Academic journal article Military Review

Educating by Design: Preparing Leaders for a Complex World

Academic journal article Military Review

Educating by Design: Preparing Leaders for a Complex World

Article excerpt


We tolerate the unexplained but not the inexplicable.

--Erving Goffman (1)

THE ARMY HAS MANAGED an increasingly complex global environment since 2001 with the additional dilemmas of asymmetric warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and stability operations. Both the operating force and the generating force have recognized the need for new conceptual tools to assist commanders in the planning process.

In January 2008, publication of TRADOC Pamphlet 525-5-500, Commander S Appreciation and Campaign Design (CACD) captured an ongoing professional dialogue about the application of design to military operations. The current challenge has been to define the Army's methodology for design. Simultaneously, the School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) has considered how to incorporate the art of design into officer education so design teams can apply design theory and philosophy to practical challenges. Working with theoreticians and skilled practitioners of military art and science, the school has been engaged in taking design from theory to practice on many fronts. From this rich experience, SAMS has adopted a slightly modified version of TRADOC's Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) definition of design as "an approach to reasoning and critical thinking" that enables a leader "to create understanding about a unique situation and on that basis, to visualize and describe how to generate change." (2) This article explores the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP) educational experience and is meant to share insights gained at SAMS with the Army, Joint, coalition, and interagency communities.

To do this, the paper looks at how the "art of design" is already being used by Army leaders. In doing so, it explains how SAMS has been teaching and learning about design through extensive academic and practical experience. It concludes with some of the lessons from the SAMS experience over the past two years and an exploration of the critical interface between design and planning.

Practicing Design in a Complex World

One of the primary objectives of AMSP's Art of Design courseware is to enable students to gain systemic understanding of a situation when it is not clear what action is required and no consensus exists on the nature of the problem. Social psychologist Karl Weick describes such situations as follows: "Things seem inexplicable. And to make it worse, many of our ways of making sense of the inexplicable seem to have collapsed." (3) Oftentimes, sources of difficulty are not readily apparent, or, more likely, apparent problems are merely symptoms of deeper issues and problems with their own dynamics and connections. Worse still are situations where traditional methods for understanding and potential approaches to problem solving no longer work or provide erroneous solutions. Recent experience and emerging doctrine all point towards design's potential for enhancing the commander's understanding and visualization of the situation. When faced with the incomprehensible, commanders at all levels need an approach that helps them learn, understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead, and assess while conducting battle command activities.

In many respects, the operational force leads the generating force in its understanding and implementation of design. While not explicitly recognized as such, military leaders have already incorporated design tenets into their patterns of thought. When commanders find themselves asking "What's the story here?" they engage in design. Commanders and their staffs, out of necessity, have realized that contemporary situations require a deep appreciation of the operational environment. Guidance provided by a higher political or military authority may not be sufficient to frame complex situations that cross political, social, economic, and ideological boundaries, particularly in joint and coalition operations. …

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