Over the past decade, western military institutions such as the United States Army have devoted greater attention towards conceptual planning when confronting ill-structured or ‘messy’ problems in conflict environments. Conceptual planning develops cohesive and innovative approaches for subsequent detailed planning and traditional military decision-making, yet our military profession struggles with how to fuse traditional planning with novel and emergent concepts. This article demonstrates the utility of blending theory, military doctrine, and an appreciation of socio-political mechanisms within our organizations during military planning. It is based on observations of planning efforts at the operational level for NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) in 2012. Intended not only for military professionals and academics, the author aims to bridge conceptual planning discussions between military and civilian leaders with the mutually beneficial applications of design theory, doctrine, and politics.,  Fusing conceptual and detailed planning requires greater discourse and debate.
Modern warfare presents complex and dynamic environments that continuously challenge the ways our organizations apply emergent theory, established doctrine, and how the inter-social politics of our organizations can help and hinder us. Military and civilian planners confront similar challenges concerning organizational knowledge production, institutional communication, organizational decision-making, and often share similar hierarchical structures with strong root metaphors and institutional tenets. Whether increasing market share with novel products or securing local or regional stability through lethal and non-lethal operations to accomplish national objectives, leaders must plan, synchronize, and execute complex human endeavors in a cooperative, collaborative, and competitive organization. Yet how do we actually blend theory, doctrine, and inter-social organizational adjustments to accomplish our goals? Is ‘fusion’ the latest doctrinal buzz-word, or can we illustrate ways to encourage conceptual and detailed blending with self-awareness of our own institutionalisms?
This article uses an operational level planning effort from NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) to illustrate some useful patterns that leaders can use to explore other applications where a blend of politics, theory, and doctrine result in a cohesive design deliverable for a military organization. All of the illustrations in this article are facsimiles of unclassified white-board planning sessions, and demonstrate the integration of a variety of design and operational theory processes into established military decision making. Again, this article seeks further discourse on planning fusion, and is not intended to provide design templates for mimicry with the expectation of similar planning results. Complex environments and ‘messy problems’ require uniquely tailored approaches. Here is one such example for consideration.
2014: the Catalyst for Transition from Coalition to Afghan Control
In the spring of 2012, NTM-A faced a ‘messy problem’ concerning the organization and synchronization of all of its training and advising elements and various subordinate elements across a diverse geography within a combat environment. NTM-A would plan to transition Coalition-led training sites throughout all of Afghanistan within a particular time and resource limitation. Whereas until now, NTM-A trained, operated, and was responsible for all Afghan Police, Army, and logistic training sites, the Afghan government had to assume complete responsibility through phased transition of over one hundred sites across the entire country while waging a counterinsurgency against the Taliban and other rivals. NTM-A had to incorporate the still developing Afghan Defense Ministry and Afghan Ministry of Interior, with the weak Afghan legitimate economy, low literacy rates, and other major third-world problems plaguing the country.
Under a compressed timeline, senior leadership directed a planning effort with the goal of producing a simple, cohesive plan that combined the various subordinate elements within NTM-A and synchronized them with both the Afghan security forces and sister Coalition organizations conducting combat operations. The reason we term it a ‘messy’ or ‘wicked’ problem set is because the environment would continue to adapt after the initial implementation of this planning deliverable. Our own organization as well as the Afghans would adapt and new, unexpected problems related to this would emerge later. Yet a successful fusion of design and detailed planning should produce a design deliverable that is flexible and provides the organization an ability to adjust, refine, and anticipate as conditions change.
Initially Bound a Messy Problem with a Small Planning Team
In previous planning sessions within NMT-A, select military planners initially made sense of the environment, generated iterative approaches to bounding the problem, and successfully constructed the organizing logic for all subsequent planning. In this case, four military planners with specialized planning backgrounds were intentionally assembled from across the entire organization to confront this ill-structured planning problem. The dissimilar perspectives that each planner brought to the core team contributed to a holistic perspective on how the NTM-A functioned with respect to communication, language, knowledge production, and command directives.
Providing a specialized team the ability and resources to appreciate complex environments without shackling them to the inhibiting elements that maintain organizational uniformity, repetitiveness, and hierarchical control nurtures critical and creative thinking. Small planning teams break away from the rigid military hierarchy that often conforms to the Machiavellian politics of alliances, division of power, and selective confrontation or rivalry within an organization. These small teams can shift to a different planning paradigm where collective decisions and democratic consensus occurs in what philosopher Juergen Habermas terms ‘communicative rationality.’ Free to apply bricolage and seek dissimilar disciplines and fields that offered potential insight, the team applied organizational theory models that are largely unknown within the greater military community and freely discussed them in a collective decision environment. These organizational theory applications as outlined below break from traditional military doctrine, procedures, and military realpolitik - yet their utility in ill-structured problems is something for military and civilian professionals to consider within the context of organizational doctrine, theory, and socio-politics.
Critical Reflection Brings Appreciation of How your Organization Thinks and Acts:
The immediate doctrinal instinct within many military organizations is to spend less time on making sense of the problem, with a higher emphasis on solving it in the preferred manner of our own institutionalisms. We prefer to describe an environment rather than explain it with detailed checklists and tangible statistics sought in an attempt to reduce ill-structured problems into manageable chunks. Relying on the communicative practice, this small team avoided this tendency through discourse and design theory application. Thinking broadly to first appreciate and make sense of the problem, the team applied organizational models and sought to improvise a novel approach that embraced a holistic organizing logic.
While military planning doctrine may provide some basic melodies for a planning team to improvise off, true innovation does not occur by rigidly following generic sheet music (doctrine) note by note. Instead, creative interpretation of the existing problem coupled with the freedom to explore and apply novel and dissimilar concepts often yields success in unexpected ways- this is bricolage under the flag of communicative practice. By ‘bricolage’ we mean the practice of using a variety of dissimilar and often eclectic disciplines, theories, and fields available to the planners to create novel solutions. Since the overarching problem confronting NTM-A in this situation was an organizational knowledge and synchronization based one, the planning team initially applied variations of a ‘value program/schema’ as a cognitive model to begin design practice.
Without getting into the nuances of why the team selected one element over another within the context of Figure 1, the significance of improvising and creating with the ‘value program/schema’ concept is that the team gained valuable insight and appreciation of the ill-structured problem. Through improvisation and bricolage, the team crafted their first perspective on making sense of the ‘messy problem’.
The team blended the schema concept (theory) with graphics and military planning language (doctrine) to develop an increased awareness of three interrelated organizations (NTM-A, ISAF fielded forces, and the Afghan Security Forces). All had differing motives and core tenets on shared objectives. From a socio-political perspective, we looked how each organization viewed itself within the greater context of the multi-organizational strategic view. Improvisation within Figure 1 led us towards recognizing abstract tensions of how western military logic was often paradoxical with the Afghan “non-western” logic, as well as amongst western-centric military organizations themselves.  Continuing with iterative white-board sessions, our team used abstract concepts such as the semiotic square to progressively advance awareness of the organizational problem. Figure 2 provides another example of unexpected results by improvising a fusion of accepted doctrine with design theory through appreciation of organizational socio-politics.
Using a geometric concept to form the semiotic square, the two rival tensions highlighted from Figure 1’s schema session helped us seek explanation instead of description concerning the major obstacles to our transition goals. Synchronization requires vertical (hierarchical) integration as well as horizontal (various NTM-A directorates and staff sections) so that tactical sites could be transitioned to Afghan responsibility. Elements within NTM-A operated largely from a linear and compartmentalized focus; the Afghan Army Directorate focused exclusively on Afghan Army matters, while the Police Directorate within NTM-A did the same with Afghan Police concerns. Support Operations looked only at logistics. We were compartmentalized in how we approached things, which prevented us from viewing things holistically. If our planning team inquired to any directorate on topics that fell outside their purview such as asking the Army Directorate about Police transition planning, none could articulate any other directorate’s plans, position, or how all of the directorates could synergize actions into a holistic planning effort.
This line of critical inquiry illustrated that one of the socio-political tensions within our ill-structured problem was NTM-A itself. Our organization featured strong planning capabilities within each directorate, yet their efforts remained isolated from one another and exclusively focused on tactical actions that ignored the linkages to higher level actions. Our design practice helped us gain an appreciation of the messy problem by including our own organization in our deliberate critical inquiry. This helped trigger emergent thought for our team.
Novel knowledge production within our planning team led from Figure 1 to Figure 2, which again remained highly abstract and holistic. At this early stage in sense-making and improvisational planning, the team did not want to solve the problem; rather we sought to understand which problem needed solving, and why. Figure 2 features the organizing logic of operational theory’s ‘semiotic squares’ approach that again used geometric structure to help planners make sense of things. Earlier socio-political observations of NTM-A are reflected as ‘W=WESTERN LOGIC’ with ‘-W=NON-WESTERN LOGIC’ applied to the Afghan security forces. In some respects, Figure 2 has greater abstraction than Figure 1, yet military planners should not expect to travel a linear path where conceptual planning leads directly to highly tangible detailed military planning. Abstraction may lead to even greater generalizations before providing the explanation that military planners seek. It is the process of gaining explanation that leads to cohesive and beneficial design deliverables containing the necessary description for detailed planning to structure tasks, timelines, and phased sequences of action for an organization to execute.
Figures 1 and 2 provided our team with a blended perspective of theory, doctrine, and politics in order to isolate institutionalisms and root metaphors within the organization that obscure holistic appreciation of a messy problem. By improvising with the observed ‘meta-questions’ that emerged through iterative white-board sessions and discussions surrounding the production of Figures 1 and 2, our team subsequently applied scenario planning quadrant concepts to their bricolage approach. We developed some quad-charts using those tensions to illustrate two distinct paradigm shifts within the environment confronting NTM-A and the Afghan forces. Instead of simply labeling these observations as paradoxes and moving on, the team improvised with quad-chart structure to explore emergent themes instead of searching only for intended results.
Figure 3 illustrates some of the emergent patterns that the team associated with understanding, bounding, and subsequently planning to “solve” the messy problem. Again, no complex system can be neatly solved; rather it is influenced by planners to transform into an emergent future state that holds advantageous positions for the organization. With Figure 3, the team recognized that NTM-A was moving away from a highly western end-state with the Afghan security force and towards a more feasible and sustainable ‘non-western/Afghan’ end-state. Simultaneously, a second paradigm shift demonstrated emergence where NTM-A moved from a highly compartmentalized and reductionist planning approach towards a centralized, holistic planning approach for transition. Instead of many separate directorates building their own plans, NTM-A needed to design and implement one ‘unified transition plan’ that could cohesively synergize the vast NTM-A organization in a systemic rather than systematic approach while acknowledging organizational socio-politics. These abstract improvisations through the planning team’s fusion of theory, doctrine, and critical reflection provided the necessary foundation for them to move from abstract perspectives towards more tangible operational planning deliverables.
Focusing Abstract Perspectives into Operational Approaches
The first several iterations and white-board sessions that the team conducted resulted in abstract understanding as illustrated with Figures 1-3. However, these initial conceptual products are explicitly part of the design process and not intended for any briefings to senior leadership. Military planners often confuse conceptual planning products with final design deliverables; although there are no ‘rules’ the final design deliverables should be concise, informative, yet simplistic for wide organizational consumption and application. Many conceptual products (Figures 1-3) may make sense to the core team, but this has more to do with their shared and cultivated group development through discipline, language, and collective decision-making under a communicative practice rather than the Machiavellian politics of large military organizations.
In other words, a sculptor presents the finished statue at the end to an audience, but would only share the chips and shavings of the original marble with fellow artists for discussing technique or the iterative artistic process from which the statue emerged. The public demands a statue, and has no interest in how you chipped the stone to get there. Figures 1-3 are analogous to marble shavings and should not be confused with the final planning deliverables. As an important transition step between conceptual and detailed military planning, the team took their deeper understanding of the messy problem built through Figures 1-3 and began to develop refined conceptual planning products that were intended for the larger NTM-A audience. This begins the socio-political shift from a small group governed by communicative practice towards larger planning groups featuring a blend of Machiavellian realpolitik through rank, responsibility, and military tradition.
Figure 4 took existing military language and the institutionally familiar ‘hierarchy structure’ for decision making into consideration when applying core tensions that emerged from earlier abstract design work. Although still a conceptual planning product, Figure 4 reflects the three hierarchy-bound organizations (ISAF fielded forces, NTM-A, and the Afghan Security Forces) as overlapping pyramids with strategic, operational, and tactical levels within the organizations. Military organizations prefer to organize their levels of responsibility, focus, and scope through the following interdependent echelons that use Machiavellian realpolitik as a socio-political forcing function. Our team associated levels of war (doctrine) within each of the three organizations due to their tendency to mirror these categories when making sense of the world. We did this intentionally as the final deliverable required components that resonate within our larger institution. ‘Fusion’ means that we need to draw from the conceptual, yet also blend and apply detailed planning elements with an appreciation for how our organization will execute the plan.
Each level within each of the overlapping organizations reflects the ‘rival’ within the social ecosystem where our own institutionalisms can become more of an obstacle to accomplishing our objectives than our physical enemies. We can become the greatest rival within a complex system. The design term ‘rival’ differs from the tactical concept of ‘enemy’ in that an enemy is tangible and destroyable. Rivals transcend the tangible, and cannot be directly targeted or defeated. As our team considered these elements of organizational tension, we sought to illustrate this through additional white-board sessions.
Continuing with the socio-political reflection on how NTM-A, ISAF, and the Afghan security forces operate at each level within the hierarchies, the planning team recognized that tasks at the tactical level within any of the three organizations were often linked to operational tasks, and even strategic tasks within the same or other organizations. For instance, trying to get an Afghan tactical-level unit leader to perform a tactical task often required a series of inter-related actions within NTM-A at the operational and strategic level first to stimulate organizational action within the Afghan institution at higher levels. Some tasks required significant interface across ISAF at various levels and often simultaneously to generate synchronization across the diverse multi-organizational topography.
Figure 5 illustrates a conceptual model that builds upon the previous Figures 1-3 abstract design approaches, yet Figure 5 intentionally moves towards accepted doctrinal elements of military language, concepts, and structure to communicate our earlier improvisations with theory. This intentional effort reflects the ‘fusion’ aspect of blending conceptual and detailed planning. Figure 5 became one of the featured graphics for subsequent briefings with senior NTM-A leadership and as the planning team expanded. Figure 5 reflected a new phase in the transition between conceptual and detailed planning where a wider audience and larger planning team began to fuse doctrine and theory with a shift in socio-politics.
A larger military audience requires a reduction in communicative practice with an increase in Machiavellian confrontation and strategic alliances. Figure 5 possesses many key elements of earlier graphics, yet it avoids a common planning pitfall of presenting complex issues in complex ways. Simplicity is perhaps the greatest challenge in communicating novel concepts and innovative thinking to the larger organization, yet it is essential in the delicate transition from abstract thought to detailed execution. Another way to distinguish Figure 5’s simplicity in form is to contrast it with another graphic developed during the conceptual planning phase. In a separate effort, we built a flow-diagram to illustrate in detailed terms how each of the three organizations interacted and influenced each other in the environment under examination. Figure 6 goes into extensive detail to show many of the same concepts captured within Figure 5. However, both of these illustrations serve different purposes and generate different results when viewed.
Requiring a complex key and color code, Figure 6 provides significantly more detail than Figure 5, yet the context of this illustration is one of internal planning collaboration and not intended for wider briefing applications. Figure 6 was never briefed to any decision maker during the Unified Transition Planning process, although it was used across various planning cells within the NTM-A and ISAF organizations informally. Figure 6 is not simple, and does not lend itself to briefing senior leadership in the military planning environment. Yet Figure 6 was included in this article to highlight the critical editing requirement for all military planners- just because something is highly explanatory does not mean it should be cast in front of your CEO or General Officer. Sensitivity to socio-politics and your audience are critical for successful design efforts.
Military planners are often challenged to walk the fine line between briefing Figure 5 or Figure 6 as the conceptual linchpin to explaining the organizational logic to a particular design approach; their decision may impact acceptance or rejection of the conceptual planning by the larger organization. In this case, NTM-A senior leadership approved the conceptual planning for the unified transition plan and supported an expansion of the core planning group as the team progressed towards tangible design deliverables.
Expanding the Planning Team changes the Socio-Political Climate:
Conceptual planning alone is insufficient for execution in military applications. We require tangible military objectives described in a uniform language and formatted within precise orders. We use linear sequencing of events to synchronize our actions, and we collect descriptive information to adjust execution. A core planning team using conceptual planning cannot alone produce this detailed deliverable for such a large organization such as NTM-A. Thus, the core planning team needed to expand the size of their planning element to include the myriad of NTM-A staffs and directorates to transition the conceptual plan into subsequent detailed planning processes. This would alter the socio-political climate, with a departure from a purely democratic consensus (communicative practice) observed within the core planning team.
Detailed planning reflects how the military as an institution prefers to operate, communicate, and make sense of ill-structured problems. When an organization accepts design applications during the conceptual planning phase, subsequent detailed planning should experience those results in the content and form of superior outputs. It seems that design and conceptual planning needs to remain less visible to the broad military organization during the initial phases, with the final deliverable in a form that is both familiar and palatable to the larger institution, to include shifts in socio-political climates as planning progresses. This has to do with common organizational language, institutional tenets, shared training experiences, and the undeniable influences of time, resources, and space. If the vast majority of our organization clearly understands a linear execution checklist, but only an insignificant minority is familiar with non-linear approaches fusing general systems theory and swarm theory, it would be self-destructive to develop a final planning deliverable that used the latter instead of the former. The same occurs with socio-politics; communicative practice and democratic consensus may work in core planning groups, but traditional military political culture requires more of the Machiavellian structure of power, alliances, and hierarchical control.
In this planning effort, senior NTM-A leadership accepted the conceptual planning results as the core organizing logic for all subsequent planning. Tasks would gain designations according to their level (tactical, operational, and strategic) and feature a strict association with task linkages and a linear timeline based on a final transition date. Although earlier work remained abstract, all final planning results would take on the doctrinal language and structure with the socio-political context of the military hierarchy.
Once the core framework for the transition execution matrix took initial form, our team expanded and introduced Army and Police advisors, logisticians, engineers, and a variety of other critical staff elements into the planning effort. Each element added their own products and concepts into the execution matrix (communicative practice) while following the organizing logic of task-linkages and military control mechanisms (Machiavellian strategy). Figure 7 illustrates an example of the execution matrix with just a few sample tasks. The final transition execution matrix featured well over a hundred different tasks that linked across tactical, operational, and strategic levels within NTM-A, ISAF fielded forces, and the Afghan Security Forces. This familiar content and form proved useful in that the wider organization clearly understood and accepted the structure, language, and concepts (Machiavellian) of the matrix without losing the previous design applications and conceptual planning (communicative practice).
NTM-A understood and sought to solve the right problem instead of rushing to solve a variety of different yet irrelevant problems on transition, and the matrix was both cohesive and simplistic in its approach. As stated earlier, messy problems are not ever ‘solved’, but design and detailed planning fusion requires planners to shift from one logic to the other and often share language to convey deep understanding. Packaging your design deliverables within the language and structure of detailed planning concepts is why the team designed a traditional execution checklist as the framework to convey all previous design work.
Figure 7 illustrates the transition from conceptual planning products to detailed and rigidly structured deliverables for organizational application. Although linear in structure, the matrix exploits those familiar concepts and military lexicon that the larger NTM-A organization operates effectively with, while retaining the necessary conceptual logic of earlier design work. With the execution matrix and other associated detailed planning products under development with the expanded planning team, the remaining issue of how to lead and control the execution of the Unified Transition Plan required a return to some conceptual elements as more senior leadership across the entire NTM-A organization were introduced to the transition plan.
Finalizing the Deliverable requires a Return to Conceptual Planning
In many military organizations, an interesting pattern develops where a portion of the hierarchical leadership directs an organizational-wide planning effort that incrementally gets exposed to the larger organization. Although the senior leadership that directed the planning process was exposed to the conceptual planning initially, as planning progressed and our planning team expanded to conduct the subsequent detailed planning, more senior leaders required a briefing to familiarize them with the concept, and at times gain their approval. In all of these cases, it proved detrimental to simply brief the unfamiliar senior leaders with the latest detailed planning products alone because they did not convey the necessary conceptual planning.
Thus, briefing a senior leader with only the execution matrix featured in Figure 7 was insufficient because most leaders then attempted to conduct their own hasty conceptual planning and “connect the dots” to reinvent the wheel, potentially in divergent or redundant directions. This proved disruptive because leaders of elements or directorates that already relied on earlier transition planning products would often return to those concepts and seek to incorporate them into the transition plan (Machiavellian) without realizing that it assimilated all existing transition products (collective practice) in earlier planning sessions.
Outdated concepts such as the “Transition Implementation Packet” and other draft orders that a directorate already assimilated into their daily operations became obstacles to the new unified plan because the older work had to be discarded or cannibalized into the holistic transition approach. Again, our own organization struggled with institutionalism as the final phases of briefing and implementing this organizational-wide plan took effect. At times, elements within NTM-A were extremely resistant to letting go of these outdated concepts which created internal friction and drove the Machiavellian strategy for political unity of effort. In an iterative manner, planners and decision makers reached back into select conceptual products to bring new members into the process and to convince those that clung to older compartmentalized yet familiar products.
Figure 8 presents an example of reaching back into conceptual planning products from earlier abstract stages in order to continue to convey the broad, abstract concepts while fusing detailed planning components such as command and control to the output. Figure 8 fuses elements of Figure 5 while integrating the necessary specific levels where NTM-A would use regular meetings and decision points to adjust the execution. Figure 8 has little of the abstract theoretical elements found in the earlier Figures and planning products, yet it continues to convey the results from that work within the familiar doctrine and socio-political mechanisms (detailed planning language and concepts) that our larger military organization preferred.
Thus, the wider audience gained the benefits of conceptual planning conducted in a small planning group using democratic consensus, with products transitioning from the conceptual to the detailed as our planning team expanded in size and scope to finally include the entire organization. This helps establish several important patterns that military planners can take into consideration when fusing theory, doctrine, and politics when facing ill-structured problems.
Conclusions: Messy Problems Demand Innovation, Fresh Perspectives, and Reflection
Military organizations appear to struggle with adapting knowledge production with ever-changing complex environments while often bounded by socio-political structure and doctrine. The term ‘knowledge production’ is the intangible process that an organization builds and expands upon collective understanding. We can increase or decrease our organizational knowledge through many actions. We can improvise and create, but we also can become stagnant or corrosive with our shared knowledge. One of our major institutional points of friction is our desire to re-apply successful actions in a generic format, which potentially inhibits improvisation and adaptation.
Often, something that worked yesterday fails to work today- yet changing your organization’s acceptance of new theories through cohesive planning becomes an organizational problem punctuated with institutionalism, resistance to improvisation, and rejection the conceptual in favor of the more tangible yet positivist. ‘Positivists’ try to use hard science and technology to fix everything, and tend to disregard anything that cannot be categorized or validated (measured) as irrelevant or anecdotal. For the military (positivist-centric), we tend to crave certainty, and while artists (non-conformists, improvisation-centric) often are delighted by surprises, military professionals and civilian managers often abhor them. Yet theoretical concepts and alternate socio-political structures actively encourage creative, artistic, and often asymmetrical thinking that critically challenges institutionalism and the procedural memory of our own organization. Is this a major reason that our military struggles to fuse the proper balance of conceptual and detailed planning? Can we forge new paths to discovery, and subsequently not force our organizations to mimic our actions with the expectation that future discoveries will follow the same methods and procedures? Fusing conceptual and detailed planning might require a paradigm shift from our reliance on doctrine and uniformity towards an emphasis on design’s tailored and unique approaches. Instead of drawing one blueprint and reproducing a thousand exact grey suits in three standard sizes, we may need to consider how a suit tailor creates a custom suit for each client’s needs, and never expects identical twins to walk into his shop demanding the same product twice. Why does our doctrine do this?
This article used a recent NTM-A planning event to highlight one way to fuse theory, doctrine, and politics by showcasing examples and illustrations of design applications to messy military problems in a combat environment. There are many organizational concepts as well as other dissimilar yet useful disciplines that military planners can draw from while conducting design. Furthermore, planners may draw some of the lessons learned in this planning process to include the utility of starting with a small planning cell and gradually expanding that team as the plan moves from the highly abstract to the tangible detailed planning for military operations.
Figures 1-8 provide a variety of military design examples moving from the highly abstract to the tangible. This last figure provides an overarching phenomenon observed throughout this and other military design processes. The size of a planning team expands as the content transforms from highly abstract/conceptual towards the necessary military deliverable that is a tangible, executable product written in simple and well-understood organizational language. Not every military planning process follows this path, as complex systems reject categorization and universal laws, yet this pattern does offer utility for planners to consider.
Figure 9 offers an additional consideration for military and civilian leadership alike. Although earlier conceptual work represents the efforts and intellectual breakthroughs for a planning team, those early products are not intended for mass distribution and application as final design deliverables. The core team functioned under a different socio-political mechanism, using collective decisions instead of the Machiavellian politics of alliances and realpolitik of the larger military organization. The size of the organizational audience grows as the planning team progresses through conceptual to detailed planning, yet there is also a shift in politics from democratic consensus with a core group towards military realpolitik as the larger hierarchy is exposed to the plan. For example, although Figure 8 did represent a return to earlier conceptual work, it nonetheless took a modified form and infused key detailed planning concepts for a wider military audience. This delicate balance between artistry and military science and socio-political blending requires a deep understanding of one’s own organization.
Lastly, military and civilian leaders focus towards an end-state or objective. Returning to the statue metaphor and the sculptor, planners must be conscious editors of what their desired statue will become (the deliverable plan or product) and not become enamored with the chips of stone that have collected under them as they progress through improvised fusion of doctrine, theory, and politics. Figure 6 helped this planning group yet is too intricate for mass organizational use, whereas Figures 1-3 are too abstract for the wider audience. These all aided the planning team on their journey, yet all conceptual applications within an environment eventually need to result in a tangible, functional, and effective product. Otherwise planners become detached philosophers sitting upon the mountain as the villages down below are razed and burned.
 Design practitioners use ‘messy’, ‘ill-structured’, and ‘wicked’ interchangeably for a variety of reasons. This article uses ‘messy’ but acknowledges these other similar terms. For information on ‘wicked’ or ‘ill-structured’ problems, see: Jeff Conklin, Wicked Problems and Social Complexity (CogNexus Institute, 2008. http://cognexus.org/wpf/wickedproblems.pdf (accessed 05 January 2011). Refer to the following Joint and U.S. Army planning doctrine for additional information on traditional military decision making (MDMP): United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Field Manual 5-0; The Operations Process (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2010); See also: Department of Defense, Joint Publication 5-0. Joint Operation Planning (26 December 2006).
 The U.S. Army recently changed their term from simply ‘Design’ to ‘Army Design Methodology’ which attempts to indoctrinate various conceptual planning processes into a military-oriented planning procedure aimed at appreciating complex dynamic systems and ill-structured problems. Army design doctrine remains controversial, and is frequently criticized as incomplete when considering the wide breadth of available disciplines for military applications. This article uses the more generic and unaffiliated term ‘design’ to encompass a wider conceptual range beyond U.S. Army doctrine.
 All of the subsequent figures are facsimiles of original white-board work and conceptual products for this article and are devoid of any operationally sensitive information. This article was screened by NTM-A CJ2 personnel in accordance with standard vetting processes. All graphics were created by the author.
 For information on ‘knowledge production’ concepts, see: Martin Kilduff, Ajay Mehra, and Mary Dunn, From Blue Sky Research to Problem Solving: A Philosophy of Science Theory of New Knowledge Production, (Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36m No. 2, 2011); for ‘root metaphors’, see: Mats Alvesson, Jorgen Sandberg, Generating Research Questions Through Problematization, (Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2011) 254. See also: Karl E. Weick, Improvisation as a Mindset for Organizational Analysis (Organizational Science, Volume 9, No. 5; September-October 1998) 551. Weick discusses improvisation and how organizations are tempted to avoid it by following “the chronic temptation to fall back on well-rehearsed fragments to cope with current problems even though these problems don’t exactly match those present at the time of the earlier rehearsal.”
 E.R. Alexander, The Planner Prince: Interdependence, Rationalities, and Post-Communicative Practice (Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2001) 311-324. Alexander argues that planning situations requires a fusion of consensual (Foucauldian) theory and Machiavellian ‘realpolitik’ through interdependence and strategic maneuvering within the organization. See also: John Molineux, Tim Haslett, The Use of Soft Systems Methodology to Enhance Group Creativity (Springer Science and Business Media, LCC; Syst Pract Act Res 20; 2007) 477-496.
 Army Doctrine Publication 3-0; Unified Land Operations, (Headquarters, Department of the Army, October 2011), 11. “Army Doctrine Publication 3-0 states that when the US Army faces unfamiliar problems, finding “executable solutions typically requires integrating the design methodology and the MDMP [military decision making process].”
 Eva Boxenbaum, Linda Rouleau, New Knowledge Products as Bricolage: Metaphors and Scripts in Organizational Theory, (Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2011) 272-296. Boxenbaum and Rouleau argue that knowledge production of organizational theories use a combination of concepts, empirical material, and metaphors. See also: Kilduff, Mehra, and Dunn, 297. Kilduff, Mehra, and Dunn term ‘logics of action’ defined as organizing principles that shape ways of viewing the world by “providing social actors with vocabularies of motive, fameworks for reasoning, and guidelines for practice.”
 Alexander, 311-324. “the effective planner achieves results by recognizing power and applying strategic (not communicative) rationality in playing Machiavellian realpolitik.”
 Ibid. 311-324. Alexander cites the work of German Philosopher Juergen Habermas on ‘communicative rationality’ that “sees planning as interactive communication more than problem solving or decision making.”
 Boxenbaum, Rouleau, 280-281.
 Carl H. Builder, The Masks of War; American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989) 11-17.
 Conklin, 4-5. “This is the pattern of thinking that everyone attempts to follow when they are faced with a problem…this linear pattern as being enshrined in policy manuals, textbooks, internal standards for project management, and even the most advanced tools and methods being used and taught in the organization.” See also: Phillip Clampitt, M. Lee Williams, Managing Organizational Uncertainty: Conceptualization and Measurement (University of Wisconsin- Green Bay; TH 331 UWGB) 9-10. “Thus, most people use rule of thumb like representativeness, availability, and anchoring as ways to make decisions when faced with uncertainty…they use rule of thumb to strip away much of the uncertainty during the recognition and evaluation phases.”
 Ervin Laszlo, The Systems View of the World; A Holistic Vision for Our Time, (New Jersey, Hampton Press, 1996) 16. “Systems thinking gives us a holistic perspective for viewing the world around us, and seeing ourselves in the world.” For more on complex adaptive systems, see: Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General System Theory (New York: George Braziller, 1968); see also: Walter Buckley (Edited by Open Systems Group), Society as a Complex Adaptive System (Systems Behavior, 3rd edition; London, Harper & Row Publishers, 1981).
 Molineux, Haslett, 479. Molineux and Haslett argue that organizations with an emphasis on control may impact employee creativity negatively.
 Stephen Corea, Refocusing Systems Analysis of Organizations Through a Semiotic Lens: Interpretive Framework and Method, (Systemic Practice and Action Research, volume 18, No. 4, August 2005) 339-364. Corea uses a value-program/schema model that this planning team used as a baseline concept to improvise with.
 Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence; the Evolution of Operational Theory (New York: Frank Cass Publishers, 2004) 220. “Due to a traditionally non-systematic approach in the area of learning and assimilation of operational lessons, field leaders and staff officers lacked uniform conventions in both planning and analysis…in most cases the learning process focused exclusively on the tactical field and technical issues.” Naveh criticizes existing military doctrine as rigid and unable to assist organizations with making sense of complexity.
 Anatol Rapoport (editor), Editor’s Introduction to On War, Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, (Penguin Books, 1968). A Games Theorist, Rapoport takes a decidedly non-western approach by framing Clausewitzian logic as a political theory of war that is incompatible with various other rival war theories; he describes early Soviet theory as ‘messianic eschatological’ while later Cold-War Soviet became ‘global cataclysmic eschatological.’ Rapoport lays useful conceptual groundwork for understanding extremist religious war theories as ‘divine messianic eschatological’ and identifying different perspectives on conflict from western and decidedly non-western logics.
 Corea, 339-364. Corea uses a semiotic square model that this planning team used as a baseline concept.
 Gary Jason, Critical Thinking: Developing an Effective System logic, (San Diego State University: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2001) 337. “People tend to compartmentalize: they divide aspects of their lives into compartments and then make decisions about things in one compartment without taking into account the implications for things in another compartment.” See also: Laszlo, 2; Laszlo states that knowledge is usually “pursued in depth in isolation…Rather than getting a continuous and coherent picture, we are getting fragments- remarkably detailed but isolated patterns.” See also: Pasquale Gagliardi, The Revenge of Gratuitousness on Utilitarianism; an Investigation Into the Causes and Consequences of a Collective Repression (Journal of Management Inquiry; Vol. 14 No. 4, December 2005) 309-315.
 Gagliardi, 311. Gagliardi argues that organizations have needs that cannot be legitimately expressed, so they disguise themselves and become blended into organizational culture so that the organization demands a behavior or action without realizing that it is harming itself. Outdated traditions, expensive social events, and military rituals that cost more than they provide are all examples of this behavior. See also: Clampitt, Williams, 13.
 Novel knowledge production represents how organizations develop new understanding for organizational use; refer to: Kilduff, Mehra, and Dunn.
 Valerie Ahl and T.F.H. Allen, Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary, and Epistemology, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) 18. “Meaning, and explaining the “why” of a phenomenon, comes from the context. The lower-level mechanics, the “how” of the phenomenon, have nothing to say about “why.”
 Molineux, Haslett, 487. The authors describe a workshop where planners built numerous rich pictures that led to “a fuller understanding of the current state.”
 Gerald M. Weinberg, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982) 12. “If our previous experience with systems analysis proves anything, it proves that anyone who tries to use all the information- even about the simple systems existing today- will be drowned in paper and never accomplish anything…The synthesist is someone who makes very specific plans for action, and more often than not stays around during the execution of those plans to adjust them to ongoing reality.”
 Weick, 552. “Preference for and comfort with process rather than structure” is one of Weick’s prescriptions for group characteristics of adaptive and improvising organizations.
 Alvesson, Sandberg, 254. Alvesson and Sandberg use the term ‘in-house assumption’, ‘root metaphor’, and ‘field assumption’ to describe organizational resistance to change. See also: Clampitt, Williams, 7. “Societal rules, rituals, educational standards, religious orientations, and technologies are cultural forces that shape an individual’s responses to uncertainty.”
 Weinberg, 65. “One of the most effective anthropological techniques that I’ve observed is the meta-question. A meta-question is a question that directly or indirectly produces a question for an answer.”
 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Kuhn’s theory of ‘paradigm shifts’ illustrates the ever-growing errors and flaws that a theory might generate until eventually an entirely novel theory destroys and replaces it while answering those flaws and errors effectively.
 Weick, 551. Weick discusses implications for improvisation in theory by suggesting that theorists “may, for example, be able to do more with the simultaneous presence of seeming opposites in organizations than simply label them as paradoxes.” See also: Gagliardi, 309-315.
 The term ‘solve’ is quoted intentionally because as designers, we do not solve wicked or ill-structured problems. These complex systems adapt with our actions, and linear concepts such as ‘objective’ and ‘end-state’ are poorly translated into emergent systems.
 Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life (New York: Anchor Books, 1996) 29. “In the analytic, or reductionist, approach, the parts themselves cannot be analyzed any further, except by reducing them to still smaller parts. Indeed, Western science has been progressing in that way.” See also: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan, (New York: Random House, 2007), 16. “Categorizing always produces reduction in true complexity.”
 Systemic relates to appreciating a complex system holistically. Systematic refers instead to a reductionist perspective. A systematic view looks at individual parts of the bicycle, while the systemic view sees the bicycle assembled and in motion with a rider.
 Mats Alvesson, Dan Karreman, Constructing Mystery: Empirical Matters in Theory Development (Academy of Management Review; volume 32, No. 4, 2007) 1265-1281. The authors discuss the “acts of construction” where the framework of the researcher and the social reality of language, concepts, and social contexts are inescapably combined within the process. See also: E.R. Alexander, The Planner Prince: Interdependence, Rationalities, and Post-Communicative Practice (Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2001) 311-324.
 On the concepts of narratives, history, and language, see: Paul Ricoeur, (Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer) Time and Narrative, Volume 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); See also: Peter Novick, That Noble Dream (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988); See also: Hayden White, The Content of the Form (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987). How human societies construct language and consider history becomes critical in understanding why two societies perceive the same event as completely different in meaning and context.
 United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Field Manual 3-0; Operations (TRADOC, Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2001) 2-2. “The levels of war are doctrinal perspectives that clarify the links between strategic objectives and tactical actions. Although there are no finite limits or boundaries between them, the three levels are strategic, operational and tactical.”
 Shimon Naveh, Asymmetric Conflict; An Operational Reflection on Hegemonic Strategies (Tel Aviv: The Eshed Group for Operational Knowledge, 2005). Naveh discusses ‘rival’ as a more abstract element within the understanding of a complex system that transcends the traditional military understanding of ‘enemy’ in tangible terms.
 Alexander, 312. “Machiavellian politics of strategic action, of instrumental alliances with some powerful actors and selective confrontation with others” reflects how military rank, responsibility, and tradition shapes military decision-making within larger organizations. Democratic consensus is often trumped by the hierarchy of orders and policies.
 Perhaps the most infamous PowerPoint slide of the modern warfare era: Elisabeth Bumiller, We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint, (The New York Times online; 26 April 2010; last accessed: 28 APR 2012; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html ). This NYT article features the “spaghetti slide” where planners briefed General McChrystal and he remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.” This extremely detailed and ultimately confusing slide is a great example of a planning product thrown in front of senior leadership for all of the wrong reasons.
 United States Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 5, Planning, (Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C. July 1997), 25. The Marines warn that a planning pitfall is “the tendency for institutionalized planning methods to lead to inflexible or lockstep thinking and for planning and plans to become rigid and overly emphasize procedures…attempts to [institutionalize planning] will necessarily restrict intuition and creativity.” See also: Valerie Ahl and T.F.H. Allen, Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary, and Epistemology, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996) 1. “Contemporary society has ambitions of solving complex problems through technical understanding…the first strategy is to reduce complex problems by gaining tight control over behavior. It is a mechanical solution in the style of differential equations and Newtonian calculus.”
 A positivist relies upon the scientific method and reductionism to “solve everything.” See: Gerald M. Weinberg, Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982), 121. “Reduction is but one approach to understanding, one among many. As soon as we stop trying to examine one tiny portion of the world more closely and apply some close observation to science itself, we find that reductionism is an ideal never achieved in practice.”
 Weick, 553. Weick discusses improvisation and how “musicians love surpises but managers hate them.”
 Christine Moorman, Anne S. Miner, Organizational Improvisation and Organizational Memory (Academy of Management Review Vol. 23, No. 4, 1998) 698-723. Moorman and Miner argue that two different types of memory moderate organizational improvisation- procedural and declarative.
 Molineux, Haslett, 480. Molineux and Haslett cite numerous studies on creativity and group dynamics to argue that democratic and collaborative leadership fosters increased creativity. This implies that military hierarchical and confrontational leadership along with an emphasis on uniformity has the opposite effect.