Design and the Prospects for Critical Dialogue

Design and the Prospects for Critical Dialogue

by Christopher R. Paparone

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This is the fourth in a series of short Small Wars Journal articles on design. The previous discussions are about the prospects of a military professional renaissance, deviant leadership, and mission analysis. The renaissance article speaks to the paradoxical worldviews associated with a design culture. The second involves finding the appropriate model of leadership that complements the philosophy of design. The third article demonstrates that military design science is concerned primarily with the exploring the mysteries of craftwork and emergence -- where military routinized- and engineering-type tasks and associated analytic decision processes are insufficient to cope with the unpredictability of wicked situations. The thesis of the present essay (#4) is that, especially in a military context, dialogue is central to the method of design. In the midst of operating in highly volatile, uncertain, complex and uncertain (high "VUCA") environmental niches we have to continuously design meaning and find clever ways to communicate about that unique, novel, and highly contextual, wicked situation. We have to continuously and collectively MAKE SENSE when commonsense (the presumed esoteric "science" found in professional groups) does not seem to help. Dialogue is the condition that enables such collective sensemaking.

Download the Full Article: Design and the Prospects for Critical Dialogue

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

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Hi M.I., here is your entire last post. I am going to respond to each section. I will capitalize the word response and give my viewpoint next to it.

M.I. said.
Your analogy of Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru test is interesting (ok, I admit I am closet geek).

Kirk didn't break the "other guy's" rules; the enemy was three Klingon ships, not the game computer. Instead, he changed the system. Kirk knew the system parameters, not necessarily the enemy, held the key to winning.

RESPONSE: I disagree. Kirk understood that the systems parameters (rules) were created by a "Man" which is why he broke into the computer room and changed them. And that is the point all Human systems have rules created by Man. And when you understand(know) the rules you can break them.

M.I. said.
Unfortunately, the Kobayashi Maru was not a wicked problem. Wicked doesn't mean "really hard", rather, it is a problem that emerges from a complex system. Wicked problems aren't made by men, rather, they emerge from the interactions between them.

RESPONSE. If Wicked problems emerge from the interaction between men...that is the same thing as men creating them IMO.

M.I. said.
This leads back to Design, which is a way to visualize and work with within dynamic, complex systems. Design helps us to identify the systemic obstacles which are standing in the way of our objectives.

RESPONSE. And those systemic obstacles will be people IMO.

M.I. said.
I'll grant that strategic decisions regarding the ends, ways, and means of strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq may be erroneous. However, to conclude that we don't need to solve wicked problems simply because we should have avoided the ones we are currently faced with is a dangerous train of thought.

RESPONSE. I agree. The point I was trying to make was that we caused the Iraq situation, We caused the wicked problem, when we could have avoided it. And I would even say that the solution we used was actually avoidance. We convinced the Sunni population to take over primary responsibility and as such we avoided the problem,at least somewhat. Afghanistan is somewhat different in that we started out doing it right and then we turned it into for lack of a better word a wicked problem.

slapout9:

Your analogy of Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru test is interesting (ok, I admit I am closet geek).

Kirk didn't break the "other guy's" rules; the enemy was three Klingon ships, not the game computer. Instead, he changed the system. Kirk knew the system parameters, not necessarily the enemy, held the key to winning.

Unfortunately, the Kobayashi Maru was not a wicked problem. Wicked doesn't mean "really hard", rather, it is a problem that emerges from a complex system. Wicked problems aren't made by men, rather, they emerge from the interactions between them.

This leads back to Design, which is a way to visualize and work with within dynamic, complex systems. Design helps us to identify the systemic obstacles which are standing in the way of our objectives.

I'll grant that strategic decisions regarding the ends, ways, and means of strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq may be erroneous. However, to conclude that we don't need to solve wicked problems simply because we should have avoided the ones we are currently faced with is a dangerous train of thought.

"I tend to agree with your overall wicked social problems paradigm but in this case I propose that we must learn and judiciously apply the other guys rules. The "other guy's rules" define success criteria, defeat mechanisms, and mechanisms to manage violence withing the cultural frame of reference of the target culture/population." By Mac.

Absolutely, and that is part of understanding what was known as "The General Systems Theory"(later to be known as Ecology). When ever 2 biological systems compete, what the OTHER system does holds the key to you being able to win or survive. Which is why I say Strategy(Systems Thinking) is nothing but figuring out which of the other guys rules you need to break in order to win.

Slapout9,

I tend to agree with your overall wicked social problems paradigm but in this case I propose that we must learn and judiciously apply the other guys rules. The "other guy's rules" define success criteria, defeat mechanisms, and mechanisms to manage violence withing the cultural frame of reference of the target culture/population. The challenge to your argument is that all social encounters actually have to consider the other guy's rules if you are going to impose your will... My personal opinion is that our COIN approach based on modernization/political and economic development theory and derivatives thereof have been discredited by the reality of Iraq and Afghanistan precisely because we have templated a modernization approach (and neglecting specific cultural ideosynchracies) developed in some social science lab at university.

I would also like to propose that there exist instances where we may have initiated a sequence of events but that the subsequent sequence of events are then shaped and subject to non-man-made rules. Concepts of emergence and contagion come to mind. Simple rules at the micro-level determining complex behavior at the macro-level. Unable to impose a solution, we can only manage the unintended consequences. All subsequent actions are actually based on failed solutions to previous failures.

r/
MAC

Hi Mac,
That is a Really,Really,Really important comment. Except there is a better example in one of the original movies either Star Trek one or two. In the movie a cadet is being trained at the Star Fleet Academy and is going to face his final exam. It is a problem with no solution!!!!(Wicked Problem) the only person to ever pass the test was Captain James T. Kirk!!!! at the end of the movie the cadet ask Kirk how he solved a problem with no solution. The answer is the night before the test he (Kirk) broke into the computer room and re-programmed the computer's "Rule Set" so it would accept his solution.

And that is why I don't believe in Wicked Social problems. If a problem is caused by Man it can be solved by Man!!the reason you think it can't be solved is because you are following the wrong rules or somebody else's rules. And since all rules are created by Man they can and should be changed when it is appropriate. That is the problem with COIN doctrine IMO to many rules or trying to win by following the other guys rules.

Screw Star Fleet Directive #1... Give me a "piece of the action" (first broadcast on January 12, 1968) if the strategic, operational or tactical situation requires :-)

Anyone up for a game of Fizzbin?

r/
MAC

"With all respect to the intrepid explorers at Star Fleet, when the Klingons hijack the Enterprise and plow it into a building in New York, you probably should respond." By M.I.

That is true. We did it right when we first went into Afghanistan. We didn't try to change anybody else's system or culture, we just found people that wanted to kill Klingons and with the help of some B-52s things worked out pretty good, until we started to interfere by trying to impose our value system on another culture. And now we have another situation where WE created a wicked problem! Ya don't mess with Star Fleet prime directives.

PS: "Wicked Problems Will Always Find You" in the spirit of the season that sounds like a great name for a Horror movie. Later

There will always be wicked problems, but many of them can be avoided and avoiding them is often easier than solving them. Refraining from minding other people's business, biting off more than we're prepared to chew, and head-butting tar babies would be an excellent start.

In Afghanistan, for example, out inability to solve some of the problems we face may indicate a deficiency in our problem-solving ability, or it might indicate that we've adopted unrealistic goals that are our of proportion to our capacities and the resources we're willing to commit.

The first step towrd "winning" - toward achieving our goals - is to select clear, realistic, and achievable goals from the start. Fail on that level and we create wicked problems for ourselves. The solution is not to find a better way of approaching wicked problems, the solution is to select more practical objectives from the start.

slapout9:

The invasion of Iraq aside, wicked problems are inexorably linked to socio-cultural systems. The only way to avoid such problems is to avoid all other humans (good luck).

With all respect to the intrepid explorers at Star Fleet, when the Klingons hijack the Enterprise and plow it into a building in New York, you probably should respond.

Even if you try to avoid wicked problems, wicked problems will find you.

Hi M.I.,
Actually, NASA knows a great deal about Culture and Complex systems,thye would call them Eco-systems. They pretty much believed in Star Trek's Prime directive #1. Wicked Social problems are not something you solve, they are something you avoid. By invading Iraq and trying to convert it to a Democracy we did not solve a Wicked Problem, we Created one!

From the Original series in 1966.
"As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation."

slapout9:

While NASA is fantastic, they deal primarily in complicated problems, whereas social systems are complex problems. The distinction is important.

Complicated systems have many elements and relationships, however, they can be understood in a relatively linear, analytical manner. For example, a space shuttle is incredibly complicated, yet it can be understood because it operates in a predictable fashion according to the laws of physics.

Complex systems, on the other had, have properties that complicated systems do not. The first is emergence; properties of the system which are not the whole or the parts, but a product of the interactions.

The second is co-evolution. The system itself can evolve along with the agents within the system, which changes the nature of the system.

Problems within these complex systems can not be understood in a linear, analytical fashion. (Imagine a space vehicle that evolved on its own?!)

While you may not believe in wicked problems, they are quite real. Wicked problems are often emergent properties of social systems, which makes them hard to solve. In fact, "solving" wicked problems often creates more wicked problems. Managing symptoms of wicked problems often exacerbates the root cause.

The closest thing to a wicked problem in NASA is probably the cultural issues that led to Challenger in '86 and Columbia in '03.

President John F. Kennedy-We Choose To Go To The Moon And To Do The Other Things.... or America at it's best.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z1DidldxUo&feature=related

Hi Chris, you asked the wrong question of your class. It is not Rocket Science but Manned Space Fight. NASA (A Government Jobs Program By The Way) had to create an entire environment to include unlimited electricity,clean water,clean air,waste removal,new medicines,new computers,etc. They had to DESIGN everything right down to a new kind of ball point pen that could write in zero gravity!!

And most recently a NASA team was sent to Chile' to help the trapped Miners deal with the psychological stress they were under and how to best deal with it. Ask your class to research everything they have in their classroom and their homes and find out just how much can be directly traced back to NASA R&D, I think your class will be very surprised.

I think there is much NASA could teach the COIN people including how to be not so arrogant when we interact with other countries.

Ask your class if they know the words that NASA put on the plaque they left on the moon?

"WE CAME IN PEACE,FOR ALL MANKIND"

Yes there is alot to be learned from NASA or rather my original point, much needs to be relearned.

If this sounds like a bit of a rant I don't mean it that way, it's just the facts, Sir. I saw it,I lived it,I touched it. I have seen how great America can be when want to. We don't do incremental well at all....we are only good at the impossible. It is why America was created, when we remember that we will return to greatness, if will continue to forget it we may be lost forever.

All The Way,Sir

Slapout9,

I appreciate your optimism and your nostalgia. I have asked my students on occasion, "Is COIN as hard as rocket science?" So far the response has been, "it's harder." Getting to the moon was not about solving a difficult social condition.

NASA deals in complicated science but not complex social systems where we cannot expect to ever have a positivist science like NASA does.

Our Nation has been relatively blessed by having a political system that, for the most part, "muddles through" and has adapted incrementally. Over time that incremental adaptation yields some pretty good conditions. Yet, no one has figured out how to solve messy social problems like poverty, drug abuse, crime, and so forth. Why do we think we can find solutions to these issues overseas in someone else's land? Seems a bit arrogant to imagine we can do it in other societies when we can only hope to "manage" such conditions over time in our own backyard (through the "successive limited comparisons" our republican democracy affords).

The "can do" military culture has paradoxically been a strength and a curse.

Best wishes, Chris

Chris, I too have read all your articles and there is much to learn from them. But I to share your pessimism. We have forgotten how to think in this country and it is being reflected not just in military theory but also our political and economic theory. As a kid I grew up with NASA and the space program, the problems that we faced and solved through good thinking, experimenting and adjusting have somehow been forgotten. One technique was called "Brainstorming" what was unique about it was the "assumption" that there is a solution you just have to find it or create it.
I don't agree with the concept of wicked problems that cain't be sloved. If wicked problems are created by man then they can be solved by men. We simply need to open our minds....we need a good "Brainstorm" to flush everything out and start over.

ML,

Thanks for reading these essays.

In fact, I know the author of that SSI piece you mention quite well (Jim Pierce). The model he uses is really insightful and his study resonates with me intuitively. I would encourage SWJ readers to read the study...Jim has done a great job in exposing our critical vulnerability and perhaps makes me even more pessimistic that design philosophy will be a success with the US military.

I am deeply disturbed by the way the US Army has portrayed design (sifted and distorted through the cultural preferences that Jim points out in his study). Lo and behold, USJFCOM just published a new pamphlet (#10) with interim doctrine/TTP for design -- that turns out to be equally disappointing. Somehow we cannot "see" - this has been a key motivator for me to write this series (I suppose that these essays serve as a venting for my profound wish to be optimistic, sigh....).

I've followed this series of monographs with great interest. The author finally hit on what I believe to be the primary obstacle to effective Design in the Army: the culture. One could dedicate an entire monograph to this issue alone.

The author correctly points out that dialogue is key to effective Design. Senge devotes a considerable number of pages in The Fifth Discipline to dialogue and its importance. Senge contends that seeing each other as colleagues is essential to ensure the free flow of ideas. The author of this monograph builds on this concept, stating:

Ideally, participants subscribe to values associated with healthy dialogue. Hierarchical values are detrimental to good dialogue. Participants must somehow leave rank and positional authority at the door and not confuse passionate argument with insubordination or disrespect.

A recently published study of Army War College students (http://goo.gl/e5PY) showed Army leaders believed the Army culture should emphasize "flexibility, discretion, participation, human resource development, innovation, creativity, risk-taking, and a long-term emphasis on professional growth and the acquisition of new professional knowledge and skills."

However, it also found these same leaders believed Army culture actually emphasizes "an overarching desire for stability, control, formal rules and policies, coordination and efficiency, goal and results oriented, and hard-driving competitiveness."

Obviously, we know what our culture should be ideally, however, the reality is our culture does not set the conditions for Design. Army culture arguably runs on the very "hierarchical values" the author points out are detrimental to dialogue. Furthermore, the situation is self-perpetuating. Officers know conforming to established norms, unquestioning compliance, and careful avoidance of slaying sacred cows is the way, not only to survive, but to be promoted. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but I think most Officers would agree that making waves is not the way to get ahead.

Until we address the underlying cultural dynamics which inhibit creative thought within the Army, effective Design will be difficult at best.