Small Wars Journal

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

Sun, 08/07/2011 - 1:30pm

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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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About the Author(s)

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



Hubba Bubba

Sun, 03/11/2012 - 7:16am

Interesting article recently posted by a former NTM-A senior strategist; he apprears to be reinforcing many of what this article offers as flawed planning assumptions based upon the military's prefered logic system. If COIN/FID/SFA's core narrative on "advise and mentor" national security forces is build upon some significant faulty planning assumptions, what does this do from a design perspective on the entire ISAF Campaign Plan? The previous posts in this blog also seem to anticipate this same thesis.

Hubba Bubba

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 4:16pm

In reply to by bz

Ben---would love to but am between positions and maybe heading towards Kabul in late Feb.


Wed, 01/25/2012 - 9:05am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw- if you hit me on AKO, I can send you a draft of something.


Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/24/2012 - 1:14pm

In reply to by bz

Ben--yes the bear is swimming but it is not sure what direct to swim in---

Currently that are an increasing number of junior level officers (LTs to MAJs and some LTCs) and NCOs (E6s and higher)that sense something is inherently wrong somewhere as we should be further along in the Afghanistan model than we are after countless BCT rotations meaning countless cycles of MDMP.

Based on the high ops tempo I personally think that MDMP has been covering up the problems---know you yourself hear the same things I hear---been there done it and have the T-shirts so what are you going to mentor me on. This statement is critical as it reflects the fact that staffs use MDMP both as a process and a excuse to avoid changes that they inherently "sense" need to occurr as the normal is no longer the normal.

In some aspects Design needs to be taught at least at the CPTs level in the first week of MDMP so at least the CPTs can understand the overall concept and during the remaining MDMP training attempt to at least "try" it---would require the C3 courses to develop a scenario that would allow both forms to bubble up during the planning stages as well as in the Assessment WG phases. The scenarios would have to be so structured that Design is a solid option and it should give officers that think seriously about it the ability to voice it during the decisionmaking progress. The scenarios as well should have the subtle outlines of shadows that would/could be the triggers in order to see what officers pick up on as a way of identifying the "generalists".

LTs need a solid dose of both MDMP and the same one week of Design during the BOLC phases. That way at least the LTs and CPTs have the same level of knowledge and as more officers become aware of it.

Then at somepoint a critical mass will occur and the use of Design on its own will slowly start being used parallel to MDMP.

Your right in the thinking that there needs to be a concerted effort in building a hybrid mechanism.

Recently watched a very good airborne BCT suddenly stop the target planning cycle due to the B2C2WG being totally out of synch and the Cmdr shifted to RDMP which barely worked as named operations were underway.

Have never seen a BCT stop targeting---a real reflection of the problems they were having in MDMP and B2C2WG.

We were told not to document via AAR--that is how hard the institution does not want to hear.

So maybe when the bear stops swimming and is drowning maybe it will be noticed.


Tue, 01/24/2012 - 10:55am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Interesting questions of which I honestly have no answer.

1. Not sure if it is better to have one 'generalist' on the staff, or many. I wonder whether the institution is ready or willing to devote the significant adjustments to our PME to explore Design Theory- and where it needs to occur.

2. What level of staff- and when would we start exposing folks to Design thinking? Is field grade level too late, or just right? I do not know if the Captain's Career Course is the right place; perhaps initial exposure, or through MTTs that visit BN, BDE, DIV, and Corps staffs to support training.

3. These are tough questions...we cannot and should not expect 'Design' to remain a rare sort of skill that is generally only exposed to those that attend SAMS, SASS, SAW, or War College (depending on the location, student, course focus) needs to be much broader in application- but not watered down and put into pocket-sized books with "step 1, do this" as the mass production model.

4. Probably there are a lot of opinions on this one- it goes to the heart of the military education program and what sort of thinking leader we would like to emerge from the pipeline at the junior, field, and senior level- what is their purpose? What is the true mission? How do we improve our organization- do we continue with top-down hierarchical structured procedures by GO and committee, or do we look towards swarming and self-adapting processes such as social knowledge production models?

Many good questions; not as many solid answers though. Like a polar bear on an iceberg; but the bear can swim...


Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/24/2012 - 8:28am

In reply to by bz

Ben---interesting you bring in the next gen theory---when we were chasing the German Red Army Fraction (RAF) I would often ask the German Federal authorities "what happens when we get person X Y or Z" as they were so focused on the senior leadership and paid virtually no attention to the sub leaders that were developing below the radar.

Much as JSOC is doing on the kill or capture side---fully agree that with every generation of leadership that gets taken out a sub generation evolves upward---but far more brutal and far more OPSEC aware. We "saw" this developing in Iraq with JSOC's operations, but we did not "understand" what we were "seeing"--did it stop the various Sunni insurgent groups---not really---they just reorged, learned/evolved (adapted),and moved on and as you indicate there was no overarching plan on how to "move" them towards something except towards a "political solution".

Yes we would argue that the "surge" was what caused a slow down and evolution of the Sunni groups--I would argue that in fact it was the ecosystem fork in the road caused by AQI in late 2005 through late 2007 that actually caused the Sunni groups to evolve towards something.

By the time that RAF was "dampened down" to limited actions we had gone to Next Gen level 4 and the German Federal authorities lost all contact to them and really never knew who was in the leadership roles---again much like we are currently "seeing" inside the Taliban and related groups.

Like the idea of "moving" the illicit commodity cycle due to the fact that it is what provides critical inputs into the ecosystem which in turn "allows" for outputs that we can "see" and "understand".

The core problem in MDMP is that it is cyclic, linear and does not allow for taking the time necessary to thoroughly think out a number of years as MDMP drives operations---we have gotten so far away from the term "tactical patience".

MDMP again as I have indicated is great with tank on tank but it has fallen way short in the COIN (WAS) environment, and I am surprised the powers to be have not "seen" that.

Maybe it has to do with the problem that if I "see" the shortcomings then I need to address them which in turn would be a direct challegene to the institutional processes of the last 65 years.

So just paraphasing your thoughts---so we need Design level (generalist)personnel who are the 10, 20 years out thinkers---are they individuals or must the whole staff be trained---if the goal is the entire staff then the hybrid model is initially the only way forward--so do you see that happening in the Assesment WG or do we have to reconfigure the B2C2WG model?

Again thanks for the thoughts around the DTOs as that was where I was headed due to the 70s experiences. The DTO original article was abstract enough to provide a theoritical baseline---but it was the illicit commodity FP article that takes the DTO article into the realm of reality and makes it easy to use as a model for DTOs and other issues.

Look forward to the declassified version if and when it is cleared.


Tue, 01/24/2012 - 2:40am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Also, the generalist might see that despite short-term tactical success (which spans the short 4-8 year political cycle at our strategic level), the illicit commodity cycle is enduring. We can destroy one season of poppy in Afghanistan if we put extensive resources towards it- just as we could eliminate 1x Mexican Cartel with significant military and para-military action...but those are short-term (MDMP-friendly) actions that only transform the system so that it emerges with innovations for the enduring illicit commodity cycles. Cartel Next emerges smarter, stronger, and able to avoid the actions we took to eliminate the earlier generation...same goes for next year's poppy crop and the cultivation/distro system to move it. Long-term holistic applications require the generalist to look far beyond the next political cycle; and towards the next generation entirely- how does the illicit commodity cycle endure in 2030? Our tactical "micro-LOEs" of today need an overarching generational LOE and strategic campaign plan that looks at synergizing all levels of international government to influence the system towards transformation that makes existing criminal enterprise evolve towards something more benign...yet still accepting their evolution towards something new; profound; innovative; and still profiting from illicit commodities.


Outlaw 09

Mon, 01/23/2012 - 11:57pm

In reply to by bz

BZ---have reread the Cartel article and applied then the FP process to the Cartel article.

After an intensive review it could be argued that in fact the Mexican DTOs and the Afghanistan Transnational Criminal Organizations have "transformed" (meaning pushed) their respective pre-existing states (pre-transformation) ie Mexico and Afghanistan towards an emergent State that further benefits their organizations?

While we are "fighting" via COIN focused on pop-centric they are "fighting" for transformation meaning the ability to create and then exist in an emergent state that allows their ecosystems to thrive and grow regardless of what the State around that ecosystem boundary looks like.

The creation piece has to from their perspective be in fact illicit as that is what allows them their continued growth on the licit side---actually a very pragmatic approach that allows for adaptation at every turn since they know the end goal.

You are right in that MDMP cannot respond to that pragmatic of an approach as it has inherently no ability to be adaptive against "wicked problems"---which really only a "generalist" can understand.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 01/22/2012 - 4:16pm

In reply to by bz

BZ---so we are on the same sheet---how are you defining "generalist"?

What would be some of the characteristics that you see as being important for a "generalist"?

Thanks for the info---had anticipated the FP article as being a further build out of the Cartel article---understand then where you are heading---I can fill in the blanks myself using the FP article as the guideline.

Thanks again for the response---would be great to see the declassified version when it becomes available.


Sun, 01/22/2012 - 11:56am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Thanks again for the kind words. As for applying Design to DTOs- Mike put a link below to my Cartel Next article I had published on SWJ last year; this was where I really started with trying to use Design and apply it to a real problem and demonstrate different outcomes versus using strictly MDMP. Reviews were mixed; but if you review that article, you will see the origins of what I later applied to the Afghan article over at Foreign Policy. Later still, I used some of those concepts in a more recent application that I am working on getting declassified so I can share it in an academic setting- but it uses similar Design approaches to an Afghan "wicked problem" that MDMP did not and would not even touch.

If you read the 'Cartel Next' article, you will see that I argue that it does not really matter where we look- Mexico, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, - all criminal enterprises that use the illicit commodity cycle operate and innovate along a similar pattern; but in order to understand it and answer the 'why' questions, you have to look at it abstractly and as a generalist...but in the end, one must apply action to accomplish results. One seeks to transform the system towards an emergent state that benefits the organization.


Outlaw 09

Sun, 01/22/2012 - 10:44am

BZ---know you are busy but could you think about this and pass back thoughts when you have a chance and time.

If we say accept the article you wrote in FP as a "basis" of a good Design problem discussion, if we accept that the resistance from current battle staffs to get off of MDMP is high as we both know it is as it is the "Known", if we know that Design is the key way forward for transitioning to "seeing" and "understanding" and that change is a fearful process in a military, if we know that a hybrid model (bridge) is the weaning process over to Design.

Then maybe we need to define the ideas around a "Generalist", really relook your FP article for use as a training model, look at how we define and use the question WHY, relook where MDMP/B2C2WG is failing us in an open and honest fashion especially when dealing with adaptive complex ecosystems. I would argue that even in tank on tank Design opens the road to the battle tactic "Swarming operations" since Design would allow for an adaptive complex Strategy to be developed that is constantly adapting to the OE and without an adaptive Strategy "Swarming" cannot work.

Just my thoughts.

Secondly--went back over your article on the use of Design as applied to DTOs.

Had interesting recent conversations with several DHS agencies that have responsibilities on the monitoring of DTOs (as well as their related gangs in the US) and the conversations turned to Design as a way forward meaning what can be taken from the experiences gained by the military in dealing with adaptive complex ecosystems and applied to say DTOs, TNCOs, or even what is now being referred to as 3rd Gen Criminal Orgs.

Their ability to grasp the concept was amazingly fast as they do not seem to have the same hang ups as say a military institution has. Yes they tend to use the D3A targeting model, yes they may in fact be using a modified MDMP decisionmaking process, but they appeared far more open to critical thinking and that surprised me (maybe also due to a lack of manpower vs DoD and they have to get more done or be more adaptive in their approaches than say DoD)--it could also be due simply to the fact that the reality on the ground is extremely concerning to them as it goes to the defence of the homeland.

Could you modify the FP article to focus say on DTOs/TNCOs using the FP three phase cycle as a quick model to discuss as much as you can within OPSEC limits---maybe first just as a theoritical model using the three cycle approach (meaning taking the diagram and reworking it to a DTO styled approach) to get the conversation going?

Just a thought.

Really like your work as it it coming from a group of officers that have "seen" the issues first hand and are trying to position the force for the change that has to come in the coming months and years.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 02/13/2012 - 8:01am

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

HB---you bring up an interesting question and the short answer in my opinion is that TRADOC does not seem to care regardless of all the hype and new manuals.

There are far more that just casual indicators out there that at both the tactical and operational levels and maybe even up to the JTF level B2C2WG and the MDMP process is badly broken. Example---recently at the NTC a BCT got so out of synchronization with their B2C2WG they simply stopped the target planning process---in over 39 BCT rotations I have never seen that happen---and with any number of the recent NTC rotations all BCTs are showing major problems around MDMP. Second example take the ISR process---unless a battle staff has MDMP down pat and B2C2WG down pat, and they fully engage on the target planning process and they are fully engaged on IPOE then and only then does ISR function well. Those that hand hold the BCTs on ISR absolutely run from problems with MDMP/B2C2Wg and shout that it is not their problem to fix.

Does anyone think that a BCT battle staff with an average of 30-35 WGs/huddles/pre meetings is getting anything done other than holding meetings and nodding to powerpoint presentations?

BZ in his comments here aludes to it as well. Part of the problem around Design is 1) you really do need "Generalists" something the Army mindset runs from and 2) you really need a well functioning B2C2WG/MDMP which one can modify initially into a hybrid process as the transition to Design occurs.

So using your own words--we will continue to circle the drain because to fix the drain means we have to admit that something is wrong with the drain.

BZs series of responses are an excellent place to start building a Design training program from simply because he acknowledges the current internal failures as the starting point-IMO.

Hubba Bubba

Sun, 02/12/2012 - 4:49pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The most refreshing thing about the British take on design is that it is quite easy to read, and remains critical to military applications despite upsetting the apple cart on a few areas within british doctrine and thinking. You just do not get the same feel for the latest 'Army Design Methodology' flavor in the new ADP 3.0 and the sad compromise that chapter 3 of FM 5-0 finally published as. I am curious if future doctine updates for the US Army follows British examples, or if we continue to circle the drain with less critical and more prescriptive passages that remain obedient to the meta-themes within US Army training and doctrine?


Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/21/2012 - 10:32am

Just a side comment on the link sent by Hubba Bubba---the Brits are attempting to get close to design and at least they are writing in a way that is understandable.

Noticed their quote highlighted below that actually goes to a previous BZ comment referencing "Generalists".
‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful
servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and
forgets the gift.’
Albert Einstein

BZ is correct in his observations that it is the "Generalist" who has the ability to detect the shadows of outlines and who tends to ignor the data flows that hit every battle staff these days as it is the shadow/shadows he pays attention to.

If we look at the Assessment WG which has been the traditional starting point for MDMP we always see the 5Ws and 1H at work, Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How in that sequence---this has been the standard question (in the same sequence) pattern for staffs since the 70s. Just a side note the 5Ws and IH sequence is used across all WfFs

Since the reality of adaptive complex ecosystems hit us in full force in 2005---just maybe the "Generalist" is the person who should be the driver of design. The question then is how do you train a "Generalist" or how do you recognize a "Generalist"?

If we equate the "Generalist" to the single question WHY maybe it is time to invert and remix the standard 5Ws and 1H sequence to be led first by the single most important question a battle staff can ever ask--- WHY?

Then at least up front the staff is starting the thought process necessary for shifting from the traditional MDMP process to a hybrid model closer to Design.

Just a thought.


Sun, 01/22/2012 - 2:58pm

In reply to by bz

- bz
"If these non-human artifical forms grow and expand, they will develop values of their own; perhaps unique and completely alien to human values- and if warfare does occur between rival non-human artificial life forms- will Clausewitz apply at all?"

This is really a fascinating question.
If I go back to the trinity of the Clausewitzian theory - than I would assume that Clausewitz can also used even in this non-human environment, cause even under this circumstances there is a rational (purpose), nonrational (friction and chance) and irrational element (e.g. hatred) of a conflict.
If I understand the "radical evolution" correctly than there will still be a purpose behind a conflict.
The level of uncertainty and friction will not decrease with artificial life forms (I would argue it will even incraese).
And last but not least: if these non-human individuals "develop values of their own; perhaps unique and completely alien to human values", than these values would be subjective (as those of humans). Out of those these values non-human individuals will develop beliefs and through their creativity maybe even a faith. All this is part of a irrational element.
If they don't develop subjective values the other 2 parts of the trinity keep their relevance.

Even today in human conflicts Clausewitz gives not a explanation for different cutural backgrounds, but he reminds an analyst that there is not only a rational and irrational part of a (human)conflict.

Here a bit more about the trinity:

In my POV this "problematizer" shows that Clausewitzian theory is flexible and in the same time useful enough to understand the fundamental dynamics of war.


Sat, 01/21/2012 - 2:54pm

In reply to by VB

"Cause robots and artificial intelligence will not fight the whole wars for us."

- Robots implies human control. Go beyond that...much further than human involvement at all. Robots fighting at a tactical level for human strategies is right now. It is not a matter of if, but when artificial life gains self-awareness; it may be quite different than human understanding- to include values, and hence warfare. Clausewitz built his pyramid around human passion- but what happens when humans are absent entirely? Is the trinity still valid? Can it explain in an open-minded approach how non-human warfare will evolve and transform?

This is about a paradigm shift that shatters Clausewitz entirely, in my opinion. We can continue to discuss whether Clausewitz can explain in a non-linear way the full spectrum of human conflict from conventional high intensity to low intensity and asymmetrical- and perhaps we may just meet in the middle (at the crossroads between Design's jungle and Clausewitz's garden)...

But as a problematizer, if one really takes this to a higher level of abstraction, the jungle possesses terrain for Design to explore on war theory that Clausewitz is unable to enter; or can he?

Back to true non-human conflict: consider again artifical life- something devoid of human control; this is something self-aware, likely able to think faster, with greater creativity, something super-human yet non-human. If these non-human artifical forms grow and expand, they will develop values of their own; perhaps unique and completely alien to human values- and if warfare does occur between rival non-human artificial life forms- will Clausewitz apply at all? I would argue that he would be on very thin ice...but I think Design Theory remains broad, non-linear, and adaptive enough to continue to explore and explain even non-human conflict.

Perhaps that is where the boundaries exist; perhaps not. I will check out the works and links you provided on Clausewitz, but I also want to challenge where you think the true boundaries of Clausewitzian logic lie...if it is limited to human conflict, then we have established the outer limits for his theory, and can then work inwards- defining the interior of his garden, after finding the iron gate around it.



Sat, 01/21/2012 - 1:17pm

In reply to by bz

- Bz:

A quick reply:
Of course there should be a thinking outside the "Clausewitzian garden".
But I think his work gives a lot of fundamental insight into war.
So this is were we definetely can meet in the middle.
But I think the "Clausewitzian garden" is much bigger and nicer than you suggest.

A few thoughts on Clausewitz as a theorist for state vs. state conventional wars.
It seems that you're very much influenced by Rapoport, Keegan, van Creveld etc. Further food for thought about Clausewitz and non-state conflicts:…

In the end is Clausewitz thinking not a rigid model of war, but a open way of thinking. It embraces purpose, chance and hostility.
This elements of war are here to stay.
Technology is not a fundamental game-changer of these elements.
How important this insight is, shows the RMA, EBO/EBAO discussion.
Unfortunately EBAO is introduced into NATO in those days (COPD). A giant comeback of the "whiz kids" of Robert S. McNamara.
Gen Mattis was not powerful enough.

About non-human conflicts: Even if autonoumus robots are used on a tactical level. Humans will decide about the purpose of a war and there will be chance and friction - and in the end - as long as people live on this planet - there will be a emotional dimension into a conflict - even if it will only use robots (at first) on the tactical level. Cause robots and artificial intelligence will not fight the whole wars for us.
I will take a deeper look into the non-human conflicts in the next days.

Once again I would like to stress: Human conflicts are difficult enough to understand and Clausewitz can help us to do that. But his work is only a tool for our own thoughts. And this is the link to Design:
His thougts and his way of thinking can give a staff a mind-set of the dynamics of war. But this thougt are open enough to show the way into other "gardens". Everything else would have been fundamentaly against his own open-minded approach.

Ohne general thought:
There must be a kind of intellectual fundament for staff work - also with Design. Cause it is not a philosphy seminar at a university. At the end there must be action.
So design is less a question of concepts or new kind of doctrine (post-MDMP), but a question of organizational culture. This is shaped by leaders.
So I think Design can not work into a organization with a lot of toxic leaders. So the core question is:
Whom do I chose as a leader and a staff officer and how do I have to train educate them?

Thanks a lot for your input - really interesting.


Sat, 01/21/2012 - 11:59am

In reply to by VB


Interesting, and I will have to order those versions to check out. I do have at least three different versions of On War; the thick white cover version that military units have piled up around their libraries is the one I refer to most often; I do not like the paperback Penguin version only because the text is too small! As for Rapoport's intro- as a Design Theorist, my response to your recommendation to avoid this introduction would be, why?

As a design theorist, even the most anti-Clausewitzian work bears fruit. In fact, I found Rapaport's intro quite refreshing, and much more fascinating than the traditional and often sycophantic introductions where folks lift him up to a pedestal that borders on the obsessive.

Deleuze and Guattari provide the concept of 'interiority and exteriority knowledge' in their 'war machine' chapter of 'A thousand plateaus' that takes a post-modern approach to organizational logic...they provide a great example of how one ought to seek the nomad path for discovering and thinking about thinking (meta-thinking); if one only strolls in the thought garden that one cultivates within the neat bushes and rows that an institution cultivates and weeds, does one ever venture out into the wild? Consider Clausewitzian theory something of a well-maintained maze garden. We can weed it (remove critics like Rapoport and toss them aside) and we can get lost in our own wonderful yet encapsulating logic that prevents us from breaking out.

Breaking from the maze and into the wild, one can become the nomad, and question things about Clausewitz that we were not permitted to inside the carefully kept garden. Had someone cultivated that Rapoport weed, or perhaps some eastern work such as Jullien or Qiao Liang, Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare, (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Literature and Arts Publishing House, February 1999), 13-14. “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.” Liang and Xiangsui present a non-western perspective on how a paradigm shift in military thinking in the 21st century does not destroy the old entirely, but reorganize an old structure into a new one; some parts remain useful while others go to the intellectual scrap heap.

I will take your points into consideration and wonder through the Clausewitzian garden again; perhaps I will come out with a different opinion? Perhaps you will explore non-Clausewitzian logic as well for a stroll? We may meet in the middle, or not at all.

On the non-human conflict- check out 'Radical Evolution' and you will see what I am driving at. Technology will continue to challenge our definitions of warfare- it begins to sound like science-fiction, until it becomes science fact. We have "stupid" smart technology now- drones that follow orders of human operators...but eventually you will have independent thinking artificial life that is weaponized. What then? Does Clausewitzian logic embrace that? Can it? What will happen? What will not? How will things change, and why? Will new dimensions of conflict open up in the 21th century beyond what we consider "warfare" in the conventional sense? Can Clausewitzian theory continue to universally apply, or is he limited to purely human-vs-human conflict (which I would still argue he mostly works on state-vs-state conventional warfare only)...but that is for another time;

short on time; but thanks again for the sources and perspective.


- BZ:
A short (late) reply to your view on Clausewitz.
Concerning design you are eager to think out of the box.
Concerning Clausewitz you stick to Rapoport, although the modern Clausewitz research goes beyond his reductionist (!) or even false interpretaion:

"Penguin Edition (1968). AVOID. The most widely available version of the Graham/Maude translation (...) is the weirdly edited and seriously misleading Penguin edition (still reprinted and sold today), put together by Anatol Rapoport in 1968. Rapoport was a biologist and musician—indeed, he was something of a renaissance man and later made some interesting contributions to game theory. However, he was outraged by the Vietnam War and extremely hostile to the state system and to the alleged "neo-Clausewitzian," Henry Kissinger. He severely and misleadingly abridged Clausewitz's own writings, partly, of course, for reasons of space in a small paperback. Nonetheless—for reasons that surpasseth understanding—he retained Maude's extraneous introduction, commentary, and notes, then used Maude's errors to condemn Clausewitzian theory. Between Graham's awkward and obsolete translation, Maude's sometimes bizarre intrusions, and Rapoport's hostility (aimed more at the world in general, and at Kissinger in particular, than at Clausewitz personally), the Penguin edition is badly misleading as to Clausewitz's own ideas. The influential modern military journalist/historian John Keegan apparently derives much of his otherwise unique misunderstanding of Clausewitz from Rapoport's long, hostile introduction—necessarily so, since he has obviously never read Clausewitz's own writings, not even the rest of the text of this strange edition. If you have any version of the Graham or Graham/Maude translation, but especially this twisted Penguin version, we advise you to get the modern Howard/Paret edition (discussed above)."

This is also true concerning the application of Clausewitz in an non-western environment: Different studies showed that Clausewitzian theory can also give a deep insight in non-western conflicts (e.g. Africa: Duyvesteyn, 2004, Clausewitz and African WarPolitics and Strategy in Liberia and Somalia). There are further studies in German out of the last years.So just give the view of Beycheren and others a fair chance.
Back to Design: in my POV the MDMP is much more Jominian, than Clausewitzian. So Clausewitz is blamed for the wrong thing.

Clausewitz gives a very wide framework to understand wars and conflicts (due to the holistic trinity and the non-rigid approach of thinking) and therefore can also help in Design. But I agree with you this is bound to human conflict.
But I really don't understand the need for a non-human conflict theory.
Yet, if we would understand human conflict better - this would be a lot in my POV.

Here a German perspective to Design - and the German planning process.
Maybe interesting for the discussion:…

Hope I don't annoy you with the Clausewitz stuff!


Hubba Bubba

Sat, 01/21/2012 - 12:44am

The British recently published their Joint Doctrine Note 3/11- available here:…

They call it "Decision-Making and Problem Solving: Human and Organisational Factors."

In it, their 'annex B' is called: Heuristics: thinking strategies.

Interesting and short read- it goes to much of the heart of the recent discussions here on this thread, to include Slapout's contributions. As stated in this article and below in the thread- it addresses how and why humans think the way they do- and why it works in some cases, but not in others; regardless of the problem. It has more to do with the self; or as his Holiness Guru Pidka once said, "intimacy, or into me I see (TM)"...

Hubba Bubba

Outlaw 09

Fri, 01/20/2012 - 9:42am

In reply to by bz

BZ--then maybe at the Div/BCT levels the point to start the nudging on design whispering in their ears is in the assessment working group as this is the WG that staffs are trained in MDMP/B2C2WG to start the "analysis" of what the guidance was, how is the end state being achieved and what has gone right or wrong say in the last 24-72 hr cycles.

They get so wrapped up in the PMESII color coded graphics and what the colors means and have they changed colors---actually this is where the bike part/parts they are focusing on gets discussed---so maybe if one has to modify slowly MDMP then we need to nudge the design thought patterns at this particular point in the cycle as in theory all staff processes are "suppose" to start and finish via the Assessments WG.

So if you could nudge here and got some creative thinking occurring then in theory it might slowly trickle downstream to the other WGs.

Just a thought.

At the TF/BN levels--there is more of a possibility to nudge creative thinking due to simply less manpower and maybe at the TF/BN levels there should be more of a focus on say a fusion process where all key staff (2/3/asst 3/FSO) are fused on a single table where they can openly interact with each other thereby creating an atmosphere for open discussions since everyone is present and cannot run away to other things.
Trying to run a fullscale MDMP process at TF/BN levels is inherently difficult to say the least so they modifiy anyway.

Just a thought.


I try to limit the Design Theory terms, but I do apply 'synergy' and 'holistic appreciation' because there are not too many words out there that convey the same thing. Then I use metaphors to help guide them towards really understanding the reason for using those words- and the importance of not confusing them with other words. I often see folks use 'synergize' and 'analyze' interchangeably- which I find fundamentally different.

- for synergy; I use the popular 'assemble the bike' metaphor. We as a military organization tend to be reductionists as I discussed in this article and others like Chris Paparone and Grant Martin go into great explanation on using concepts like ‘post-positivists’ and such in their articles/blogs on SWJ. We prefer to disassemble the bike, and get into profoundly detailed yet highly categorical procedures involving bike parts. Example: SOF conducts night raids and deal exclusively with bike pedals. Our COIN focus for conventional ISAF forces in Afghanistan are dealing with the bike spokes…while mentor/advisor teams specialize on the bike tires. NTM-A deals with the inner-tubes, while our USAF target the bike seat. Our PRTs handle just the handlebar (pun intended), while our State Dept and associated pals deal with the bike frame. Each organization specializes and does a fantastic job targeting and understanding their bike part, yet we are largely unable to bring them all together and assemble the bicycle.

If the staff is focused on bike parts, we have to nudge them towards considering not just their specialized section of the bike, but how that incorporates into the holistic appreciation of an assembled bike and what the entire bike does. A fully assembled bike works; but the parts alone are just parts…hence the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (holistic appreciation versus post-positivist reductionism).

Analysis- which military staffs tend to run for like a comfort blanket (because our PME teaches primarily in the post-positivist reductionist system of logic) is not about the bicycle, but about bike parts. You know when you are getting briefed on bike parts because, for a Design practitioner, it becomes clear that there are many ‘what’ details but not much ‘why’ explanation. For ‘jackpots’ that the measuring stick for ISAF and SOF, we get very much wrapped around how many pedals we found, how many are out there, where they are, and how they are linked…but we just do not seem to rise above the chess board to see beyond the pieces- to consider the meta-phenomenon that exists above and beyond the chess pieces themselves…and we measure success in the short-term with counting and categorizing our pedals- there is an interesting article on this that came out in late 2011 on this issue: see Alex Strick van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn, A Knock on the Door: 22 Months of ISAF Press Releases , (Poverty Afghanistan Analysts Network, 2011) 26. “ISAF may continue to hold that the capture-or-kill raids are the safest and most effective tool against the insurgency, but this remains to be proven, particularly in the context of the data cited in this report.” Clearly a debatable issue- but their article frames their argument with some valid points that demonstrate critical thinking; it is good to question our organization- our institution; why is a ‘jackpot’ a ‘jackpot’ and what does it mean to us? Analysists come do far different conclusions on this than synthesists. Their products are different, as are the logic they use to make sense of their ecosystem. PRTs do the same, as does the State Department- everyone becomes experts on their own bike part and keeps excellent track of how many parts they have, where they are, what their next short-term target is; but they are unable to combine everyone’s parts into the bike we are seeking in Afghanistan…


Bill M.

Sun, 01/22/2012 - 12:09pm

In reply to by slapout9


Our military UW doctrine is offensive in nature as you stated, but the military is not the only government agency/department that conducts UW. Other organizations focus on providing information support, diplomatic support, and providing funding through overt or covert channels. There is an element of UW that is non-lethal. In my view all these activities are about taking the offensive, because we are taking or promoting someone else to take an action to promote desired change. On the other hand, if we understand the environment sufficiently and can accurately assess the desired trends, we may decide that taking no action is the best course of action because those we want to see removed from power, or at least change their behavior, are trending in that direction anyway.

In the recent past I have incorrectly called the desired organization to implement this type of strategy an OSS model, but the OSS was too limited in scope. What we really need is a functional NSC and NSS who understand this methodology, and an effective process to blend the elements of national power to execute it when appropriate. In the interim we need an adhoc interagency organization that serves as a planning/ops center for this type of complex operation. The current military UW doctrine is insufficient. We have the ability (even if we don't currently have the interagency staff, planning processes, and synchronization processes in place) to be more effective. This is too complex for JOPP or MDMP, it will very much require something along the lines of design thinking, which is a living process, which will enable the staff to assess changes, causal loops, and recommend the appropriate actions based on a changing environment (to include doing nothing when appropriate). In the military we're culturally focused on taking action, everything looks like a nail and we're the hammer. That is an over simplication of the truth, but not it doesn't stray to far from the truth.


Fri, 01/20/2012 - 8:32am

In reply to by bz

Ben, thanks for the excellant feedback! Slap

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 10:42am

In reply to by bz

BZ---hate to use of the overused term but you are nudging them via Design then to "understand" "synchronization" in the purest sense using crtical thinking?


Thu, 01/19/2012 - 9:20am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 9-

Yes; on staff activities at the BDE level and higher, I have some additional comments. I am experimenting with a Design-inspired decision synchronization matrix (for a brigade; otherwise I would call it what it is- a Campaign Plan) with some success right now in my neck of the woods. This is a hybrid attempt to fuse the linear aspects of what our staff appears to function best with at the DIV, BDE, and BN level; but with many non-linear holistic applications. I tried some pure design efforts and in the field they are akin to some wild animals in the zoo; they do not live very long when trapped in the cage of traditional linear causality logic and reductionism/proceduralism. The best approach I have experienced thus far has been to use Design Theory indirectly; even discretely; the outputs get better and staff function improves, but there is alot of organizational nudging as well. Once staff functions begin to take ownership of a Design process, and they begin to think about thinking- think about how they thing; and think about why some things are co-dependent on other things in indirect ways, we start to see staff synergy...I view this as far superior to staff analysis, which is data regurgitation and putting out fires. Nonetheless, it is like wrapping the heart-worm pill in bacon; the linear form of a campaign plan with all assocated planning tools has the taste of bacon; the Design Theory is what is underneath and not nearly as tasty, but it is good for the organization.


Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 8:48am

In reply to by bz

BZ--after an excellent response to slapout then I go back to my core premise----has in fact MDMP reached it's "shelf-life" where an adaptive complex ecosystem is involved? Due simply that it cannot match the spped of adapation or evolution of the opposing complex ecosystem because MDMP is not an adaptive process but whether a ad hoc process.

This would go a long way in understanding why it appears at least on the surface that BCT and even Division battle staffs repeatedly hit a wall during MDMP which in turn impacts B2C2WG and vice versa.

It goes back to your previous comments concerning "generalists". Have we as a military education system via MDMP created something that was great for tank on tank but far from perfect for human on human at the ecosystem level which in turn would challegen the concept that is taught everyday about "attack the network" which in reality must be redefined into "attack the entire ecosystem not a single element of it".

It goes back to my concept of "seeing" and "understanding" tied to the idea that battle staffs need to both and I hate using the word "feel" the environment around them meaning accept what they are "seeing" as reality in all of its flavors. Then as a staff sit down and in an open discussion using all of their experiences to come to an "understanding"---that includes all cultural, language, educational, and combat experiences.

Sometimes I think we are tyring to force with MDMP a decision and it must fit the linear logical thinking and believe me ecosystems do not think logical nor linear as they focus on a single concept ---survival and how that survival drives their objective. Part of our decisionmaking is being focused on how does it fit doctrine, how does it fit the analysis tools, how does it fit what is taught and or what is the current buzz word in uset---there is no critical thinking involved---actually critical thinking is not being asked for. Sometimes the single question WHY is all powerful---but we have battle staffs that are afraid to ask WHY.

Correct me if I assumed wrongly, but the following was the core of what you were writing about in this last response.

"5-Conclusions: Design Theory conclusions are not about end-states and finite maxims; they are about framing and reframing the ecosystem to gain greater awareness over time. Our conclusions might advance and transform over time so that we are quite far from our original conclusion; whereas linear MDMP logic performs reverse-engineering; the leader determines in the future what their desired end-state is. The plan then reverse engineers back in time, controlling the system and forcing it from this supposed future state back into the doghouse where it presently is. This is like putting a bowl of food at one end of the yard and dragging a dog back to his doghouse to a location that is on uneven terrain and filled with many obstacles, and then letting the dog go and expecting him to move forward precisely as you planned him to. The problem is that you cannot; and you probably did not anticipate the squirrel at the foot of the tree half-way down the course, or the dead crow closer to the end-state for him to chew on, or the female dog in heat next door. Design would make holistic conclusions about canine behavior- but not conclude what exactly the dog was going to do.

A design practitioner explores outside the interiority- and discovers deep understanding that leads to some recommendations that may appear radical or highly unusual for an organization- I am not suggesting we start beheading rival journalists; but a design practitioner would question the very nature of what “truth” and “good” and “value” mean across the spectrum of societies and cultures involved in this conflict environment, and come up with recommendations that may not involve that military organization at all."


Thu, 01/19/2012 - 4:48am

In reply to by slapout9


I am unfamiliar with the 'old staff study' format, but based on the steps you provided, here are a few considerations on where it addresses Design Theory, and where it appears to be more linear-procedural-reductionist in the MDMP logic.

1. It appears to work under a linear procedure for its organizing logic. Step 1, do this, step 2, do that. Could we perhaps perform step 3 before step 1, or conduct step 5 at the same time as steps 1 and 2? Design Theory has no set form- it is holistic and innovative. Well, I might say there is a "step 1"- which is: there are no steps. If the OSSF allows for highly flexible structuring in this sequence and the 6 steps above are just a loose paraphrase, then it may be closer to the Design Theory side than the rigid MDMP side.

2. 'Assumptions' is, for a Design practitioner, a troublesome word that swings one way for Designers, and the complete opposite for post-positivist reductionists. If you are making assumptions about the 'problem' or the 'enemy' or things that do not include oneself, you are potentially falling back into the traditional military post-positivist logic that MDMP springs from. Instead, if the OSS practitioner explained and explored along these regions of logic:
- Why does my organization think this way?
- Why does my organization view these things as a problem?
- Why do we value certain assumptions, but not others?
- Why do we use the word 'assumption' and what does it mean to us, and does it mean something else to rival groups in the ecosystem?"

When one considers that the word ‘assumption’ means in this context, “Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition: a valid assumption.” Or from a logical perspective, an assumption is: “a minor premise.” So, what we really mean by assumption is that our organization is willing to accept a concept or idea as the reality of our worldview based on a supposition- a belief. This is critical in Design Theory because a Design practitioner is first and foremost a critical thinker- they reflect on their own thinking and their organization’s logic…why do we believe some things and not others, in the absence of facts?

To expand on this for a moment and tie in some ‘old school SOF’ history- One of my favorite stories about SOF operations in the mid-20th century has to do with the lesser known SOF icon GEN Edwards Landsdale (USAF). He used some fascinating psyops (and ethically interesting) methods that worked upon the assumptions within his rival’s culture and logic:

“One psywar operation played upon the popular dread of an asuang, or vampire.... When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol.... They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next.... When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity.” - Bohannan and Valeriano, “Counterguerrilla Operations” p196. Also cited in “Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990” available free online.
So, while this tactic would never work on westerners (no trained western military teams would believe in vampires; or at least, nothing beyond Count Chocula or the Count from Seasame Street) because our western preferred logic is unwilling to make valid assumptions on things of a clearly supernatural nature such as vampires hunting soldiers…but the Huk rival did. In the absence of facts, their logic was willing to use existing values and cultural concepts to make a valid assumption that vampires were attacking Huk patrols. This is where the exteriority of the real world generates multiple logics for various organizations and groups to interpret events differently. This also forms the framework for histiography on why we interpret history in certain ways, to include inaccuracies.

3- “Facts Bearing on the Problem:” If we know things as facts- this links back to assumptions. Making sense of a complex adaptive system requires the ability to depart one’s own institutionalism first by recognizing the self-imposed boundaries, and then finding an exit. Once out, we are free, like Nomads (hence Nomadology) to explore other worlds of understanding and logics…and through exploration and discovery, we create new awareness; if we consider only the facts that exist within our bounded interiority of institutional knowledge, we rarely get a complete picture. Once we break through to beyond our own interiority- we shatter the paradigm and discover new, often far more explanatory facts that bear on what we are framing as “the problem” which in Design terms is more of a phenomenon or feedback loop, or tension within the ecosystem. These tensions are dynamic, self-organizing, adaptive, and transformative- hence something that is labeled a “problem” may not be shortly…it may become a different “problem” or perhaps an advantage. For a random movie example, in the classic film ‘Rocky’ nearly all of the main characters see problems transform in unexpected ways into advantages:
- Pauli despises his sister Adrienne as a liability and the reason he is unsuccessful; yet it was her inner beauty that attracted Rocky to her, which eventually greatly benefitted Pauli.
- Micky viewed Rocky as a washout, a bum, a liability to his business…until Rocky got the title shot and needed a manager.
- Rocky’s criminal employer lost Rocky as a useful thug for collections, but gained the associated “glamour” of knowing someone famous and hitching his wagon to Rocky’s initial success.
- Adrienne viewed Pauli as her anchor initially; but once she broke away and developed a relationship with Rocky, she viewed Pauli as a significant ‘problem.’
- Apollo Creed had the biggest roller coaster ride of all of them: he had a problem when the original fighter dropped out, and he converted it into an asset by turning the fight into a contest for an amateur. Later, his challenger turns into a much bigger problem than expected because he fights far harder than Apollo assumed he would. It was never within Apollo’s logic that Rocky was ever a threat to him…Apollo knew the “facts” were that he was the far superior fighter. Micky and Rocky knew different “facts”- but in the end, this was a tactical execution (or duel, on the Clausewitzian linear and rigid logic frame) that had many aspects of Design Theory abounding.

4-Discussion of the facts: discourse is a critical component of Design theory, but it is also critical in MDMP…the difference is the topic and span of conversation- the language, metaphors, concepts, and structure. In Design, the traditional hierarchy is a disservice to full design consideration; one does not necessary become “more right” by rank, position, or experience level. This does not condone insubordination- but ‘problematization’ always carries with it the risk of “death” where one’s institution or organization will attack the problematizer if they threaten a core principle or tenet that the organization self-identifies with. The tan beret is a useful metaphor here with how strongly the Special Operations community reacted to that decision on transforming symbols (reference Mary Jo Hatch’s cultural wheel of transformation) with artifacts. And now the black beret movement will begin its retreat into history as another idea that was rejected by the institution based on (in my opinion, quite valid) core tenets and values. Berets do not make you special; but you can identify special organizations by giving them unique headgear. Giving everyone unique headgear removes the uniqueness. But this is not about berets; it is about problematization and how it discusses “facts” differently than MDMP. MDMP would converse in a static manner, using steps, definitions, and formats that are universal. How often I have suffered in a room full of planners to argue on mission statements with things like “that is not doctrinally correct- what we really mean is this…no we mean this…” Instead of arguing over doctrinal definitions, we are unable (or unwilling) to develop NEW vocabulary when necessary to explain things that our existing vocabulary is unable to. But this is not an excuse to invent new terms for one’s PSC award either…new vocabulary must serve unique and necessary utility; or be a waste.
5-Conclusions: Design Theory conclusions are not about end-states and finite maxims; they are about framing and reframing the ecosystem to gain greater awareness over time. Our conclusions might advance and transform over time so that we are quite far from our original conclusion; whereas linear MDMP logic performs reverse-engineering; the leader determines in the future what their desired end-state is. The plan then reverse engineers back in time, controlling the system and forcing it from this supposed future state back into the doghouse where it presently is. This is like putting a bowl of food at one end of the yard and dragging a dog back to his doghouse to a location that is on uneven terrain and filled with many obstacles, and then letting the dog go and expecting him to move forward precisely as you planned him to. The problem is that you cannot; and you probably did not anticipate the squirrel at the foot of the tree half-way down the course, or the dead crow closer to the end-state for him to chew on, or the female dog in heat next door. Design would make holistic conclusions about canine behavior- but not conclude what exactly the dog was going to do.
6-Recommendations: the last point on this- can OSS do something that I know MDMP cannot do with a recommendation? In MDMP, an organization cannot make a recommendation that runs counter-culture to that organization’s self-relevance and core tenets. For instance- if the USMC were told that a “problem” existed on a beach, and they were tasked to solve it- their first recommendations would revolve around what defines the organization; a beach amphibious landing; or heli-assault; or something in line with their institutional tenets. They could never recommend that the Army do the mission instead- nor would the Army ever recommend the Navy do something they were tasked to do- EVEN if they understood that the other organization could do it better in a different way. We recommend based on some institutional ‘root metaphors’ that self-define our way of understanding the world. Our culture and values are tied up in this as well; this is why we would not behead rival journalists on television, but that is acceptable by our rival and supported by much of the population in many countries. A design practitioner explores outside the interiority- and discovers deep understanding that leads to some recommendations that may appear radical or highly unusual for an organization- I am not suggesting we start beheading rival journalists; but a design practitioner would question the very nature of what “truth” and “good” and “value” mean across the spectrum of societies and cultures involved in this conflict environment, and come up with recommendations that may not involve that military organization at all. That is really dangerous- because as Carl Builder argues in “Masks of War” our military organizations are set within a logic that is self-preservation-centric, even at the expense of national interests. So, can a recommendation be something that is both the very best solution to a “problem” but also the last thing that an organization would ever consider? If so- why?

Just some thoughts-



Mon, 01/16/2012 - 6:52pm

Does anybody know why the Old Staff Study Format fell out of favor? That has a lot of Design mehtodology in it.

Old Staff Study Format:
1-Statement of the Problem
3-Facts Bearing on the Problem
4-Discussion of the Facts

BillM, yes some old SF analysis techniques seemed a lot like design, they were also more offensive in nature as opposed to always being reactive (politcally correct)in nature.


Mon, 01/16/2012 - 10:49pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 9-

thanks for the kind comments. I am glad you enjoyed the article!


Outlaw 09

Mon, 01/16/2012 - 5:38pm

In reply to by bz

BZ---reference your very good article in Foreign Policy Journal---you have in fact created a very good example of design thinking using the "complex problem" of disarming fighters in a conflict ecosystem. A really good teaching article for a battle staff---simply read it as it makes sense actually too much sense.

In some aspects you have even shot a hundred holes in why MDMP has reached it's shelf life and it explains also the failures we are constantly seeing in the CTCs.

As you indicated an adaptive complex problem requires thinking that adapts along with the problem and with MDMP and B2C2WG it is almost impossible to get mentally into the complex problem due to the fact that MDMP/B2C2WG does not allow for adaptation as it is basically cyclic linear thinking.

The graphic explanation of the three zones is something I personally have not seen and is really worth a more thorough discussion as to goes to the heart of a conflict ecosystem adaption ie evolution.

Cut this from the article and would challenge a battle staff using standard MDMP/B2C2WG to design an adaptive thought pattern to the complexity of say diarming insurgents as talked about in the article.

The first and second sentences below goes to the core of what I call "seeing" and then "understanding"--there are not enough "generalists" on battle staffs and if they are "generalists" they are basically ignored. As "generalists" are the "seeing" types.

"Design attempts to understand complex systems holistically, seeking explanation instead of description.

In other words, “to be a successful generalist, one must study the art of ignoring data and of seeing only the ‘mere outlines’ of things” according to General Systems Theorist Gerald M. Weinberg.[26]

By self-organization, this means that when artifacts such as opium, AK-47s, or stolen Afghan military uniforms become valued (high demand) yet illegal items, criminal enterprises spawn automatically to profit from delivering the item. Since delivering illegal items requires violation of Afghan law and penetration of physical terrain to deliver to the consumer, these criminal enterprises employ constantly evolving applications of corruption and violence in order to profit from providing the illicit commodity to the willing consumer.

Figure 1 addresses the logical failures that this article argues all of the disarmament and reintegration programs apply in their respective strategy. Although seizing (or registering) weapons and disarming illegal groups represents an important step towards improving the security of Afghanistan, failure to address the feedback loops that illustrate illicit commodity cycles means that disarmed groups will likely re-arm, and criminal enterprises will continue to apply escalating combinations of violence and corruption to supply those illicit artifacts. A ‘feedback loop’ presents a relationship between various actors or phenomenon within a complex system where an emerging pattern becomes identifiable amid the vast complexity.


Mon, 01/16/2012 - 2:13am

In reply to by Bill M.


thanks on the comments; I think that the biggest obstacles to your querry is two-fold;

1. OPSEC makes it hard to pull design examples out; I happen to be working through this now, but it is challenging. When you want to focus on the methods, but omit the quantifiable details (what bumps up the classification), it gets a bit muddled.

2. There is some significant resistance to Design in practice. I wrote another article (linked below) recently that implements Design Theory into Afghan reintegration and disarmament programs over the past decade; it uses Design to illustrate how the MDMP-centric logic of current and former disarmament programs are failures. Now, I originally circulated this within the organization, but the wagons circled for the APRP program and no discourse occured. Design does not get much opportunity because it might dismantle too many fifedoms; upsets too many apple carts outside of the theoretical and academic safety of the classroom. If this meets you half-way, perhaps it illustrates part of the problem. Convincing senior leadership to paradigm shift from what so many are invested into is a challenge; but there is now a decade of disarming Afghan fighters under our belts with not very much to show for it in my opinion.…



Bill M.

Mon, 01/16/2012 - 3:11am

In reply to by Pepe LePew


I'm not looking for how it was done, but examples that show how design informed understanding that led to a particular set of actions, that wouldn't have happened doing MDMP or JOPP. That way you can make argument on why we need to pursue this.

We used to instinctively do something that looked like design in SF years ago before MDMP became so popular. I personally find it sad when I hear SF CPTs state their foreign counterparts can't do MDMP, so that is what they're focusing on teaching them. I hope we don't do as much damage to their way of thinking as we did to ours.

Years ago when we were planning UW missions we would discuss the environment holistically (obviously limited to our understanding of the situation) and consider as much as possible how the factors in the environment interacted, and what the potential impact of our proposed actions would be. You can't plan for or conduct UW using the rigid processes outlined by MDMP or JOPP.

I realize this isn't design and I suspect using design can improve this process, but consider the UW planning process we used to teach. Conduct an area study to gain as much understanding as possible about the environment, not just the enemy, but geography, economy, social factors, political factors, etc. If it was possible we would interview people from the area to gain their perspectives (ground truth in the eyes of the people).

If the mission was approved as soon as you hit the ground you start an area assessment which is a continuous process that confirms, refutes, or adds to your area study, which is what you used base your initial plan on to a large extent. Since you're not going to update your area study in the field, what it really adds to is your understanding (what we now a days call a learning organization).

UW isn't one operation, but a series of operations and activities designed to achieve political, psychological and military objectives over time. As you conduct these activities you constantly assess the impact (what some now call emergent behaviors) and adjust, you are not locked into a simple mission statement and an approved course of action derived from a rapidly conducted MDMP which is probably based on a faulty understanding of the situation to begin with. For tactical level operations you use standard patrol planning processes (troop leading procedures), since they work just fine for ambushes, raids, etc., there is no need to create the wheel. For the operational to strategic level you have to step far above this level.

Pepe LePew

Mon, 01/16/2012 - 2:06am

In reply to by Bill M.

The danger of showing design examples is that many folks just want a step-by-step procedure. Should not the journey matter more than the destination?


I missed this article when it first came out also, so I'm glad the recent posts resurfaced it. You make some excellent points in this article. I still think those who are promoting design thinking need to do more than say the military should embrace it, and propose how they can embrace it.

Perhaps one way to get more buy in is to give examples of where our current methodologies have failed. I have actually been sold on the idea of design when I first read about it a few years back, and hope to attend design training later this year. As you know the real test is putting it to use, as success tends to generate followers, while talk about paradigm changes is interesting more is needed. I think more people in the military see utility in design than you give them credit for, but it will take a few real world examples to get us to the tipping point where design thinking becomes the norm instead of an abberration.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 01/15/2012 - 5:41pm

In reply to by bz

BZ---this is a really good thought string.

Let me summarize what I think your saying since I am not a theorist.

MDMP is linear and provides a battle staff answers to perceived questions inside a self defined box. Design forces the battle staff to think of other boxes at the same time it is handling their own self defined current box.

Battle staffs are having difficulties with the current box (MDMP) as it is proving itself to be much slower in adaption (adaption is virtually impossible when strictly using MDMP) as say the Design box of an insurgent group or groups in an ecosystem.

Some of the confusion is inherent in MDMP itself, or due to confusion created by the fog of so many different terms for what is normally just straight forward guerrilla warfare.

Now on the insurgent side we have an individual group/groups that must adapt in order to survive and their adaption expresses itself in the form of innovation or evolution which then forces them to readjust their own Design box as they view their ecosystem as a multidimensional world.

The elephant in the room question is then despite all of the military's discussions on adaptive thinking, adaption etc---are really battle staffs simply innovating not adapting to the complexity it sees?

Meaning when they experience something new they feel that they must also adapt since that is all that is talked about. In reality since they really do not understand Design (the "seeing and understanding") what they are really doing is finding/coming up with ad hoc answers within the possibilities of their own box that is being created/defined by MDMP. Ad hoc answers could also be a form of innovation (hate to use the overused term of thinking out of the box), but since their creative box as defined by MDMP cannot adapt due to the lack of Design their creative opportunities are in fact limited.

It is in fact the insurgent group that is adapting as it has too survive and we delude ourselves into thinking we are adapting because if were adapting we would be aware of multiple other boxes outside of the one we find ourselves in.

If we were adapting then based on Design we would be "seeing and understanding" and thus constantly adjusting our own box which basically remains static (due to MDMP) even when there is a good deal of ad hoc decisionmaking occurring.


Sun, 01/15/2012 - 11:50pm

In reply to by VB


We seem to agree that the US military as an institution does have a narrow view on Clausewitz;

We disagree on whether Clausewitz is a linear thinker, tactical-focused, and of the western military logic...

Those are interesting points to ponder, and I agree that Clausewitz probably would have embraced Taleeb's 'Black Swan' model.

I think the only point I would want to address is that the Clausewitzian Trinity appears to me as something universal and inflexible- despite it encompassing many potential forms of conflict. Is it possible for a conflict to not involve the trinity, or the politics/war/hatred relationship? Can Clausewitzian theory encompass conflict that transends current human existance? Can war occur in a non-human form? Artificial or non-human conflict may not be shackled to Clausewitz any more than I would argue that non-western culture and theory is decoupled from his trinity.

Now, we can always speculate on future non-human conflict (the Matrix makes some interesting post-modern arguments that are completely grounded in the inspirational works of Baudrillard and Simulacra); the book 'Radical Evolution' makes some interesting assumptions as well that could be tied in. But I think the theories that Jullien, Deleuze, Guattari, and Rapoport provide for 20th century non-western war theories are quite appropriate for discussing whether Clausewitz does encompass all conflict, or only from a western perspective.

Come to think of it, Patai's 'The Arab Mind' also offers some non-western logic that centers on Islamic society/culture as well; but if you have the chance to pick up a copy of the Penguin 1968 version of 'On War' with Game Theorist Anatol Rapaport's introduction essay on non-Clausewitzian war theories, that might be an interesting read.

One more thought- returning to philosophy for a bit- you associated Clausewitz with Heraklitian; I assume you mean Heraclitus of Ephesus? Greek stoicism; I wonder if Clausewitz was more inspired by Machieavelli in more of 'On War' since he bounds his trinity in the war/people/passion/politics dynamic. Some other theorists also attempt to say that Clausewitz was a precursor to Nietzschian philosophy; which I would generally disagree; however Design Theory and post-modernism does have more roots in common with Nietzsche than Clausewitz in my opinion.

Of course this thread has descended into a discussion on Clausewitz- which is but one element of how our modern military institution educates, communicates, and produces narratives about how we prefer to understand war and the world...

Always enjoyable.



Sun, 01/15/2012 - 4:06pm

In reply to by bz

bz -
Thanks a lot for your comments. I think we really have a very different unterstanding of the Clausewitzian work.
You see Clausewitz merely as a tactician - i think he is a war philosopher.
At best I can explain our fundmentally different understanding of Clausewitz by your following statement:

"every “law” that Clausewitz dictates; each of his many maxims are essentially his attempts at comprehending the future of warfare through control"

In my POV laws, maxims or strict principles of war are contrary to Clausewtzian thinking. The problem is that his way of elaborating the topic war is deeply funded into a Hegelian, dialectic philosophy.
This approach is very uncommon for our positivist, linear thinking and makes it hard to read and understand in the original.
Reductionist interpretations and even translations are therefore very common. And his book was not completed when he died.

In the end Clausewitz does not tend to control war, cause for him war is uncontrollable. This is the core message of Clausewitz in his wonderful trinity. War has rational (political goal), irrational (hatred) and nonrational (uncertainty) elements.
In each war these elements are different and dynamic.
His thinking is rooted in Heraklitian Philosphy ("everything is fluid").

Due to this understanding of war he is against rule sets in war - and thats why he was fundemantelly contrary to Jomini who tends to control war.
So Clausewitz is not the "mahdi of the mass" or the prophet of total war.

Clausewitz wants to train military leaders therefore to uncertainty.
Beycheren gives a very good insight in this core ideas of Clausewitz - and the narrow interpretation in the USA (a long article but really worth reading):

BTW: I think Ckausewitz would have supported very strongly the black swan phenomenen.

I hope my POV was interesting for you (even I have not replied to all of your apsects) - looking forward for your feedback.


I agree with you that our military institutions have a narrow interpretation of Clausewitz, and perhaps I ought to revisit his work again if this discussion provides another perspective on him. However, here is my take on what many call the “Dead Carl Club.”

1. Fully concur that Jominian theory is different than Clausewitzian. Jomini is prescriptive, and highly linear with a ‘reverse engineering’ and control approach to military operations. But Clausewitz does share many things that Jomini offers within the western military logic. Clausewitzian theory differs from Design Theory, as well as eastern military logic (or Soviet, if one takes the Naveh School of Systemic Operational Design (SOD) into consideration.

2. How is Clausewitz not in the Design Theory worldview? For starters, Clausewitz, in my opinion, is a tactician- but this may ruffle some feathers so I will try to lay it out here. There will be disagreement on this, but that of course is the point of academic discourse.

3. Clausewitzian theory approaches conflict by seeking tangible and universal attributes (although he does discuss the ‘fog of war’ and ‘genius transcends all rules’ which are intangible. Much of ‘On War’ follows structure such as the trinity, destruction of the enemy, and the metaphor of ‘dueling’ on a grand scale. There is a tremendous amount of focus on mass, maneuvers, and terrain is viewed from the tactician perspective of seeking decisive terrain, superior maneuver, controlling space to place your opponent at disadvantage.

4. Design Theory differs from Clausewitzian Theory in that operational space is both intangible and context dependent- there are no universal attributes one might apply in any generalist approach to conflict. In other words, every “law” that Clausewitz dictates; each of his many maxims are essentially his attempts at comprehending the future of warfare through control. War is an extension of politics- hence human conflict is unending and perpetual while inextricably linked to political behavior. Universal attributes in Clausewitzian Theory are manifested in things such as the ‘center of gravity’ concept. Gravity is a universal law- everything in the universe physically conforms to it (keeping this simple of course and not getting off-topic into theoretical physics…) which understandably was why Clausewitz and Jomini sought the same sort of complementary logic in a war theory. Universal attributes are appealing, because it helps answer the “how’s this war going to turn out” critical strategic question that we must always ask.

5. While a COG is an aspect of what Deleuze and Guattari offer as ‘striation of space’ for the military organization, Design Theory deals not with universal attributes that seek to control something uncontrollable, but in harmony with a chaoplextic ecosystem. If we accept that warfare is not universally governed by maxims or attributes; if we understand that a COG is artificial- just a preferred narrative that our military organization generates to attempt to comprehend the logic of a system- we begin to appreciate non-Clausewitzian logics; the importance of emergence, potential, transformation. We become less destruction-focused, less tacticized, less linear. We stop thinking about what rules there are to follow, and more about why so many things violate these rules.

6. Heresy is an aspect of Design Theory that Michel Foucault, termed ‘problematization’ in his series of Berkley post-modern philosophy lectures titled, “Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.” One must become the critical thinker in order to understand not just the chaoplextic emergence of an ecosystem, but to look inward to how our military organization thinks- what our logic is, and why. That was the thesis of this article I wrote- that Design helps us understand why we like Clausewitz so much, why it works in some traditional and conventional state-on-state conflicts, and why it does not in other conflict. If even the most ardent defenders of Clausewitzian war theory are not the most critical thinkers (heretics) of Clausewitz’s work, then they are merely reinforcing the root metaphors and preferred narratives that our military organization seeks to define itself by; despite our shortcomings and failures.

7. Design Theory takes ‘effective heresy’ (whereas ineffective heresies are either design failures, or flawed logic; or hybridization of both)…and with this critical thinking, Design creates and destroys organizational logic. It continuously transforms- so the maxims and universal elements of Clausewitz are eliminated; war may be an extension of politics, or it may not. D&G even flip this maxim in their section on War Machines in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ by suggesting that politics are an extension of total war…Design destroys those aspects of a military organization’s thinking that do not apply- and creates novel approaches that transform over time. I think that this makes many individuals uncomfortable because they prefer certainty- even if it is false. Many considered OBL to be the strategic COG of sorts for radical Islamic Ideology; some consider it instead to be the existing senior leadership of the more dangerous movements. However, as drone strikes and HVI raids whittle down these “COGs”, the movement and idea continues. Sageman writes on this in ‘Leaderless Jihad’- yet military organizations, especially the intelligence community, prefer tangible COGs for targeting because there is certainty associated with that logic. It reinforces the concept of the Clausewitzian Duel- instead of shooting with pistols we are exchanging IEDs and drone attacks…but where Clausewitzian theory seeks universal attributes such as a strategic enemy COG in every conflict for the US military, our organizations struggle with considering conflict in another logic that has no COGs. This is where Clausewitz is not Design Theory, nor the ‘father of Design.’ His theory of war is a western model…but there are others.

8. One copy of ‘On War’ was printed by Penguin Classics in 1968 and has an introduction essay on warfare by Anatol Rapoport. I really enjoyed his essay because he offers up a Soviet-centric analysis on why the west prefers Clausewitz while the Soviets shifted from what he offered as a ‘messianic eschatalogical’ war theory into a later ‘global cataclysmic eschatalogical’ war theory. What Rapoport wrote in the 1960s is actually quite applicable for today; he offered variations of these with a ‘divine messianic eschatalogical’ war theory option- which nests rather well with radical Islam; I also think he provides the framework for ecoterrorism logic with an ‘environmental global cataclysmic’ war perspective as well. The important point here is that Rapoport provides non-Clausewitzian logic for nations and groups of people that we did go to war with during the Cold War, Vietnam, Gulf War, and today’s conflicts. These groups do not subscribe to Clausewitzian logic; and it is not because they are ‘crazy’ or ‘backwards’- they see the world and make sense of it differently, to include warfare.

9. Design Theory enjoys non-western conflict concepts such as Eastern ‘Dao’ of which Jullien and D&G write about frequently. Naveh’s SOD makes this a cornerstone, and Naveh wrote extensively on Soviet operational art as a non-western approach that differed from Clausewitz in many aspects.

10. Why is the Dead Carl Club so powerful in military circles? This goes back to Design Theory and the concepts of simulacra (Baudrillard; a post-modern philosopher) as well as Organizational Theory’s ‘root metaphors’ and ‘field assumptions’ for organizational knowledge preservation. Since we use metaphors, language, and concepts to make sense of the empirical items that compose the physical world, our culture and values morph this conceptual framing- some to our advantage, some to our disadvantage. Clausewitz is sacred because our professional military education system uses (or over-uses) it at all levels. Moreover, at the ILE and War College level where folks are starting to offer Design, they are combining aspects of Clausewitz and Jomini into Design and salami-slicing different logics into a giant sandwich. Such a meal is creating indigestion because our own institution is confusing itself. We are also obsessively protective of the throne we have created for Clausewitz/Jomini. I combine them here because our doctrine and PME does so…despite both theorists being quite different. They are, however, firmly in a western conflict logic and not Design theorists.

11. Perhaps an easier way to explain it is that Clausewitz teaches you to think inside the box because the “box” becomes the structure of his theory built with universal maxims. Conflict will always occur inside the box because politics drives war; if you destroy the enemy in the box, you win the war and impose your will on the enemy. Everything in the box may be clouded over with fog and friction, but they all obey the universal laws such as gravity. Do not concern yourself with anything outside the box- that is not war. Design offers a process of recognizing the box, as well as the outside of the box. It can uncover other boxes; your rival might be using a different box for conflict; Design creates novel “non-boxes” for unique conflicts that lack maxims- that transform, adapt, self-organize.

Well, this was quite a rambling- I wonder even if I answered your question; but if I triggered more questions than answers, we are heading on the right journey anyway.


- Bz:

At first I would like to thank all of you for this very impressive discussion.

You put Clausewitz and Jomini in contrast to Design Theory.
If I understood you correctly, there is - in your point of view - a general contradiction between Clausewitz/Jomini and Design Theory.
From my point of view there is much more a basic contradiction between Clausewitz and Jomini.
The Clausewitz interpretation in the US Army is often quiet narrow (due to the simplistic and even false understandig of Clausewitz in different books in English, especially van Creveld and Keegan).
Clausewitz does regognize the fog of war (he introduced the term in war theory). Is approach is not rigid or - it is much more a "state of mind" in a non-linear world (see Beycheren's works on that).
Based on his thinking the German Army in the 1860 introduced mission command (pushed by Moltke).

So my conclusion would be: Clausewitz is not contrary to Design - he is the "grand-father" of it.

Or do I misunderstand Clauswitz and Design Theory totally?

Looking forward to a reply.


Outlaw 09

Sun, 01/15/2012 - 10:20am

In reply to by bz

BZ---excellent response to the breadcrumbs comments and maybe you have hit the reasons we are seeing a massive disconnect currently inside battle staffs and why we have spent millions with a big M and hundreds of hours of defense contracting time holding the hands of battle staffs-- as an example just take the poor performances in the staff areas of targeting and ISR even after masses of investment have been thrown at the problem.

Maybe we on the eductional side have failed to realize that maybe MDMP has in fact clouded our staffs' thinking to the point that they cannot "see" the operational environment around them thus they cannot "understand" the operational environment due to their inability to ask the core question WHY?

3. Were a staff to take the breadcrumbs you provided for example, and apply some Design Theory to their understanding of their bounded environment- they might consider the following:

A great way to set up the following questions that you posed concerning the breadcrumbs.

The core question that I was aiming for would have been at the top of the list. WHY is it we are seeing this type of activity two months AFTER
we have just arrived in Baghdad. WHAT are we missing here. WHY does it apppear to be a firmly designed enemy concept not just a hit or miss I'll take my AK 47 and shoot at you as you drive by sort of thing and the list could go on.

Using the explanation of "fog of war" in the early stages of the Iraq operation still does not preclude a battle staff from asking these questions.

BUT because we were bound by MDMP as the core decisionmaking process in 2003 we did not "see" thus we were doomed to not "understand". Maybe this is the reason we cannot get battle staffs to shift to some form of adaptive thinking (not tied to MDMP) when facing complex environments. Maybe there needs to be a dedicated amount of educational time for staffs in the area of design theory/concepts PRIOR to the instruction given in decisionmaking? Just a thought.

Just a side comment---what we did get though was a group of junior officers that are now in the MAJ levels that did on their own get the shift and had became very adaptive when they realized "old" was not working, but they have not been able to make an impact on the current decisionamaking processes, and are leaving the service.

I had a mentor years ago in the HUMINT world who had served with the German intelligence guru Gehlen who taught me a concept that has paid off for years---when you are wrapped up in your reporting from the HUMINT side and you finish your reports--go back and reread them and if you have not answered to some degree the questions WHY or Does it make sense to you that it is something a human COULD do?--- then you have a massive hole in your reporting--- go back and rethink it---that was 40 years ago.

I would wager that these breadcrumbs were the core to the Sunni insurgency that we were facing already in late 2003 --they were in fact already at a phase two guerrilla war level by Jun 2003, and because our decisionmaking processes were not able to envision WHAT we were "seeing" our whole approach after this was flawed especially in "understanding" the extent of the Sunni insurgency we were facing. The same "failure to understand" also surrounds the myth of the success of the surge which then led to follow on decisions in Afghanistan again based not on what we were "seeing" and "understanding".

I would also wager that that is the same reason we are not seeing a reduction in the Taliban efforts even after a massive year of JSOC kill/capture operations and or the elimination of their shadow government infrastructure as the original premises were not based on "seeing" and "understanding" the operational environment.

Thanks again for taking the time for responding--by the way the breadcrumbs were real and they were simply not analyzed as the analysts of that time period did not "understand" what they were looking at.

Maybe this is what MG Flynn was trying to explain in his SWJ article that caused a minor uproar after it's release.

Outlaw 9:

I agree that our military lexicon makes staff communication rather problematic. I wrote an article last year for SWJ (actually a series of articles on Design); one was called “There is a Problem with the Word Problem”- it approached design theory and how language continues to get double-tapped for use in different logics which creates staff and leadership confusion. SWJ has some excellent forum threads on just the confusing and long list of “asymmetric” terms for “irregular” warfare. I want to say Dave Maxwell even posted a long list of them in one of the forum threads which highlighted our military organization’s current state of paralysis in explaining what we are observe in the world.
On your hypothetical question of wargaming, I would offer a few points to consider.

1. Design Theory uses a fundamentally different logic than the traditional reductionist and post-positivist approach to warfare (Clausewitz, Jomini, and company). When we discuss a battle staff conducting MDMP, we are in the traditionalist logic and thus are not discussing Design Theory. MDMP and the wargaming process (just a subset of reverse-engineering reductionism) seeks to control a system, to seek decisiveness through destructive action instead of seeking cognitive synergy and appreciation of a complex system that defies control, seeking what Design Theorists term “operational shock” to deconstruct some aspects of the system so that it will configure in a novel and self-organizing form that offers future advantage to one’s organization. So if we want to discuss a staff doing MDMP, I think we should frame the condition as a group of individuals that are building a house atop a pre-determined foundation that is cemented in Clausewitzian war theory and Jominian linear logic. MDMP generates its strength rooted in the hierarchical structure of traditional military organizations that use linear causality logic, reverse-engineered approaches to attempting to “control” complexity, and using mass and symmetric action to apply uniform and universal proceduralism through military action.

2. For the individual you describe with the intelligence breadcrumbs in the hypothetical example, I find that staffs will use MDMP-style proceduralism to attempt to rigidly forecast the HVI’s pattern of behavior- in the attempt of predicting their next action in a “most dangerous” and “most likely” COA format. Design theory rejects this entirely. I find that military professionals are highly uncomfortable with throwing out the MDMP bathwater for fear of losing the baby- but the baby does remain in a novel and non-linear asymmetric approach.

3. Were a staff to take the breadcrumbs you provided for example, and apply some Design Theory to their understanding of their bounded environment- they might consider the following:

a. Why are people from that culture (whatever culture the bombmaker is from) motivated to join the rival movement and attack us with bombs?

b. What is the overarching logic of his IO campaign, and why is it more effective than ours in the target population?

c. Why do illicit commodities continue to prosper in the observed economies, and why do criminal enterprises that prosper through profit also support non-economic risks such as supporting ideological or political insurgent action? Or, why do heroin cartels aid bomb-makers?

d. Why is the rival organization (or organizations) functioning as we observe them to be; how are they organized? How do they continue to adapt and innovate under the strain (or presumed strain) of our application of destruction via military targeting and execution?

4. Those were just a few of the Design-logic “why” questions that take a more holistic perspective for a staff to gain greater understanding (cognitive synergy) of a complex system…they are not just running down the tactical rabbit holes of “HVI 3 used cellphone 123456 on 12DEC2011 to call contact Y concerning topic Z…” –this is where we drop bombs without really knowing what we might be doing to a complex system. But if we encase these actions within a cocoon that uses the MDMP logic and the hierarchical decision-making processes we prefer- we continue to “target” without really understanding what we are doing, or why.

5. A comment on centers of gravity- always a challenging topic because so much of our military organization grew up on Clausewitzian logic and US Army doctrine espouses the single universal theory that all things follow Uncle Carl’s maxims…I prefer some non-western approaches to understanding warfare and conflict such as Deleuze and Guattari and Jullien. D&G offer the post-modern concepts of smooth and striated space; striated space reflects the military organization’s attempt to apply universal maxims such as gravity to a system. Gravity, in theory, influences all things- hence in physics it is universal. With military conflict, when one attempts to establish COGs, they are striating space so that they can overlay their linear logic such as MDMP and B2C2WG- so one striates the space, identifies those points which support their preferred narrative (perhaps EBO based, or post-EBO such as modern MDMP with mission command), and then they target critical vulnerabilities of stated COG…but even the preferred COGs at the strategic and operational level in my neck of the woods remain tangible, quantifiable (read targetable or bombable) concepts. How does one target something intangible and fluid, such as a movement or an idea? What if that idea continues to adapt and self-organize in ways that actually strengthen it when you attack it militarily? This raises a metaphor for the hypothetical staff to ponder…

6. What if the rival system has an operational COG that is like the Lernaean Hydra. Following Greek mythology, if one strikes at a head and cuts it off, two more grow back. Despite how Hercules supposedly kills it (with the Greek version of an asymmetric approach built upon critical thinking), the point is that if one faces a rival that generates strength that uses military action against it as a critical requirement instead of a vulnerability, it is a Lernaean Hydra. Traditional military targeting processes are incapable of dealing with the hydra because the rigid nature of MDMP and prescriptive proceduralism within post-positivist reductionism drives the “apply destructive force decisively through symmetry and mass via. Clausewitzian universal maxims and Jominian linear logic.” The targeting staff might apply Design theory and critical thinking to the HVI as well as the bounded system holistically- break away from seeking COGs that obey gravity; gravity might be our own invention instead. Western military theory is one logic, but not a universal one.

7. Perhaps staffs find it “impossible” to grapple with design theory along with MDMP because we have created such a vast and intricate MDMP procedure that it takes years for military planners to even get good at that logic. Throw in Design (which rejects all of MDMP and applies critical and asymmetric thinking), and now you have a cluster- some professionals are seasoned in only MDMP while others are just learning it. Some also are new to Design, while others might reject it entirely; some folks deeply understand both- but in our hierarchical organization one must impose yet another layer of complexity onto this already complex inter-personal dynamic. What if the person that understands MDMP and Design deeply is the lowest ranking person on the staff? What if they are the highest ranking? Or perhaps they are in the middle? What if the highest ranking person only understands MDMP? Our rigid hierarchy makes this even harder- we do it to ourselves. And we communicate through static forms of communication such as PowerPoint- to the point that we have endless meetings with thousands of slides, yet folks still struggle with basic concepts on what the heck the staff is doing, and why.

I probably answered none of your questions- but this is always an enjoyable distraction from work.


Outlaw 09

Fri, 01/13/2012 - 11:51pm

BZ---picking up your 23 Dec thread---based on your comments how would you envision handling the following as I am coming to the slow realization that just maybe all the current terms we throw around ie COIN, FID, SFA, UW, IW, pop centric COIN etc are in fact causing most of the confusion as many battle staffs can no longer critically think as they are simply trying to get through the "process" of MDMP due to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole due to the complexity of the different terms with their different definitions.

Say a battle staff is presented with the following scenario:
------we have an individual who is the leading bomb maker on the RC side as early as Jun 2003, he is handling all bookkeeping for multiple groups, he is handling the IO side and participated in a Spanish journalist interview in 2004, he sets up training sessions for rockets, purchases weapons/IED materials and distributes them, handles legal importing of vehicles out of the UAE in 2003/2004, maintains a wide reaching series of contacts with other groups in other cities, has a major contact in Sweden in 2004, participates as an observer in a number of attacks from 2003 through to 2007, has a large group of individuals around him and travels extensively from south to north and Google has nothing on him as do none of the US databases---AND he finds time to pray 3-5 times a day

Can any battle staff sit down with the high level information and "war game" or "see" 1) does the person even exist? 2)who is he/what is his importance, 3) what does his ecosystem potentially look like, 4) what is the potential center of gravity or are there more CoGs, 5)what are the potential drivers of individual, 6) are we facing multiple groups with a single leader or a series of independent sub groups getting just guidance and leadership from a central figure, 7) is he a key "threat" to our efforts and the list goes on.

Have we as battle staffs reached a point that such war gaming is virtually impossible to due to the stress of trying to hold to MDMP and B2C2WG?

Just a thought.


Fri, 01/13/2012 - 2:53pm


1-OODA Looping is one very small part of the Boyd theory.

2-You are way to logical in your use of the OODA loop, try thinking of being inside somebodies OODA loop as showing them something that will fool them.

3-It's like that John Travolta movie where he is Boxing and tells this opponent he is going to show him his left jab(get inside his observation point) BUT hit him with his right cross....that is OODA looping somebody.


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.