating: "both the commander and staff participate in the design effort."

Too many times I see staffs given complex problems and the commander is absent until the final out-brief.

Likewise, I see too many officers who think they are brilliant because the Army has promoted them to their current rank. And that's usually tied to some form of "awesome execution"...