Academic journal article Military Review

A Practical Guide to Design: A Way to Think about It, and a Way to Do It

Academic journal article Military Review

A Practical Guide to Design: A Way to Think about It, and a Way to Do It

Article excerpt

MILITARY COMMAND IS difficult. This difficulty arises in part because the commander's operational environment renders near-complete understanding and prediction impossible. Yet understanding and prediction of a kind wee necessary. Since the commander's lethal and cooperative work occurs in a socio-political and ethical context, he must understand a complex mix of military and nonmilitary factors and visualize how his units' and other actors' interventions will play out. It follows that commanders face the same challenges that vexed political theorists from Socrates to Machiavelli to Marx and statesmen from Caesar to Madison to Obama. Military commanders, like political theorists and statesmen, need political judgment to interpret and intervene in the world.'

The Challenge of Prediction

Commanders' orders are based on interpretations and predictions.2 Field manuals, operations orders, and commanders' decisions contain embedded hunches about the world and about causes and effects. For instance, (a) if my soldiers live among the population, and (b) if my soldiers "partner" with hostnation forces and attack irreconcilable extremists, and (c) if my interagency partners and I visit regularly with key leaders, and (d) if my troopers help build schools, then villagers will support the local government instead of the insurgency. These informed hunches about the future are if-then hypotheses based on the commander's interpretation of the environment. Of course, these hypotheses and interpretations are fallible.

The challenge of prediction in human affairs has always plagued philosophers, political scientists, and statesmen. Their predictions have been notoriously unreliable.3 Socio-political phenomena, which include wars, are not susceptible to simple cause-effect analysis. Causes and effects in human affairs are tangled, multi-causal, multi-directional, and contingent.4 Success depends partially on humility amidst the contingency that suffuses the dynamics of socio-political affairs. Satisfactory "end states" seldom take the form predicted or initially desired.5 A commander knows that - despite his best efforts - his interpretive and predictive judgment will have significant gaps and errors.

A good commander embraces and accounts for his fallibility. If surprise is possible during a battalion's attack against a tank platoon in a remote battlefield, how much more likely is it to occur when a field commander directs attacks against multiple enemies and amidst a heterogeneous population, a fragile host-nation government, a precarious coalition, and a maze of bureaucracies and independent organizations? Commanders used to speak in terms of "getting into the enemy's decision cycle." The relevant number of decision cycles the commander now must consider has vastly increased.6

The Army's approach to Design provides commanders with a way to think about the dynamic factors at play in a world of irregularities, surprises, and fleeting opportunities. Below, I describe how commanders may use doctrinal Design to do the conceptual work of understanding, visualization, and description. Design exploits the talents of the staff (among others) to help commanders answer four fundamental questions relevant to any action. I next describe the ethos of Design in terms of eight leadership values, which I suggest are typified in the leadership style of General David Petraeus. Finally, I describe one way to do Design, which emphasizes collaboration, competition, and board work. This way is consistent with both doctrine and the approach put forth by the U.S. Army School for Advanced Military Studies.

Understanding, Visualizing, and Describing

If the judgments of pundits are notoriously unreliable, their direct influence is also relatively inconsequential. However, military commanders exercise judgment, and their decisions carry direct consequences.7 Commanders exercise judgment when performing the activities of understanding, visualizing, and describing. …

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