Small Wars Journal

Design Theory and the Military’s Understanding of Our Complex World

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Author’s Note: Before readers pull their hair out in frustration at yet another ‘Design’ article with too much philosophy, abstraction, and unorthodox thinking, I offer an intellectual olive branch of sorts. There is a reason hardly any of these Design concepts will ever enter Army doctrine, or become a step within a planning process…to think about Design requires us to think from a different perspective- a perspective that lacks the very things we hold dearest to how we function and plan as a military. Design logic requires us to let go of how we are used to thinking, and embrace uncertainty for a bit. If any of the post-modern and highly abstract concepts offered in this article help generate some discourse, creative or critical thinking, then these Design concepts have potentially armed the reader with another arrow for his quiver-albeit a ‘crooked’ arrow. And when the day comes that one must fire at an unexpected ‘crooked’ target, their planning quiver will hold just the right munition to fire away…

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Tue, 01/03/2012 - 11:46pm

Not sure which is better- the article or the top half of the comment thread... either way, learned more on design discussion with this well-written article and the very insightful comments below than I did in several "mobile design team" expert groups of retired folks that wandered into our division and tried to teach us design with a bunch of confusing slides and overly complicated discussions...well done to all! Stuff like this needs to be captured and published for division staffs.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/21/2011 - 2:09pm

BZ---slogged through Boyd's 2007 Patterns of Conflict and noticed this slide which kind of sums up some of your thoughts? It was also interesting to research Boyd as he appeared to like whiteboarding via a PPT.

"In a tactical sense, these multi-dimensional interactions suggest a spontaneous, synthetic/creative, and flowing action/counteraction operation, rather than a step-by-step, analytical/logical, and discrete move/countermove game.

In accepting this idea we must admit that increased unit complexity (with magnified mental and physical task loadings) does not enhance the spontaneous synthetic/creative operation. Rather, it constrains the opportunity for these timely actions/counteractions."

or put another way

"Complexity (technical, organizational, operational, etc.) causes commanders and subordinates alike to be captured by their own internal dynamics or interactions—hence they cannot adapt to rapidly changing external (or even internal) circumstances."

I would think that Boyd's above comment underlines that by remaining close to current doctrine/MDMP explains why many battle staffs have difficulties with the complex adaptive systems they see daily in Afghanistan.


Fri, 12/23/2011 - 11:23am

In reply to by The Pap


I think the only thing that perhaps Boyd did not emphasize as much as his iterative cycle of adaptation was the importance of abstraction and holistic consideration with critical thinking. If you are within the cycle that you establish, no matter how flexible you want to be, I think that most organizations tend to follow the framework of their cycle (in this case, perhaps it is an organizational logic) and they become critical thinkers on everything they consider within the system, but sometimes miss the more abstract positions that fall beyond the "known system."

- Example from Afghanistan: we seem to focus so much energy on developing a government and a security force that supports the Afghan nation state, but have we considered the abstract consideration that Afghanistan as a system may not be a "nation state" at all? It is perhaps a void- something that requires a novel definition beyond what modern political science currently labels based upon geographic boundaries? What happens when you have a chunk of land that exists where the recognized nation state boundaries of a group of other nations converge? Must that void become a nation state by default?

- Abstraction on security forces: we also seem to push a western model for most everything we do for SFA/FID...yet is it working? Does Afghanistan need a security force cast in the mold established by western military professionals, or should they cast the mold themselves- and perhaps take a form unlike something we could recognize, resource, or advise? Could we become the students instead of always being the wise teachers? Are we teaching anything of value to Afghans? Are we ignoring valuable lessons that they are teaching us?

- Abstraction on technology: as westerners, our military institutions wrap ourselves in technology to solve existing problems, despite those solutions creating myriad other new problems. We continue to force this upon the Afghan model- as our doctrine (FID,SFA,COIN) and our foriegn policy tends to do. Yet we accomplished some significant and complicated efforts in the 20th century (take the Berlin Airlift for instance) without computers, smart boards, and biometrics...we had chalkboards, paper and pencil, improvisation, and the lost art of HUMINT. I would suggest that even if we wanted to "teach" the Afghans to operate in the processes that our WWII era military systems followed that lacked modern automation, we could not teach it because we have lost that knowledge ourselves.

My rambling point here is that the OODA Loop and associated processes has great utility, but the process remains a system of logic unless the organization can critically think about the system, and the logic that the organization employs to make sense of it. If we use OODA, can we think about why we prefer it- and can we consider not using OODA in some circumstances- and why? Can we take critical thinking to a level of abstraction that challenges the very foundations of our values, our core tenets, the pillars of our institutionalism...our logic? And by doing so, can we contemplate actioning a complex system in a new and different way with another system of logic to achieve our goals in another manner? Can we then communicate that to our own organization, and to our national leadership? Or is the choke collar of dogma, institutionalism, and post-postivist thinking so powerful that no military strategist or leader will take such considerations seriously?

Just some thoughts-



Fri, 12/23/2011 - 7:35am

In reply to by The Pap


sorry, been out and about this week and not near a computer. Give me a bit to re-engage and I will read through this and reply.



Fri, 12/23/2011 - 7:28am

In reply to by The Pap


sorry, been out and about this week and not near a computer. Give me a bit to re-engage and I will read through this and reply.


Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/20/2011 - 9:53pm

In reply to by The Pap

The Pap---would you agree with Boyd that his view of war was “the non-linear clash of two Complex Adaptive Systems”?

See the 2007 Frans P.B. Osinga book for a really elaborated theory of John Boyd. Worth perusing.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/18/2011 - 6:32am

In reply to by bz

BZ---by the way this could have come straight out of Robbs' writing in 2004/2005 on open source warfare.

- Complex adaptive systems do not play chess. They swarm, they self-organize, the evolve/adapt; there are phenomenon such as emergence, feedback loops, and the chess peices and the board quickly mutate into novel combinations; the rules change while you play.

Key words here are swarming-ever changing rules--actually very old far eastern battle tactics---Robb mentions this often in 2004/2005 and the Army in Iraq got hit repeatedly over the head with it in 2007/2008 and the Taliban are today still using it when they want to.

Actually Robbs' theories were tailored from his experiences in the IT software world honed during the open source (Lenix/Unix battles with MS/IBM) warfare being fought by open source developers---your comments virtually match that period---and actually the open source coding battle still goes on. He just matched his IT experiences to his USAF SOF experiences.

Thanks for the efforts in your responses.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/18/2011 - 6:19am

In reply to by bz

BZ---liked the response and yes due to OPSEC you do not need to go deep-fully understand your drift.

OODA---this is where I am coming from-what if we took say the concepts that John Robb has written about referencing open source warfare as say a theoretical framework on how adaptive insurgent groups act, organize and make decisions (the why of the organizations themselves) and we couple it with say the "conflict ecosystem" analysis tool (the why of the reasons causing the conflict) that Kilcullen built in his early writings and then took the OODA model and retailored it to focus on the Robb/Kilcullen points instead of what Boyd wrote for fighter pilots?

Then the model would be flexible enough to change as fast as we answer the why piece of the puzzle (wicked problem) meaning not a static model but an adaptive model---the only problem I see is that battle staffs like static and unchanging concepts ie doctrine and TTPs---using such an adaptive model would require a constant battle staff assessment/reassessment cycle that most BCT staffs currently now run from.

In theory if we take the current battle staff concepts of; cmdr guidance and the mission analysis following the MDMP process and tieing that into the B2C2WG---we could change the concept to say cmdr guidance, and as the single key element of mission analysis we as a staff build the first OODA model as the starting point for our deployment (very first assessment product) then we as a staff constantly look at the Robb and Kicullen points to see if they change/are changing/are mophing and then we update at the next AWG cycle--updating the OODA loop as the given and then repeating the cycle of watching/changing. The first product becomes sort of a living product of the time spent in a specific AO

The single point of failure in the idea is that current battle staffs are not trained to think freely along those lines as reflected in many battle staffs by poor assessment cycles--ask many staffs if they even can do an open discussion on a wicked problem---just the term wicked turns people off.

In fact if the OODA model was ever changing to reflect more points or less points determined by the way the environment is acting/reacting one could actually get into COGs very easy. Nodal analysis was a linaer way in the the older MCO days, but today try to get battle staffs to even think in nodal analysis during say the development of target sets. Example---try to get a group to really analyze the COG of an IED. In Iraq starting in 2005 first it was the emplacer, then the financier, then the bombmaker, then the cell leader, then the network. No one ever focused on the key single piece of the IED itself which in Afghanistan are the chemicals---in Iraq it was the circuit boards.

As an example we once identified a key component of a pressure wire initiator---looked around Baqubah and found a major supplier of that component, took it off the market and saw no further use of those types of initiators for three months.

Just my rambling thoughts at attempting to build an adapative model that works around Robb/Kicullen.


Sun, 12/18/2011 - 2:11am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09-

There are many folks that like OODA because it demonstrates a core pattern in human behavior linked to decisive action- it makes sense. I have some issues with it however:

1. Boyd was a fighter pilot, and OODA was originally formulated to get into the enemy pilot's decision cycle. It works well in this format, but like any creative idea, the military insitution takes something uniquely tailored and we generalize it and stamp "use for all conditions, all the time, everywhere" on it- we indoctrinate it. I think fighter pilots, tank commanders, and submarine captains could use OODA regularly and it would work for what they do. OODA breaks down with complex systems, in my opinion, because it really is a linear sequence of events wrapped into a cycle- it is linear causality reasoning applied incorrectly to complex adaptive systems. I will explain:

- OODA takes you through steps (procedures) that are linked together in esssentially a line. Boyd actually had a much more rich OODA loop in the book written on his notes and presentations- this "enriched OODA" did not ever make it into our doctrine- but there are illustrations and explanation for it in the book on his work. Even with his enriched OODA, he still was using linear-causality logic and working in a sequential, turn-based order. Enemy did this, I do that...and repeat. The trick is to operate FASTER and SMARTER than the enemy- but you are still playing chess and there are rules to chess.

- Complex adaptive systems do not play chess. They swarm, they self-organize, the evolve/adapt; there are phenomenon such as emergence, feedback loops, and the chess peices and the board quickly mutate into novel combinations; the rules change while you play. Linear causality reasoning such as OODA fails to keep up with a complex adaptive system, but like a siren on the rocks, it will entice boat loads of Greek sailors to continue on with the OODA until they crash upon the rocky shore.

- OODA gives the implication that one can control chaos- one can tame a wicked problem, by injecting order and certainty. Follow the OODA, and you can not only understand the system, but you can manipulate it, and work it to your advantage; this might be the case with COMPLICATED systems such as fighter engagements or running a logistics system for a 3rd world nation, but when a military organization tries to fool itself with a targeting process that promises order and certainty, I think we are decieving ourselves...and when our narratives for these processes fail to live up to reality, we continue on with our next campaign plan, and even go back and make up slides that distort the reality with statistics that help support our false expectations. How many fighting seasons have we "neutralized" or "defeated" someone over the past decade? Every single one! So, have we actually neutralized anything- or do we continue a false narrative and engage in further artificial patterns of logic to continue on with procedures that fail to deliver, but it is our doctrine and it must be us that are wrong; our doctrine could not possibly be incorrect!

3. To understand, and to ask WHY instead of WHAT; to become a synthesist; this requires one to look critically at how we think- to include such things as targeting and the OODA construct. I have a few real world examples I will try to work into here without violating OPSEC.

- Centers of Gravity: a very "Operational Design" concept that pairs nicely with OODA loops. We have strategic and operational COGs here in practice in my neck of the woods...yet our enemy strategic COG is something that the USAF can target and bomb- either with drones or troops or munitions or is tangible. So why can't we eliminate it? We raised the question in a planning session a while ago to our higher element that the enemy strategic COG might be something else- something much harder to target; an idea- a force of will. We saw the current strategic enemy COG as merely a critical requirement (and a vulnerability) to the real COG- the idea. We were told to shut up and color...I think it is because even at the highest levels of our military, our leadership and staff cannot handle the uncertainty associated with non-tangible concepts. How can you begin to approach a conceptual threat (COG) with procedures (OODA) that work best with tangible things? We can target and kill senior enemy leadership all day long (and do it very well); this makes for very good slide presentations, charts that show improvement, and briefings with sexy photos of the damage; gun footage becomes "SOF porn." -but every fighting season the enemy continues to function despite all of this success; perhaps we are not asking enough WHY questions or examining with a critical and creative eye the very procedures and logic we employ? Does Operational Design help our understanding? Does OODA work here? Is our understanding of COGs useful here? Does doctrine help or hurt our actions? If so, why?

On several occasions, I have personally questioned doctrinal approaches of higher HQ staffs and tried to engage in a professional discussion- and have been told to shut up and color. This is unfortunate, because it illustrates the most dangerous and most significant barrier I think exists in our military today. Once we learn a procedure (through doctrine, training, experience, leadership, or adaptation), we codify our process into dogma; and then we refuse to adapt...the narrative stays the same. Sure- we change slides, make little word changes; sit in meetings for hours listening to senior leadership argue over whether something is "red", or "trending red", or "amber trending red", or "red trending amber"- but we are forbidden to ask "why does red mean this to us? Why does trending mean that? What do colors provide us, and how do we make sense of complexity by reducing things down to a series of trending colors? Does it really help? Why won't we change colors to something else? Do Afghans share the same values and consider something "red" or do they fundamentally have different concepts, values, and cognitive processes that make such things incompatible?" But we cannot ask these questions; it is unhealthy to challenge the institution.

I think that places like SWJ are where the cutting edge of military thought and discourse can help change our institution over time; it is not going to be through doctrine, or at a training center (no offense Outlaw- I was working at JRTC for some time earlier and share your pain), or through CALL, or the TTP manuals we publish- and I am beginning to think that at the General Officer level, it is not going to happen either. If anything, the up-and-coming generation of Field Grades, NCOs, WOs, and other mid-grade folks that are discussing and thinking about these things will help adapt our military in the next decade...and OODA will probably be still a useful tool at times for us- just not for all targeting, every time, for every staff, under every condition. I am comfortable saying "OODA does not work well here because..." but I do not think many Intel folks are there yet. There are some...and they have written some interesting things here at SWJ as well.


Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/17/2011 - 5:55pm

BW---just a couple of questions.

1. Based on your thoughts in the reply what do you think of OODA--in some ways it has been the underlying thought process for the targeting process of JSOC---can it in your opinion shorten the counter insurgent decision making responses to the insurgent and his actions---meaning can it get inside the decision curve of an insurgent group? Any idea as to why it has been dropped by Demsey other than it came from the AF side of the house---as some tended to think it was part and parcel of EBO which it was not.

2. Can it be that we have not been able to train battle staffs to critically think in terms of say, observables and indicators in order for them to be able to even begin to "observe" and understand. Sometimes I thing they really do not understand the OE they work in and that leads to the inability to ask WHY---only after say 9 months in an area does it seem that they have acquired enough understanding to start asking WHY and by then they are packing to go home. With the shortened 9 month deployments being envisioned the battle staff problems will only get worse not better as the learning curve will be difficult to overcome and then they leave before they really start leaving the crawl/walk phase.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/19/2011 - 9:46am

In reply to by bz

BZ---reference your sentence below;
"- Complex adaptive systems do not play chess. They swarm, they self-organize, the evolve/adapt; there are phenomenon such as emergence, feedback loops, and the chess pieces and the board quickly mutate into novel combinations; the rules change while you play."

Just a question have you broken out the term complex adaptive systems via definitions meaning; complex systems definition, systems definition,system common characteristics, sub system definition and then how to define the system model and architecture?

If that is done cleanly with a common set of definitions that everyone can repeat in their sleep then they can be attached to a standard OODA tool---then if one is constantly assessing as a battle staff the changes of those previously identified common characteristics (initial IPOE phase) of the "system/systems" seen in their AO as say "indicators" then in fact you have a adaptive staff process for complex problems, but it would require a battle staff to be constantly aware and it would place an even stronger emphasis on the assessment working group phase as a point to both start the process and then to discuss what the OE is providing for info on/from the complex system in their AO. Part of the IPOE cycle would have to also monitor the system/systems to your left and right that are interacting with your specific system/systems.

Then out of the assessment WG the other integrating processes IPB, ISR targeting, composite risk management and knowledge management build off of the AWG model---then out of that first completed cycle--the AWG relooks the system for changes and then a new cycle is generated off of a new relook of the system. Currently per doctrine this is handled by the targeting cycle which is proving to be difficult as battle staffs often fail to do complete nodal analysis (also doctrine). That is the linear approach of say MDMP---but different in that adapts what a battle staff already understands and then couples it to an adapative system. This would increase the ability of the battle staff to respond to the complex adaptive system in near real time. Meaning initially there will always be a lag in identifying new evolving common characteristics. Am assuming though if a battle staff becomes well versed at the cycle they could in fact actually envision via wargaming some of the system changes/evolutions before actually seeing those changes in their AO.This is to a degree also doctrine--in the old days battle staffs could do this in their sleep as the former enemy always did things in a linear fashion and it was always repeateding the same thing meaning a tank regiment was composed of X and did X in a particular X situation.

Complex systems as you indicate are constantly mutating/evolving.

This would require though a complete rethink in how we pre train staffs prior to deployment--meaning in their sleep they would need fully understand the current common characteristics of the system/systems they will be seeing when they deploy into a AO---then the adaptive phase after RIP TOA would be quicker.

But it would support the concept of focusing deeper on design.


Mon, 12/19/2011 - 4:40am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


OODA represents a diverse and adaptive tool for military detailed planning; but I think the same goes for many aspects of MDMP, MCPP, JOPP, and other military decision-making models; there is utility in all of them because they generally synergize staffs to accomplish military goals.


OODA is a model; it is something that you seem to like, and that is good. Design thinking encourages the synthesist to remain introspective, and continously think critically about not only the system we are using perhaps the OODA model upon, but to think critically about ourselves- and open OODA up for critical inspection. I would offer the following series of questions as useful for getting in the right frame of mind-

1. Why does an OODA model appeal to you instead of other targeting processes? Is there any difference? Is OODA more flexible? Adaptive? If so- why and how?
2. Why do humans find something they like, and grow attached to it? What causes them to avoid giving up a process, or changing it?
3. Why do staffs prefer not to think as opposed to thinking critically and creatively? For instance, if you provide a staff a model that starts with "step 1", and they use it and adapt it, why won't they stop using it- even if the process is not producing the results they need anymore? Can a staff drop the process, reflect critically about what worked and what did not, and develop a novel and creative alternative instead? And more importantly, can they subsequently let go of this new process when it also fails to work for them?
4. Why does leadership feel better making decisions after a staff has demonstrated to them a complex and intricate process with lots of details- even if the process is clearly flawed?
5. Does OODA provide a model that is useful in some situations, or do you want it to work in ALL situations? If it works in all situations- then it is a generalist product and incompatible with complex systems. If you think it can work in some but not all situations, how does a staff know which conditions require an OODA-like process, and which require something different? I ask this same question of doctrine, and MDMP in particular- but it also applies to any model, including OODA. In other words, although OODA as a model has flexible organizing logic, it is still a mousetrap, and one can make a very useful mousetrap that adapts to many situations, but when you are dealing with a cat instead of a mouse problem, no amount of tinkering can make the OODA mousetrap catch a cat. For that environment, you need to make the cognitive leap from mice to cats, and critically think about how OODA does not catch cats...perhaps there is no cat-trap out there; your staff must creatively invent one! And your next "problem" after catching the cat may be an elephant, or a sperm whale...hence indoctrinization of conceptual planning processes to include flexible ones like OODA are a trap we continue to fall into. I will finish with an even more contentious comment- COIN may be a "problem" that shape-shifts from mouse to cat to sperm whale in the course of a conflict, yet we continue to try to solve it with a mouse-trap that we continue to apply "add-ons" and modifications to. Whales do not eat cheese.


Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/17/2011 - 11:37am

BW---only one thought to your response---and no you are not rambling is WOW. Really liked the response as it matches way to many of the same things I have seen in the last few years.

I have spent countless BCT rotations (39 to be exact in the NTC) holding the hands of both BCT and BN level battle staffs and have wondered for years just where everything and why everything was falling apart. Recently had the pleasure of a desert rotation with a leading BCT from a great Div--after completion of the first complete targeting cycle the BCT Cmdr threw everything overboard and went straight to RDMP as the complete BCT was totally out of synchronization in it's B2C2WG processes---was not a pretty picture.

Honestly the last time I saw a fully functioning battle staff was with the 3/3 in Iraq in 2005/06 but that staff had been together for over three years.

Did not want to give the false impression in previous comments--you are right both MDMP and design are closely tied together-was just trying to point out that due to the ongoing faliures in staff battle rhythms, MDMP and B2C2WG --battle staffs cannot even get to the concept of design.

Example: currently there is a tight relationship between a BCT doing extremely well in using ISR if their target planning process is clicking on all cylinders--and I have seen a direct relationship between doing poor MDMP/B2C2WG and being poor on the targeting and ISR side- and vice versa being great at B2C2WG and MDMP reflects excellent targeting processes and ISR. The Army has thrown and is still throwing tons of effort/money/defense contractors at improving ISR but even that effort is failing as it does not answer just how one is going to improve MDMP/B2C2WG in the battle staffs. Improve the overall MDMP/B2C2WG and you will get the ISR/targeting improvements---the system thinks that money and contractors will fix it-it has not. We are seeing the trend that and I hate saying this ALL battle staffs simply do not know anymore what "right" is.

AND yes it goes to the WHY when one is willing to ask the question--walk into a battle staff, look at their NAIs and then ask the CM or the S2/G2 just why is that NAI there---what was the thinking behind it and how do they change it during their assestments. Nodal analysis---an extremely rare event these days or for the most part non-existent. Decision points---what are those?

Assesments---one of the hardest things for a battle staff to perform--running estimates very rarely done these days outside of maybe the first one done after RIP/TOA.

You are preaching to the choir---just not sure the choir is ready to hear it.

Example---we have literally thrown millions of dollars at the ISR problems seen in BCTs,spent literally millions in using defense contractors to hold their hands, spent millions on new ISR assets to support the BCTs with tens of new capabilities but after six years we are still seeing the exact same problem.

No one has taken the time to simply ask the question WHY? When one understands that now most young officers really do not get a heavy dose of MDMP until they get into their Advance Captain's Course--way to late if you ask me but I am just a civilian. When one understands exactly what you have just described WHY are we not seeing it being transferred into a serious senior leader discussion starting with Divison Cmdrs?

Outlaw 9-

What you describe is what I like to call the "levels of organizational knowledge production." - what all military staffs exist for: to take raw information, compile it, organize it, analyze it, and produce gold from straw; or at least, that is the intent. I use three levels to get my point across to military personnel:

Level 1: description. At this initial level, we as the military excel: SALUTE reports, categorization (political, military, economic, security...), the 5x W's, BOLO reports, jackpots...the list is infinite and growing. We are masters of description; we could literally fill volumes of books with just TIGR reports on one Baghdad neighborhood over the past year with description from hundreds of patrols; but our doctrine and ultimately, our decision-making processes (which are often perverted into procedures) become shackled to 'description-centric' thinking. This results in PowerPoint presentations to staffs and decision-makers that have hundreds of descriptive slides (not to mention "hide-slides" which are intuitively counter-productive), that describe the WHAT in great detail, but never get to the WHY. I think this is why most Battalion, Brigade, and most of a Division Staff will follow doctrine and procedures for MDMP/JOPP, but look at you with blank stares when you attempt to get them to think critically about the process.

When you ask them to think critically- these are WHY questions, and since they are operating in the organizing logic of description (lowest level of knowledge production), they can only follow the steps in whatever doctrine or TTP they are familiar with. This is description, re-gurgitation, and non-analytical. This is also why staffs make massive slide presentations that never get to the "so what" because instead of solving a problem, they are only admiring it.

To think critically is essential for any staff, in any decision-making process, and is in my opinion, a cornerstone for Design thinking.

The second level of knowledge production is 'analysis.' This still involves categorization, reductionism, or "binning" of information, but it has utility in that as a seperate process for producing refined knowledge for an organization, analysis helps an organization prioritize information and identify trends, patterns, and 'chunking.' This is useful sometimes because analysis requires some critical thinking- we are starting to move away from WHAT-centric questions and towards WHY-centric thoughts- but more often than not, staff thinking will ignore outliers and concentrate on the chunks, the bell-curves. Nasim Talib's 'Black Swan' book hits this point perfectly. But analysis is useful because it avoids what I call the "Tiger Beetle" phenomenon of description-centric actions:

The Tiger Beetle is the fastest creature in the world, when scale is considered. It moves at 300mph (scaled to size), and because it moves so fast, it's brain and eyes cannot process information fast enough while moving- so it moves blind. Scientists state that the Tiger Beetle identifies a food target from a stationary position, then moves toward it blindly at full speed with its mouth open. It stops approximately where it calculated the target would be, and then the beetle checks its mouth. Food in there- eat. No food- use eyes to seek where target is now, then blindly move towards new location. Repeat- at 300mph. There is no analysis here, only description!

I refer to 'tiger beetle' actions by staff officers when they get information (such as a SALT or SALUTE report), and they move at 300mph blindly according to whatever procedure or doctrinal step that tells them where to move next. They arrive at their destination and dump that information into the next bin, and repeat. When you ask them to think critically about the process, they are unable to- they are 'tiger beetling' and comfortable doing that. This happens across the entire MDMP spectrum in every staff section- and it "feeds the beast" by producing many slides, charts, maps, and products with nice colors- but no analysis; we fail to understand WHY and can only speak to WHAT. When a staff is full of tiger beetles, they spin at full speed, but get nowhere, and do not understand why. They continue to move at full speed, but never get beyond description, or they trap themselves in analysis that categorizes WHAT (description) but they never get to the third level of knowledge production- the WHY.

The third level of knowledge production- synthesis. Synthesis gets to WHY- but I feel that it uses a different process to approach knowledge production that differs from description and analysis. Synthesis requires some description and analysis, but there is not a linear causality that links one to the next. Synthesis requires us to not be Tiger Beetles- to blindly race along following indoctrinated steps in must become the critical and creative thinker; recognize the WHAT but ask questions that lead to WHY. This ought to be done throughout all decision making processes by all staff sections; to replace all tiger beetles with synthesists;

A synthesist still does MDMP- but they approach it from a critical and creative perspective. As opposed to the tiger beetle that snatches information and races blindly with 'what'-centric thinking, the synthesist learns MDMP and all staff processes by learning doctrine, but asking 'WHY' questions along the way. Why do we think the way we do? Why is a procedure structured as it is? Why do we collect CCIR, and why is some information critical while other information is not? What does critical mean? Is there a decision space here for our commander- or is this tied to the campaign plan in a manner that holistically helps accomplish our objectives? The synthesist uses critical thinking to go beyond merely learning and obeying the staff processes of MDMP, and questions their utility. If an aspect of MDMP or staff action is illogical or inefficient, the synthesist uses creative thinking to improvise something novel- a new approach that is beyond and outside of traditional structured decision-making...this happens when a staff officer recognizes that an existing procedure fails to get at what the Commander wants or needs; we frequently use the term “non-doctrinal solution”- it is a new process that functions better than the existing doctrinal approach because a synthesist used critical/creative thinking and applied it to the complex environment on hand. But in our perpetual military institutionalism, we tend to take these unique and tailored adaptations and “proceduralize” them for general use- they are in fact assimilated into either doctrine or TTPs. This often breaks the utility of a tailored improvisation by a synthesist because complex adaptive systems are not tame-able; what may work in one instance will not translate into EVERY instance for EVERY staff.

Hence, the cycle repeats, and a staff must apply critical/creative thinking as synthesists when they perform MDMP instead of merely being good tiger beetles. A good tiger beetle staff follows MDMP and churns out data (WHAT) without grasping WHY; and as units redeploy and staff personnel and leadership get replaced with fresh faces, the tiger beetle process starts anew. For those that advance into becoming synthesists, they move from unit to unit and hopefully share their ability to think critically and creatively- but this largely depends upon leadership…if a leader is a tiger-beetle, he/she will drive their staff to perform as tiger beetles, and they will remain largely at the description or unproductive analysis level of organizational knowledge production.

If a leader is a synthesist, they will drive their staff to learn MDMP and apply it, but through critical and creative thinking that transforms tiger beetles into synthesists. Why are we doing this? Why does our organization prefer information categorized, and what are the limitations to doing that versus a holistic appreciation? Why do we disregard outlier statistics and label them ‘anomalies’ instead of looking at the process critically? Why do humans love to “chunk” data? Why do Commanders feel more comfortable with slides that show upward trends, red coded items moving to green, and “progress” in more jackpots, more IED sites discovered, more ANSF recruited, or some other descriptive measure that is WHAT-centric but never approaching the WHY of a complex system?

A bit of rambling from me; I hope that my response illustrates the point that MDMP and Design are not separate- but completely nested…one does not shift from Design thinking to MDMP- one is a synthesist (that appreciates Design) while performing MDMP; but the synthesist approaches MDMP with a critical and creative eye, and is not a tiger beetle. The tiger beetle cannot grasp Design because they cannot even recognize that the way they perform MDMP is devoid of self-awareness…and therefore one must spend the bulk of one’s time mentoring a staff to just learn MDMP correctly without getting them to think beyond the procedure, and about WHY they are doing (or not doing) what they are taught to do.


Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/16/2011 - 5:21pm

Ben---this is my second read of your article for a number of reasons---this para caught my eye;

If a system of logic fails to make sense of an increasingly complex world for the military, how does it adapt a new methodology for thinking? In other words, when saber charges and vividly colored uniforms transitioned from assets on the battlefield to liabilities, how does the military institution discard one logic and adapt novel ones?

I have spent the last year again watching battle staffs cope with their CTC rotations and have trained battle staffs at home station and I keep coming up against what I call a distinct lack of understanding by battle staffs of the concept called military decision making---any form of it.

One can get a Divisional battle staff in a room and in another room you could have a BCT battle staff and they all will exhibit the same problems. Meaning if you ask both groups are they doing MDMP---you will get positive answers from both. But if you asked both groups to define such military terms as "battle rhythm, synchronization, integration or say what is a running estimate and why do we do it" you will get back blank stares. Yes they all know of and or heard something about MDMP, but they know nothing of the "how does it work" "what are the inputs and outputs needed", "how do I do running estimates and why do I wargame"--ask any battle staff to conduct nodal analysis around the problem sets they are defining---what is nodal analysis comes the response-until we get battle staffs to a common level of what the heck is MDMP and why do I do it and then truly understand why one does it---we will never get this current group of staff officers regardless of command level too design.

If say a BCT staff deploys and are having initially a difficult time with military decisionmaking they usually at the end of their deployment have a good handle on it---then they are as a staff ripped apart and we start all over again with a new battle staff---there is never a developed solid base of institutional knowledge remaining in most BCT and Division staffs so the concept of design will never really get off the ground until we have battle staffs that at the least fully understand some form of military decisionmaking.

Pepe LePew

Wed, 12/14/2011 - 7:10am

finally a design article that is easy to read and brings home the bacon without requiring me to study rocket surgery. 'systems of logic' is a bit too cumbersome a term though- and so the big military will reject it outright unless you work it into a silly acronym. How about world-view?


Wed, 08/31/2011 - 12:20am

I really liked the article. I thought hit several excellent points. However, I would like to add one dissenting opinion on the "unlimited variety of alternative approaches" of Design.

As Design is based on complex adaptive systems I contend the idea of no common approach is actually contradicting a key complexity concept of the "edge of chaos." This idea is best outlined by renowned Complexity Theorist Stuart Kauffman (At Home in the Universe). Too much structure stifles innovation and characterized US doctrine, think MDMP. However, no common frame, think current Design, prevents the leveraging of ideas in a unity of effort. The need to be "at the edge of chaos" is seen in all complex adaptive systems from the universe to the economy to military organizations. My preferred example is political economies. Communism stifles innovation and the system because of overbearing structure (MDMP), conversely anarachy stifles growth because individuals cannot rely on cooperative mechanisms to leverage superior ideas (Design without a commom frame). Design needs a perspective based on complexity theory to help the US Government put the data in a common framework that advises strategy and operations devised through Design.

In classic military fashion, one cannot offer criticism without offering solutions so I offer my own and that of a peer collaborator (Eddie Brown) work as an exmaple. This article was also published in the Small Wars Journal - "Population As Complex Adaptive Systems - A Case Study of Corruption in Afghanistan." I would argue that the intelligence method, the "Emergent States Assessment" (ESA), outlined in this article is one way (definitely not only way) to leverage the science of complexity to devise an intelligence method to support Design. (The IPB of Design so to speak)

The article was fantastic however, I caution against rebelling too far from a common frame as success is found neither solely in structure or in anarchy but at the edge of chaos.

Tom Pike


Mon, 08/15/2011 - 6:44am

In reply to by Peter J. Munson

All good points, and thank you for taking the time to chat with me about them. On the end-state thing, have you considered 'swarming' concepts- like ants and bees? The actions of an ant colony are not heirarchical, with the ant queen directing end-states and objectives; ants are self-organizing and collectively accomplish hive goals without "knowing" what the rest of the colony is up to... There is a neat book called, Emergence; The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software; writen by Steven Johnson,(New York: Scribner, 2001). It is a fun read, and it made me think about military operations without end-states. Ants and bees adapt and self-organize; I suppose they have some sort of meta-purpose, but none of them individually know what it is. A drone does as it relates to other drones around it...I am not saying that we should toss out end-states and act like bees, but the military just might gain some insight by first breaking free from the pervasive grip that our preferred logic of positivism and teleological linear approaches (Clausewitz, as I would argue, and perhaps you may agree with me on Jomini and his 'principles'); but we cannot even break free from these concepts because they appear to choke out any critical introspection.
On the laser point azimuth, the key difference for me is that the leader (say the POTUS, CDR, etc) aims the laser into the fog- the unknown. They are active in the present state, and they are adjusting (reframing) future expectations and anticipating where to direct military action; hence the laser "moves"....some call this shifting goal-posts; I think if done correctly, it is different from desired end-states. To me, a desired end-state is like a fishing lure tossed out into the foggy river; we follow the fishing line to the lure, which bobs in the water and is supposed to be where we cast it. When it drifts, we end up missing it; the process is a nuanced difference but instead of reverse-engineering from predetermined endstates in the future, we need to appreciate the complexity of dynamic adaptive systems. Failure is not just an option, it is expected- failure with complex systems leads to deeper understanding; the end-state you think you want is not the one you necessarily need to understand and subsequently strive for.
Just some thoughts; I do agree that we are splitting hairs and are closer to a shared position on conceptual planning than apart.


Peter J. Munson

Mon, 08/15/2011 - 6:26am

In reply to by b.z.

Thanks for the thorough response. I get the difference between complexity and complicated problems but I think we're going to end up disagreeing on the end state thing. Maybe we're close on that, as your laser pointer/azimuth idea is not too far from what I'd say: We need to articulate a desired end state, acknowledging the complexity and the likely costs and complications, before we start moving the ship of state in any direction, but we need to have the agility, flexibility, and honesty to adapt that end state to the emerging nature of the complex/chaotic environment. Either way, though, I think the way that we embark on wars, with the imperial executive underselling it and then the democratic Congress and populace (here referring to Marshall's (?) Seven Years War observation and the democratic peace theory) kick in and demand curtailment of the growing commitment, means that we will not ever deal well with complexity unless it is a clearly existential threat or it is small enough not to raise the public's discontent. Then, though, we get into the realm of the military bureaucracy's inability to deal with complexity, which has been discussed. How we change that, I do not know. They can't even deal with the complexity of social issues and safety within their own organizational culture.


Mon, 08/15/2011 - 1:04am

In reply to by Peter J. Munson

I want to stress that I do not think we should toss Clausewitzian (or Jominian, or Mahanian) theories out the window; they have their utility in some situations. The larger problem is that the military has indoctrinated itself to only use that logic structure when it approaches any problem. Perhaps I can make this point through discussing the difference between complexity and complication.

A simple problem is self-explanatory- we have no large hurdles to plan and accomplish our goals here.

A complicated problem is like a game of chess. We can clearly apply our end-states, and reverse engineer our plan back towards the present, yet also allow for what I feel the military misuses the Design term ‘reframe’ for- we do not know exactly what combination of chess moves it will take for us to defeat our opponent…so we predict a suite of them and create pre-determined decision points and decisive points that are structured along the teleological logic of our complicated environment.

My end-state is to defeat you in chess; that is ultimately accomplished by placing you in check or checkmate (apologies to any chess aficionados if I screw this metaphor up). This is a complicated environment because millions of variations of moves and situations potentially exist between the present and my desired end-state. We can apply commander’s intent, and even craft lines of efforts with our chess strategy. Perhaps a decisive point is reached when I take down your queen with one of my less essential pieces…or I get a pawn to the other side and regain a critical piece. The critical element of stability for this complicated problem is that both we and our opponent follow a predictable structure of rules and boundaries that make every game predictable, although unknowable in outcome.

All sports and games feature this- my opponent might move his chess pieces in a million combinations, but each combination itself follows the established rules on our established board.
In complicated problems, we misapply ‘reframe’ by changing our strategy based upon a development in the chess game. Perhaps the opponent applies a different strategy than we anticipated, or we lose a key piece that we were planning to use in a future decisive point…we ‘re-frame’ by making a new sense of our environment, describe the systemic nature of the problem(s) to be solved, identify gaps in knowledge, etc. BUT we are still engaged in a complicated problem where the rules remain fixed.

This really is not reframing…if anything it is a branch or sequel to a campaign plan within our linear detailed planning process. Clausewitz and Jomini work well in complicated problems because of their teleological nature- the chess pieces exist to be exploited by the player in a variety of combinations to cumulatively accomplish victory for the player. Chess games end with a winner and a loser (or a statemate); chess starts with large resources but usually ends with destruction of the enemy’s forces (except those rare chess games where a superior or lucky player wins quickly). Chess is a strong metaphor for how our military organizations PREFER to understand warfare- we seek complication instead of complexity. We seek to apply Clausewitz to complicated problems (good) but we also mis-apply his theory to complex problems (bad) and expect to win chess games in the end.

The problem is that complexity is not at all like chess.
A complex problem, to continue the chess metaphor, would drive Clausewitz batty. The board would change over time, as would the rules and the pieces. Queens in one move might be powerful, but in a short time, they might be disadvantageous to the game. New pieces would emerge during the game, with unexpected or unknown capabilities. Pieces would interact in new and dissimilar ways, and the board would ultimately be un-mappable. This is complexity- it is self-organizing, adaptive, innovative, with cycles of creation and destruction. There is no end-state we can project into the future- the check-mate we seek is just a concept we force onto reality in our effort to make sense of the world. We project theories that are successful with complicated problems onto complex problems because we prefer our problems to be complicated instead of complex.

We need a king to target as our terminal objective; we need pawns to be expendable, and we need our queens to be potential game-changers. We need the board to play on, and most importantly, we need our opponent to recognize, appreciate, and follow the same chess rules of the game. He can apply different tactics and strategy, but he must move a pawn only the way a pawn moves…that again is complication, not complexity. That again is the false subscription to Clausewitzian theory that is positivist and teleologically driven in a linear concept.

Warfare is part of a complex system that changes over time and has many interactions and adaptations; new things emerge, few things remain constant- we must gain comfort with uncertaincy…this is very hard for our military organizations because we seek chess games to impose our conceptual framework that caters to complicated perspectives on warfare.
So, to address your last point- we may disagree on this; how do we plan in complex environments without resorting to our cherished complicated worldviews of Clausewitz, Jomini, Mahan, and others? How do we operate without an end-state, or clearly defined strategic goals?

I would use the metaphor of an aim-point in the present; firing a laser-pointer into a fog bank. The laser gets us going in what should be the right direction, but despite it being lost in the future, where our ultimate objectives are obscured, we have an azimuth; as we take each step along the river bank into the fog, we make sense of our environment and adjust in the dark and fog. Before we step off, we gain the most important (in my opinion) consideration from our strategic leadership- latitude. If strategic guidance is unclear, they should not later criticize the military for accomplishing things differently than they wanted it done as they look in hindsight.

Complex environments require innovation and adaptation that is un-tethered from any single preferred logic (such as Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Forest Gump, etc…) – one step in the fog we might apply Clausewitz, but a few steps later, we might not. Can we do this if our doctrine and teaching and entire organization insists we only follow one logic? We say we are adaptive, but we really are not. We trudge through the fog applying one logic and hoping it eventually works. We seek our preferred chess game even in the fog and dark where no chess pieces are found. We even invent chess games and brief our leadership of them- and hold meetings where our subordinates reinforce our interpretation of the foggy river bank as a most excellent chess game that we will certainly win…eventually, with more resources, troops, etc.

Let us not throw out Clausewitz, but let us not also seek his trinity and apply his logic to everything we encounter with the false expectations that his theory is universal. If a complex problem confronts us, the first thing we can do to make better sense of the system is to acknowledge and even embrace uncertaincy- to start without a clearly defined end-state; because complexity changes faster than we can ever fully appreciate or understand. To think otherwise is part of what keeps getting us into the problems we currently are in, in my opinion of course.

Peter J. Munson

Sun, 08/14/2011 - 10:25pm

In reply to by b.z.

I'd say, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I agree with your points and think along the same lines in many ways. However, I think we do need to start with a desired end state, which we often don't, and work backwards. The rub is that we must be more realistic in the end states we think we can attain and the control we have. Transforming society and politics is an end state we cannot reliably get to. And in this, we can learn from Clausewitz. I understand your use of Clausewitzian, but I disagree. I think you are talking about the way most people understand and the Army uses Clausewitz, but he can actually be instructive on limiting your objectives when your means or your enemy's desire for decisive battle are limited. Delbruck takes up this point to distinguish between annihilatory and attritionary strategies. I think this is a useful distinction. Attrition does not mean simple minded body count contests, it means exhausting your enemy's will to get to a point where they will acquiesce to your limited ends. We pursue annihilatory ends, decisive victory, complete transformation, when we do not have the means, the enemy does not come out to contest us openly, and the public does not desire the length of commitment to achieve these things. In sum, more circumscribed ends, and more realistic assessments of the possible are required. Once we start with that, then we do need to be much broader and less mechanistic and reductionist in our thinking. No amount of cleverness and depth of understanding, though, is going to get us past fairy dusting what is possible to attain.

Peter- thanks, and I agree, SWJ had a rough transition, unfortunately my article got "lost in the sauce." Perhaps they will re-post it. Let me respond to your observation on 'teleological.'

I originally considered deleting that word out because it is problematic; it generally turns mainstream readers off, and with academic folks, we end up having interesting divergent discussions on the precise application of that word in relation to some highly abstract concepts on how military organizations think. I will diverge a bit, but attempt to return back to the overarching point here...

To define ‘teleology’, Webster’s offers: “a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes” as the second definition for the word. For the military, a teleological position might be: “warfare exists as a persistent method for human societies to resolve political differences.” War exists to serve its role in continuous human interaction at a societal level, as in Clausewitz’s metaphor that war is a duel on a larger scale. War exists to serve human societies as they conduct foreign policy. Or as Aristotle explained it, animals exist to feed man. Just as farmers invest a great deal of thought and work into raising animals, their ultimate purpose is to feed humans (in this example- I do not want an invasion of Vegans to flood SWJ after I post this…). The military also invests a great deal of thought and work into conducting war, but the overarching logic that these organizations prefer is Clausewitzian based- the trinity of the army, people, and government essentially is a teleological position on the purpose of war phenomena. But what if we break free from this preferred logic? What does war become, if it does not necessarily serve human politics on a societal scale?

Let me return to how I used ‘Teleological’ in the following context of my article:

“Returning to how our military prefers to plan, detailed planning uses a teleological approach where the entire process is purpose driven; the ‘ends’ is determined first and then directed by action (ways) with means. Working from the desired end-state back to the present is such a pervasive concept that it is both a constant process and generally an accepted ‘root metaphor’ that defies critical introspection. We are hard pressed to question this methodology, and nearly all military doctrine reinforces this process so that it permeates all levels of military organization in both conceptual and detailed planning and execution. This type of thinking often oversimplifies complex systems and sets up the military organization for tactical success with strategic failure because the world is not as malleable as the detailed planning expects it to be.”

Granted, I have used the term ‘reverse-engineered’ in other situations to describe much of the planning logic for military detailed planning concepts such as MDMP, JOPP, and nearly all Effects Based Operations thinking (Operational Design). In this case, I referred first to James Schneider’s somewhat obscure work on operational art in a footnote.

“The future of operational art depends on today’s officer corps understanding the historical and theoretical basis of the concept. Only by knowing what has gone before can it hope to build a doctrine for the future which takes full advantage of the fruits of technology;”

– what Schneider appears to be saying, in my opinion, is that our military relies upon a certain logic that requires complete acceptance of how war functions, and we rely upon our known information within our organizational knowledge base, our ‘interiority’ of knowledge. Interpreting past conflicts and applying the preferred universal principles of war by Jomini (mass, maneuver, decisive points, etc) as well as Clausewitz’s persistent teleological trinity of warfare is the only approved method of thinking about complex systems such as modern military conflicts. We only squint through the doctrinally approved and hierarchically mandated (Flag Officers sign our doctrine to make it official) logic to interpret complex systems that do not necessarily conform.

Are there non-teleological military perspectives out there to consider? I cited a few; I recommend if you have not taken a look at ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ by Liang and Xiangsui, it is a relatively short read and is free on the internet courtesy of the Chinese government. They wrote it in 1999 as Chinese military officers offering their own non-western analysis (and in many ways, a synthesis) of how our western military prefers to make sense of the world:

“The enemy will possibly not be the originally significant enemy, and the weapons will possibly not be the original weapons, and the battlefield will also possibly not be the original battlefield. Nothing is definite. What can be ascertained is not definite. The game has already changed, and what we need to continue is ascertaining a new type of fighting method within various uncertainties.” P 141.

“[military conceptual planning] must go beyond all of the fetters of politics, history, culture, and ethics and carry out through thought. Without thorough thought, there can be no thorough revolution.” P 143.
“Some of the traditional models of war, as well as the logic and laws attached to it, will also be challenged. The outcome of the contest is not the collapse of the traditional mansion but rather one portion of the new construction site being in disorder.” P 13-14. How I interpret that is some elements of detailed planning logic are now no longer useful in the 21st century, while others should remain. The military ultimately determines which elements are still valid.

Americans “would rather treat war as the opponent in the marathon race of military technology and are not willing to look at it more as a test of morale and courage…they believe that as long as the Edisons of today do not sink into sleep, the gate to victory will always be open to the Americans.” P181. They are arguing that our largely teleological perspective on warfare has warped our thinking so that we seek a technological solution to everything. There is some validity to this- we deeply believe that the future of warfare requires the U.S. to maintain a large lead in technology, readiness, and capability. That is the entire justification (in my humble opinion) of many projects such as the J-35 fighter. Now the Vegans can compete with the angry Air Force folks on this blog…the more the merrier. But what happens when technology creates more problems than solutions, and what about when technologically inferior enemies defeat vastly technologically superior ones?

“It is not so much that war follows the fixed race course of rivalry of technology and weaponry as it is a game field with continually changing direction and many irregular factors.” P 95. Again, this non-western position emphasizes non-teleological positions; animals do not exist to feed man. War does not exist to serve societal interaction of foreign policy…. There are no fixed principles of war. Mass and maneuver might work in some conflicts, in some eras, against some enemies- but not everywhere and every time.

I also cited a decent mathematics book to support this position on military teleological logic in detailed planning.

“Goal-oriented research can deliver only predictable results.” - Ian Stewart, Nature’s Numbers. This goes back to the post-modern concept of ‘interior knowledge’- if we cast out a desired end-state into the future, and we anchor it down with our logic that stabilizes for us how the world functions (principles of war, the trinity, etc), then of course our entire planning process is going to dig up plenty of evidence for centers of gravity, critical vulnerabilities, and decisive points along lines of efforts that will get us to our strategic goals…except they have not been working well as of late. The Iraqi invasion of 2003 is potentially a decent example here. We did phases 1-3 quite well; but after the strategic and operational centers of gravity collapsed, things changed. We did not reach our original end-state; in some ways, we are still not there yet…

If anything, in future articles, I will continue to attempt to cut out too many complex terms because ‘Occams Razor’ is a fine principle in writing. I sliced up this article quite significantly, and I am doing the same to another Design article I am finishing up for SWJ concerning the highly abstract concepts of interiority knowledge and exteriority knowledge- great concepts offered up by Deleuze and Guattari in their fascinating book, ‘A Thousand Plateaus.’ But as for this article, I hope you enjoyed it outside of my fiddling with ‘teleological.’


Peter J. Munson

Sun, 08/14/2011 - 9:04am

I second HB's vote to repost/re-up this. I just got the time to figure out how to get my account running to post a comment and had to go searching for the article to do so. Overall, I like this one a little better than the previous design articles that really go heavy on the terminology and such. One thing I take issue with, though, is your discussion of teleology. First, I think of teleology as the mindset that something is progressing toward a determined end state, not so much as choosing and end state and working toward it. I.E., "the end of history" is a teleological conception, but deciding to create a plan to get to end state X is not teleological. That's my interpretation, anyway. Not sure if I'm correct.

On that point, you criticize our planning efforts as selecting an end state then working in a linear manner toward that. I certainly agree that the end states we often choose are unattainable, or at least questionable, even when they are clearly articulated, which they often are not. I also get what you are saying with non-linear/non-reductionist thinking. Yet, isn't it a bit decadently post-modern to say (imagine a cross between Oddball in Kelley's Heroes and a Cali surfer dude), "Hey man, we don't really know where we're going, but we're gonna use some positive waves to figure these things out and see where it takes us, you know?" Seriously, though, if you don't have an end state to work towards, then what's the point and how are you going to involve diplomatic or military power on such an adventure? I'm probably misreading you a bit, so clear this point up, please.

Hubba Bubba

Sat, 08/13/2011 - 5:13am


this is a bold article. Too bad it was posted right when SWJ switched over, I do think this one slipped by everyone that might have read it if they could get on. You ought to ask them to repost it.

I would recommend next time you add in a historical example, I know you write that historical vignettes are part of the military way of thinking- system of logic as you term it. I think providing a conflict like the Gulf War and draw comparisions from each side on how they seemed to be thinking. But others might suggest a different conflict. I go with what I know. Since you kept the whole thing really academic and sort of philosophical, I had a tough time following along because I understand better with military examples. I bet I am not the only one here on that note, but I guess you would say that is a reflection of how I "prefer to interprete the world." Your article also made me think about religions, but that is off topic.

I am always impressed by your footnotes. You sure do alot of them, but they make for good lists of some books and articles I am interested in checking out at the library.

Nice work.


Wed, 08/10/2011 - 1:46am

In reply to by Zinformation


1. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" is generally how those with their preferred logics discredit everyone else that does not think the same way they do. To refer to another portion of the book you unfortunately allege I have not fully read, Deleuze and Guattari discuss this in 'Postulates of Linguistics', one of their earlier chapters (if we call them chapters)- the tensions between language and information; or interior knowledge versus exterior knowledge. Instead of maintaining such a hostile position on perspectives that differ from your own which clearly are tactically focused (you say the real issue is a "fail-safe, CYA mentality taken into deepest combat")- what if there is something else? Why must Design be 'fail-safe'? Why do you fear failure?

2. Design (I do use a capital D, because it, in my opinion, is a field deserving of that recognition) does not fear failure. There are no fail-safes, as you stress. That logic represents the death-spiral of modern military struggles to find the holy grail of procedures- "this is the way of doing things that we can replicate into infinity and be better for it." The Bin Laden raid, which was a tactical success- not at all a strategic planning concept- is not something that may work again in the same fashion. We cannot simply template what was done for that successful tactical operation and create a "fail-safe, CYA metality taken into deepest combat." Although I do not prefer the OBL raid as a useful example, we can work with it here to get this point out on customization, adaptation, and innovation. That raid was a "custom suit" tailored by tactical planners that did a great job. The suit was a great fit- and the client looked good and got what he paid for. What we cannot do now is precisely what you state in your self-described rant; we cannot become intellectually lazy. We cannot take the tailored suit, wave it around for everyone and scream, "this...this is our fail-safe...this is our CYA mentality...we have taken it into deepest combat and we have accomplished this must be the right way to do design and planning. So now we will send this to the giant military factory and mass-produce it, and stock the suit-racks of Walmart and JCPenny with thousands of perfect copies of this tailored suit." The problem is that complexity adapts- the suit we wore for the OBL raid may not be worth anything tomorrow.

"design has always been an essential element of any planning methodology"- quote. I have to disagree with you on this point. But, I think we disagree on what Design is. What does Design mean to you? Why can it not include "post-modern Kool-aid" as you describe it? What do you fear about uncertaincy, creation and destruction, critical thinking about one's organization? Can we operate without any "fail-safes?" Can we not CYA? Why do we need to seek the "deepest combat?" Can some military requirements be undertaken without the "deepest combat" where solutions might fall outside the traditional understanding of Clausewitzian "destroy the fielded forces of the enemy"?

I hope that our continued discourse evokes discoveries for both of us; perhaps we might consider more about each other's perspective. Perhaps I need to be even more critical about what contributions post-modernism brings to the Design discourse...perhaps for you, it is only 'drinking the Kool-Aid' if you refuse to even consider another perspective aside from your own prefered system of logic. That which prevents you from critically thinking about your own logic are the very root metaphors that act as horse blinders for us all...



Tue, 08/09/2011 - 3:04pm

MAJ Zweibelson clearly has drunk the Naveh post-mod Kool-Aid. One wonders whether he actually read the entire DeLeuze and Guattari book on design, for the parts he uses are but a fraction of the content and not demonstrative of the overall focus. In fact, the D&L school of design is but one of many, and it is arguably the least constructive to the current artistic challenges for products or processes that use design.

Design needn't be a capital D; design always has been an essential element of any planning methodology, including the quasi-rational model that the military uses under various names, but most commonly the MDMP. The real problem with the military, especially the Army, is that it has focused on the detailed planning logic as Zweibelson names it, and not on the precedent concept of design - known far more commonly to the military as command intent. If I were to oversimplify - and just a bit - I would state this: command intent is equivalent to design.

Except that for the US military, command intent has become a mechanistic element of the planning method (MDMP.) The result is an always predictable scheme that assumes the enemy will do what we expect him to do; it produces efficient plans and orders. Unfortunately, it often produces very ineffective results, especially at the tactical level - one very recent illustration seems to be the loss of the fighters and helo in the Tangi Valley (from the admittedly small amount of data points, it seems this was a predictable operation conducted in a predictable fashion into an operating area that left no alternatives for the crew in terms of approach and drop.) We have read of similar predictability with the fights at COPs Keating and Kahler. American tactical and operational leaders, particularly in the Army, demonstrate the most efficient and fail-safest approach, an idea that usually works and definitely CYAs those in command. But the approach places the entirety of risk on the maneuver elements, and assumes that traditional American superiority of integrated combat power and training will overcome whatever flaws and risks produced by the predictable intent.

If this sounds like a rant, it is. The American military, at the decision-making levels, has become intellectually lazy, preferring to grasp radical slogans like post-modernist Design, rather than facing directly the real issue: a fail-safe, CYA mentality taken into deepest combat. We can do far better: the bin Laden raid illustrates that we can think, design, plan and do in creative and effective ways. The trouble is that bin Laden-type raids are the exception, not the rule.


Tue, 08/09/2011 - 2:10pm

In reply to by Vitesse et Puissance

I wrote a lengthy reply, and the website lost it. I will try again later-put some time in and watched it all disappear!

Vitesse et Puissance

Mon, 08/08/2011 - 3:34pm

A comment here about Kuhn (and Paul Feyerabend, a close collaborator of Kuhn): The "Against Method" approach to scientific philosophy systematically refuses to throw away old concepts and ideas. They may be shelved, may go out of fashion, but they are never entirely irrelevant to the postmodern marketplace of ideas. Indeed, old ideas get resurrected in new theories. Platonism becomes Neoplatonism. Scholasticism becomes Neoscholasticism. And so on. Even disproven theories are valuable for the lessons they hold - some of which were not discovered when they were falsified in their original form. Ergo;

Before Descartes, "linear causality, reductionism, and mechanistic theory", scholastic philosophy recognized material causation, and Galileo argues his case using this very language. How many Army officers today even know the Aristotlean/scholastic notions of formal, final, efficient and material causes - much less how they might be related to problems of complex operations and asymmetric warfare ? MAJ Zweibelson talks of detailed planning as "teleological" - but only in the more modest sense that the "end" or "goal" of an operation is its purpose. Ultimately, all wars must end, but the chain of causality does not end this side of Armaggeddon. In reality, this is an unavoidable constraint on the scope of military operations, a constraint which the logic of Clausewitz entertains without logical error.

To put the shoe on the other foot, how are the "unlimited variety of alternative approaches...dissimilar to the preferred detailed planning approach" to escape the problem of theoretical reduction ? Phenomenologically speaking, all ideas are reductive - the more coherent and well-defined the idea, the more reductive it is. Now, the state of theory when it comes to material causation is much better defined in Galileo's ballistics than in the psychologies of Machiavelli and Hobbes. The question, one might pose, is whether postmodern social science offers any better tools by which expected and actual outcomes of one's own actions may be measured ? Specifically, we need not assign the property of linearity to causation, since at least in theory, the function can be anything but a straight line (and one will need to learn calculus to analyze it). Another issue is that "mechanistic" is not the same as deterministic. People who assume - incorrectly - that kinetic results are deterministic don't know any more about physics than they do about social and behavioral science.

In either case, the heuristics imposed by doctrine reflect the kind of simplifying assumptions we need to operate in the world without being able to perform calculus problems in real time, without benefit of computational aids. It does appear to me that appeals to "design" reflect a desire to slip homo scientificus - the rational actor - in the back door, without much prospect of creating conditions - perfect information and sufficient time to find an optimal solution - under which a rational actor model works satisfactorally. What one is left with is an increasingly complex search space for solutions to complex problems. How's that working out for you ?