Original blog post can be found here:

This is another section out of what will be my new military design book addressing how strategists and planners can use systemic design to change, modify and completely transform their planning process (NATO-OPP, JPP, MDMP, MCPP, and all others) to confront complex security challenges where simply going into the doctrinal planning process is insufficient or worse still, entirely counter-productive. When teaching design to thousands of Special Operations professionals, leaders across our U.S. services, international military, war college students, as well as government agency types (those 3-letter folks) over the last decade, the first question I am asked is: “Tell me what this ‘design’ thing really is…and make it clear.” That answer requires what this entire section is about- that to answer it, you MUST be able to reflect and clarify your own war paradigm (how you frame war, understand what it is (and is not), how you think about war, talk warfare, frame mental models on war, and why your decision-making methodology for warfare functions as it does. If you cannot do this, it is impossible to explain design because a non-reflective warfighter unwittingly demands all new concepts fit into their existing (and unrealized) war paradigm… causing them to destroy new things and simply keep the ‘buzz words’ without actually changing. The second question is always: “how does an OPT (operational planning team) take this design and DO something different in military planning?” That is what the rest of my book is about!

Before addressing what constructs associated with NATO-OPP or JPP might be tempered, modified or completely removed, we must spend some more time at the philosophical level where modern military institutions frame what war is, and is not. Only then might we construct a path to examine, deconstruct and explore these military decision-making methodologies and offer alternatives. ‘Deconstruction’ is not the same as ‘reductionism’ mentioned earlier. Reductionism is associated with positivist efforts to categorize and analyze complex security contexts so that fundamental rules, principles or laws might formulaically reassemble reality in a more orderly and predictable manner.[1] Gharajedaghi and Ackoff explain this mindset with:

Mechanistic models of the world conceptualize it as a machine that works with a regularity dictated by its internal structure and the causal laws of nature…the world can be completely understood and that such understanding can be obtained by analysis…[and] since understanding something mechanistically requires understanding its parts, the parts also have to be taken apart. This process stops only when indivisible parts, elements, are reached. These, when understood, are believed to make understanding everything else possible. This doctrine, called reductionism, is responsible for the prominence in science of such irreducibles as atoms, chemical elements, cells, basic needs, instincts, direct observations and phonemes.[2]

The military takes an epistemological approach to modern warfare employing reductionism as outlined above. Complex warfare challenges all are reduced, categorized, isolated, frozen in time, and rendered in positivist fashion to utilize NATO-OPP/JPP methods and models. However, deconstruction is not reductionism. It is a postmodern endeavor to explore how text and meaning are complex, even unstable in perpetual transformation through a dynamic, even turbulent interaction of things (the first order of complexity addressing physical reality) and ideas/meaning (a second order of complexity resting upon the first and manifested entirely in our own socialized collective).[3] Reductionism assumes a centralized hierarchical structuring and order of reality where at the surface, things may seem chaotic or dynamic, but once analytical optimization isolates and reduces that complexity down to core, quantifiable elements, the universal rules or formulas governing this ordered reality become realized and rationalized.[4] “The relationship [between the parts that in aggregate form the whole] that is assumed to be sufficient to explain all actions and interactions of the parts is cause-effect.”[5] For devoted military reductionists, one thing leads to another in causal action if their relationship is both necessary and sufficient for the system to function as observed in reductive logic.

Deconstruction uses synthesis instead of analysis and emphasizes not the objective things to be isolated, but the relational quality of meaning in the conceptualization done by (in this case, reductionism and analytical optimization) humans using language and metaphoric devices therein to generate complex meaning and expression.[6] Analysis fosters description and can lead to deeper analysis, but analysis does not lead to explanation. Only synthesis provides explanation; synthetic thinking moves outward to greater abstraction to explore how things and ideas are nested in yet larger systems in complex, nonlinear relationships. Analysis takes things apart to describe what things are and how they relate back into the reassembled whole. Synthesis approaches how and why something is part of yet other things beyond the apparent barrier between the defined concept and broader, less obvious relationships to realize why things form and function as so.[7] One is not superior to the other; both are essential to military forces confronting complex security challenges. Yet they are not interchangeable, nor might one be marginally applied (or mis-applied) in some formulaic approach to all challenges with the expectation of a standardized output.

For an example of this difference, reductionism in methods such as NATO-OPP and JPP, these doctrinal methodologies posit ‘centers of gravity’ for friendly and enemy forces positioned at various levels of war that in turn can be identified, isolated, analyzed, and quantified into predictable/controllable linkages of linear causality. ‘Targeting enemy operational COG critical vulnerability leads to collapse of COG and accomplishing desired ‘end-state’ along a line of effort.’ Deconstruction looks not at different ways to accomplish COG analysis to achieve an end-state, but how and why a military believes in conceptual models such as ‘levels of war’ in a centralized hierarchical arrangement, why COGs are employed using Newtonian physics modeling, or linear causality of ‘predetermined end-state with reverse-engineered actions arranged on lines of sequential efforts’. Reductionism occurs exclusively within a given belief system and often can function with non-reflective practitioners looping through activities over and over attempting to improve the outcomes alone; Deconstruction orients to the belief system of the military on why we structure our decision-making in such ways, and how those institutional frames might work or fail to work within a complex, changing reality that cannot be encompassed by any frame, theory or model entirely.

To deconstruct NATO-OPP and other modern decision-making methodological frameworks such as JPP, MDMP, MCPP, and so-on, we cannot simply swap out one method for another or adhere to doctrinal constructs without thinking deeply about why our military even produces and promotes such doctrinal concepts. In the dynamic and perpetual relationship between groups of humans (whether organizations in formal, informal or hybrid configurations) and a complex reality, we apply different methodologies toward thought and action so that we can gain some sort of response from reality. In a broad sense, any response that a human might experience from any sensory or informational stimulus can be captured under the term ‘data’. In the graphical depiction below, the human mind is depicted inside a box termed the ‘social paradigm’ and a green arrow extends depicting any methodology to generate some sort of observable data from a complex reality.

A theory is referred to as a dimension rather than some discrete category that one can treat as a container of expired milk to remove from the refrigerator. Weick explains that a theory is defined as a collection of assertions that are both verbal and symbolic. The theory identifies what variables are significant for what reasons the theory specifies, and how they relate to one another as well as why, and what conditions they might be related or unrelated in reality. Theories become “an inference from data that is offered as formula to explain the abstract and general principle that lies behind them as their cause, their method of operation, or their relation to other phenomena.”[8] The exchange of purposeful action and data from that interaction in reality becomes a useful way to frame how various social paradigms provide perspectives for operators interacting with complex reality.

While a paradigm originally was coined for explaining how one scientific theory and discipline rises and falls as another alternative or competing theory replaces the inferior scientific paradigm and renders it obsolete (i.e., Newtonian physics was replaced by the Special Theory of Relativity, but we tend to use Newtonian physics still to explain everyday things non-scientifically/metaphorically),[9] social paradigm theory proposes that various groups of humans throughout time had, have, and will continue to develop a range of social paradigms that interpret reality differently.[10] Paradigms represent a belief system framework accepted by a community that guides the members in doing what they do.[11] One paradigm is not superior to another, yet different paradigms utilized by various groups will have distinct interpretations and understandings of reality that may be antagonistic, paradoxical or differ in a variety of ways from those employing another social paradigm. Further, those able to assume a meta-paradigmatic approach where different paradigms are explored concerning a complex topic will often gain advantages that are unrealized by those only employing one of the social paradigms.[12] As this monograph will explain, NATO-OPP and JPP operate exclusively through a single social paradigm at the expense of others, and thus reject any opportunities a multi-paradigmatic designed approach might provide. Social paradigms will be explored in detail in future sections of this monograph.

Paradigm incommensurability is when those employing one paradigm are unable to conceptualize the belief system and alternative perspectives because the very language, metaphoric devices and models do not function in the same philosophical (ontological, epistemological) modes. One quick example is found in the Cargo Cults of the South Pacific.[13] An image of a bamboo constructed aircraft below illustrates how Cargo Cults attempt to replicate reality through simulation and ideological assimilation.[14]

Image source: Hall, “Cargo Cult Psychology.” See footnotes.

Small groups in Melanesia first encountered the outside world only during a rapid industrialization by Allied military forces in World War II as they leap from remote island to island building runways and small supply bases. Many remote outposts utilized resupplies by air drop, of which the native islanders traded with soldiers to gain previously unimaginable goods and technology. After the war, the military departed, and no more air drops occurred. Cult leaders and spiritual priests would promise a return of the air dropped cargo if the tribe constructed bamboo imitations of the planes, towers, and airfield equipment. Tribes mimicked the day-to-day activities, uniforms, marching and behaviors of the military to bring about a return to the air drops. Paradigm incommensurability here is three-fold. First, westerners often marvel and/or pity tribes that perform these rituals because they require a non-industrialized perspective (further still, beliefs and customs considered outside one’s own social paradigm are labeled ‘alien’ as well, increasing paradigm incommensurability and rejection of alternative world perspectives). The cults themselves fail to realize western industrialized perspectives as well and why their rituals will not succeed. Lastly, readers might imagine a group of cargo cult members mimicking the refueling of a fighter plane (a bamboo proxy). If the group, through practice and imagination gained a real-world advantage in how to refuel a plane more effectively (despite it being a proxy), would it matter for either the cult or the departed military forces?

This nuance is important in if one military methodology if adapted by a group using an entirely dissimilar social paradigm, they likely will use and interpret that methodology differently than how it was used by the original designers of the method.[15] Humans use a combination of different social values, culture, and symbols within what is often termed a belief system. This is depicted below above the human head within the social paradigm. Often, our belief systems help us generate not just the methodologies we want to apply to reality, but a whole range of constructs that exist entirely within our minds (conceptual, intangible, and socially constructed). The very language we generate and curate within our group, discipline or field is underpinned by metaphoric devices that link back into these values, symbols, and socially constructed belief system.[16]“Metaphor is the principle by which new words are born.”[17] Social construction requires an appreciation of how paradigms function across communities of practice, whether isolated island tribes building airplanes out of bamboo, or industrialized nation states engaged in global war attempting to ‘island hop’ to defeat an adversary.

Note, the wrong area to focus on with this example is some ‘faith versus science’ tension, as that is beside the point. Instead, consider how we use social paradigms to construct the elaborate rules, behaviors, language, and methods that govern entire groups of humans as they engage in highly sophisticated activities that require the manipulation of the real world (whether aluminum airplanes or bamboo versions) as well as a shared and cultivated conceptualization of a second order reality seated atop the natural one. Regardless of what happens with the physical objects, humans will think and act according to complex social paradigms that, by how they are constructed and collectively enforced, smash against other paradigms with tension as well as overlap and even paradigmatic interplay (where the position of two paradigms together offer new options that each individual social paradigm was unable to do alone). That said, if westerners visited a Cargo Cult, many would exercise biases that would prevent them from probing deeply into how that group interacted with reality- including if they had figured out a better way to do something that the western, industrialized group could use in their world but are unable to even entertain such a thing. Conversely, were the Cargo Cult to visit a major international airport and attempt to blend their bamboo airplane in with functioning ones, they could mimic activities and even load passengers on theirs, but it would be highly unlikely that anyone would get to their desired destinations.

Explaining Social Paradigms: How and Why We Conceptualize Warfighting

The concept of a paradigm originates with Thomas Kuhn, a physicist and philosopher of science who wrote the highly influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that would insert the term ‘paradigm’ into common usage. For Kuhn, a paradigm “stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on shared by the members of a given community”[18] In his original introduction of the concept, scientific communities would entertain one scientific paradigm at a time, with Kuhn explaining that all scientific progress follows a ‘paradigm shift’ pattern. Something scientific or prescientific (where earth came from, how it is positioned within the universe) becomes normalized by scientific theory and study. That scientific modeling begins to drift as theorization and experimentation puts the model into crisis- such as when the idea of a divinely created ‘flat earth’ became a round planet at the center of the universe, where the stars and other planets orbited a central earth.

This geo-centric model of the universe went into crisis as mathematical and astronomical theories failed to explain planetary and celestial motions accurately. The scientific model underwent a revolution where the heliocentric alternative model developed mathematically by Copernicus would overtake the earlier ideologically inspired geocentric model.[19] Kuhn posits that the scientific paradigm shift occurs when within a revolution, the replacement theory such as a heliocentric universe gains greater scientific acceptance and rigor through testing, debate and an expansion of new research inspired by the replacement construct. After this paradigm shift, science becomes normalized once more and the cycle again repeats. In the nineteenth century, the heliocentric universe model would again be challenged and replaced in a paradigm shift to a galactocentric model – acknowledging the existence of other galaxies like our own. The theory that the Milky Way galaxy was central to the entire universe then would undergo its own crisis and shift to theories such as the ‘Big Bang’ and an acentric, expanding universe where the Milky Way is but one of many, many galaxies expanding outward.

Scientific paradigms work within natural science applications and also support the military philosophical belief that a character of war is ever-changing while a fixed ‘nature’ of war remains constant and universal, like a natural science law. Horse cavalry would eventually be replaced by mechanized armor cavalry, yet that would be challenged and in some ways “replaced” by air cavalry, and so-on in a strictly Kuhnian scientific sense of military progress. Yet unlike natural sciences, the social sciences discipline proposes that human beings generate and sustain multiple socially constructed paradigms. Social paradigms are created and operate entirely within human minds and are shaped and influenced collectively across large groups of people that wittingly or unwittingly share and sustain these social paradigms. It is within social paradigms and not scientific ones that war exists. War is a human creation, in that before humans there was no ‘war’ and if humans collectively agreed to ending all war (or more realistically, humans wiped out their entire species in a catastrophic final war), the universe would continue with natural laws such as gravity and heat entropy but ‘war’ would vanish from existence without humans alive to continue the conceptualization.

This places war and all warfare activities firmly within social paradigms. However, the physical aspects of how war is exercised within reality is directed and informed by these social paradigms conceptualized by groups of Homo sapiens, yet their activities must occur within physical planes of existence where bullets obey the laws of physics and human flesh bursts upon impact as biological and chemical realities impose certain unavoidable and quantifiable consequences. Scientific paradigms thus abound in warfare, yet in order for humans to engage in the application of organized violence (war) upon one another, they must employ one or another social paradigm that articulates what war is (and what it is not), how one wages war (and does not), and why war has particular purposes (as well as why it does not).

Both scientific as well as social paradigms can shift, although a distinction here places scientific development and a complete replacement of the legacy or irrelevant paradigm with the new scientific one, while social paradigm shifting occurs in a wider range along with complex social, cultural, and informational reasons. Both involve change, as well as the increasing systemic stress that humans will experience as their selective frame for conceptualizing reality grows increasingly fragile or dysfunctional over time. Whether a society is increasingly unable to use mathematical formulas to explain astronomic and planetary movements, or a military is realizing that their framework for understanding and applying organized violence to accomplish political desires is no longer functioning, these stressors build up until new theories and debate posit some paradigmatic alternative. Gharajedaghi provides a useful summary of paradigm shifting that can be applied to either construct:

A shift of paradigm can happen purposefully by an active process of learning and unlearning. It is more common that it is a reaction to frustration produced by a march of events that nullify conventional wisdom. Faced with a series of contradictions that can no longer be ignored or denied and/or an increasing number of dilemmas for which prevailing mental models can no longer provide convincing explanations, most people accept that the prevailing paradigm has ceased to be valid and that it has exhausted its potential capacity.[20]

Social paradigms lack the scientific rigidity of natural science paradigms to include the singular sequence of one paradigm replacing an outdated or obsolete one. Instead, military communities will use different social paradigms that feature different characteristics beyond and outside of the natural sciences. Israeli General and military theorist Shimon Naveh defines this with: “A paradigm is like a conceptual window into the real world: like a map that allows us to see the underlying terrain; like a menu that allows us to see into the back kitchen of a restaurant…Paradigms are theories that aid us in reflecting critically on our profession.”[21] Organizational theorists Schultz and Hatch offer: “paradigms are sets of ontological and epistemological assumptions…each paradigm engages a unique perspective from which concepts are defined and theories are developed…because each paradigm defines a different domain for which theories can be conceived, there is little to no possibility of effective communication between their adherents.”[22] As a military design theorist, educator and practitioner, I cannot stress how critical it is to present these two terms in design activities. You must introduce them, whether you explain the terms outright, or you apply subtle exercises to dance around using the ‘big words’ but you still get to the meat and potatoes of why these things must be understood deeply.

Ontology is the study of existence, and how humans conceive and perceive what we are, what the world consists of, and how reality is a continuum between purely objective and purely subjective extremes. Ontology is concerned with what is true or real, and the nature of reality which is why the earlier explanation of a social paradigm contained ‘what is/is not’ across each of the constructs for what, how and why. When military philosopher Clausewitz posits that “war is nothing but a duel on a larger scale…it is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will,”[23] he is ontologically stating that war occurs just as a violent fight between two dueling opponents. Ontologically, complex reality informs Clausewitz that war can be conceptualized and explained in a truthful manner by mentally associating a deadly contest of wills between duelists with that of nation states waging war. Ontology does not become any specific or tangible ‘thing’ in reality; rather ontology explains the order of things within reality and why the form and function of reality is as it is.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how humans create, maintain and order knowledge through different methods. Unlike ontology that links reality to conceptualized models within a human mind, epistemology begins within the mind and these mental events inform our perceptions that subsequently inform a separate reality. While ontology acts to help humans discover what ‘truths’ might exist in reality, epistemology enables humans to create their understanding of what ‘truth’ is and is not within the socially constructed framework they collectively maintain and curate. For example, people will weed their flower gardens so that certain plants are protected and nurtured, while weeds and undesirable vegetation is eliminated. We “know” what flowers are “pretty” or “valuable” or “proper for home décor”- and we also “know” about weeds and ugly things that must be removed. Yet insects and birds feed upon both without any such discrimination because humans will collectively distinguish epistemologically these constructs through culture and society. The epistemological constructs do not exist in reality and are entirely created within our minds, yet they deeply inform how we interact with reality.

Social paradigms are composed of three distinct concepts. Our paradigms use ontological, epistemological and subordinate to those two, methodological constructs to frame all human thought and action toward reality. Methodologies within a social paradigm are informed by ontological and epistemological assumptions and constructs; a methodology is created so that we know how to test our knowledge, curate it within a particular form and function, and disseminate that collectively across our network of human beings that share in our social paradigm application. There are many different types of methods and in the military, we use different variations of decision-making processes that act as methodological frameworks for how to act to accomplish military goals.

These methodologies feature precise terminology used to articulate the ‘how’ of performing the process, with those words underpinned by metaphoric devices that reach back to deeper ontological and epistemological assumptions that are in turn shaped by our culture, values, and a shared belief system.[24] Different social paradigms employ different ontological and epistemological assumptions that are often informed by different cultural, social systems and result in quite different methodologies. Yet on the surface, these methods might be confusingly overlapped if the terminology employed is misinterpreted from one social paradigm back into the dominant one of an outside observer.

Author’s own illustration

In the above figure, one way (of many) to conceptualize a social paradigm is presented. Ontology, epistemology and methodology are depicted in a mutually supporting dynamic, with the ‘shared belief system’ overarching the social paradigm as these values, beliefs and culture directly influence how and why a group of people will form their ontological and epistemological assumptions. The green arrows illustrate how ontology and epistemology collectively shape the metaphoric devices that subsequently generate all language within that social paradigm. Hence, words do matter- but the same word often has entirely dissimilar meaning when employed in one social paradigm versus another.

To draw from an entirely dissimilar model for categorizing things that is incompatible with the military paradigm that uses PMESSI-PT, consider the story of the ‘Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge’, a fictitious taxonomy of animals created by Jorge Luis Borges and later referenced by Michel Foucault in his book The Order of Things.[25] Borges tells the story of an ancient Chinese encyclopedia that was created by the emperor with strict orders that the entire society must adhere to these categories only for all animals. They had categories such as: “those belonging to the Emperor, embalmed ones, suckling pigs, stray dogs, those included in this classification, those that tremble as if they were mad, those that from afar look like flies, those that have just broken the vase, those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush,” as well as “mermaids, fabled ones and trained ones.” Readers might react with a value distinction in that PMESSI-PT “makes sense” and is “scientifically sound” and that the Chinese emporium model is simply nonsense. This illustrates how one social paradigm will render those methodologies that operate under another paradigm as irrelevant, incompatible, or incomprehensible.

The previous figure frames how a social paradigm in general is constructed to provide what might be viewed as a belief system ‘umbrella’, underneath which the entire frame extends so that a community of practice might construct theories, models, methods as well as language and have them all interact purposefully. The purposefulness is defined and influenced by the belief system maintained by that group, yet this activity is usually invisible to operators. Single and double-loop thinking prevents reflection upon why we do as we do, meaning that our social paradigms remain off limits to inquiry unless one enacts triple loop thinking. While the last figure focuses on the core elements of any social paradigm, this monograph expands that model and presents a new framework to encompass the essential related activities of how an organization conceptualizes theories, enacts mental models to support theoretical content, and how methodologies are developed to enable thought (theoretical) to result in purposeful action (methodology in application with reality). In the next figure, the shared belief system framework depicted above is reduced into an umbrella for brevity. Readers should maintain steady awareness of how ontology, epistemology and methodology interact with values, beliefs, and lead to the construction of theories, models, language, and purposeful action.

Author’s own illustration

Military decision-making methodologies spanning tactical to strategic, from large-scale high-intensity combat operations to clandestine sensitive activities of special operations forces, in multi-force Coalition arrangements or pure service configurations draw from the same shared framework for thought and action in security contexts. They derive their institutionally approved terminologies (language), orchestration of methods, conceptual models, and core theories from what is comprehensively termed a socially constructed ‘frame’ for warfare activities.[26] When considering the methodological underpinnings of NATO-OPP, JPP or other similar variant, the United States Department of Defense (and most all associated nation-state equivalents) promotes, cultivates, and regulates this single institutional frame for organizing people, artifacts, ideas and actions in complex security affairs.[27] This becomes the lens for which militaries see reality, as well as the filters that shut out unauthorized, paradoxical, or alternative concepts that do not support this frame’s rationalization of reality. One way to graphically depict this notion of a synthetic frame is presented above and is a two-part graphic in this section.

The above model again is just one way to encourage readers to think beyond methodologies themselves (in this case, the form and function of NATO-OPP and JPP through doctrine, training, and education) to be able to deconstruct that method, critique it, and consider improvements as well as more radical alternatives that potentially get at overarching defense and security force missions, goals, and organizational purposes differently than the current legacy system frame provides. We need to consider what underlying military theories are being employed to justify the NATO-OPP/JPP methodology’s logic as well as core assumptions on how the world ought to function in security affairs. Yet any model is only an abstraction of reality[28], and at best an oversimplification that may or may not add value to how the operator relates the theoretical to the practical (methodology put to action). How theories relate to models and together form the basis for methodologies is of paramount focus for readers seeking an explanation of why NATO and Joint Forces view reality as they do, and how our military language, doctrine and belief system generates this conceptual and socially constructed framework for decision-making in a modern form and function.

Theories dominant in the overarching modern military synthetic frame attempt to explain how war (security, defense, conflict, policy) occurs in a complex reality so that subsequent conceptual models can relate to the data observed as a method is applied to reality. Theories tend to remain in the background, quietly orchestrating the ‘why’ of our frame activities while the ‘what’ and ‘how’ consume most of our attention. Theories are often positioned in near ideological solitude, unassailable by most because the immediate defensive posture for institutions is to cast blame on the operator or the environment. ‘The enemy gets a vote’ and ‘consider two sustains and two improvements’ are common expressions of this institutionalized pattern in training centers and professional military education (PME) to shield both theories and core belief systems from disruption.[29] While we might cycle through clear linkages of performance to established processes and doctrinal norms at our training centers, war-games and in military classrooms, are we able to reflect upon the broader shared framework of theories, models, methods, language and beliefs? Or are methods (and corresponding models and theories) off limits for such critiques due to institutional emphasis on correlating ‘operator successfully or unsuccessfully follows the steps of activity X in doctrine Y as assessed by the military evaluator conforming to the institution?’[30]

Given this is slightly oversimplified, a theory proves either true or false by a discipline or community considering and evaluating the theory. Defense forces as a community of practice do this as well, although not necessarily in a strictly scientific or plural manner of open discourse.[31] Different theories on war operate abstractly above all military methods employing a range of conceptual models. These military models seek to generate similarity and familiarity (or not) to how these theories prove accurate or inaccurate as militaries think and act within a complex, dynamic security context.[32] Yet we rarely consider our preferred theories and models, and typically in security training, education, and real-world practice we prefer to evaluate methods and data exclusively for adjustment, reinforcement, or replacement. Units and individuals are measured against whether they successfully applied NATO-OPP/JPP to the task at hand, or if they need to pursue improvement; whether the method itself needs repair or alteration is rarely of concern. If we are to examine why militaries cycle through such thoughts and coordinated actions in warfare without accomplishing desired effects (and redouble efforts over and over, using the same constructs), we need to shift from analysis to synthesis. Once again, description does not lead to explanation. It just leads to more description, and often our misunderstanding that our piles of analytic description will lead to explanation. It will not.

Both NATO-OPP and JPP methodologies follow the form of various conceptual models that provide military leaders, planners, and analysists some arrangement of ideas on various military activities/tasks across time and space so that the underpinning theories create similarity or familiarity to what the military organization is receiving in data or experience upon executing the methods (NATO-OPP/JPP in execution). The words that we use as well as the words we do not consider are equally important for deconstructing the methodology, so that the metaphoric devices operating above the words themselves come into view. NATO-OPP/JPP metaphors such as ‘center of gravity’, ‘desired end state’, ‘line of effort’, ‘levels of war’, ‘principles of war’, ‘elements of operational art’, ‘strengths and weaknesses’, ‘shaping’, ‘enabling’, and many more link shared DoD language to models and military theories. Military metaphors represent not just some necessary cultural idioms or colloquialisms to boost shared understanding across a diverse military force. The metaphors employed in military language reveal the structural underpinnings of the modern military frame for warfare. All language is metaphoric, and through consideration of military language found within NATO-OPP/JPP we can examine the deeper relationships between theories, models, and methods.

These metaphors will link to those conceptual models and reinforce theories, in turn supporting our collective belief systems and rendering the NATO-OPP/JPP methodologies as they currently express in practice. If our model employs an ‘ends-ways-means’ framework, this is important to realize. If we rationalize: ‘design problem is linked with a potential creative solution’ with a scientific theoretical approach of forming informed hypotheses, this also links back to the ‘ends-ways-means’ logic. When we take those hypotheses and test them through rationalized analysis, and subsequently seek patterns to explore potential fundamental rules or laws, this again is of great importance. In such introspection, we might realize that our efforts in reducing complex systems into smaller, more manageable chunks, the very language and metaphors we select will reinforce all these choices, often in a manner that diverts our attention to the inputs and outputs of the process and not of the framework designing our acceptance of such concepts.[33] Within this modern war frame, the NATO-OPP/JPP terminology remains exclusively physics-oriented, with a proliferation of Newtonian metaphors, classical mechanics epistemology,[34] as well as engineering language and analytic constructs supporting objective expectations on reality.[35] Yet complexity theory, systems theory, and other competing theories concerning defense, security affairs and warfare differ with the dominant synthetic frame for war and are currently not available within the military’s choice of methodology, language, or conceptual models for performing and synchronizing warfighter activities.[36]

Conceptual models are also difficult to separate from our overarching war paradigm as they are imbedded into how militaries perform decision-making methodologies such as NATO-OPP, JPP, and others discussed in this monograph. Julian Jaynes provides the necessary linkage between models and theories with: “a theory is a relationship of the model to the things the model is supposed to represent.”[37] For example, physicist Niels Bohr presented the ‘Bohr’s Model’ in 1913 to explain atomic structure where the nucleus is composed of protons (and neutrons) surrounded by orbiting electrons. The metaphoric device drew from astronomy and how planets orbit the sun, which Bohr used to articulate his new concept effectively to a population that already understood the astronomical model of inspiration. Bohr presented a new theory that all atoms in complex reality would be similar and explainable by his model. Decades later, physicists would discover new and exotic particles that disprove Bohr’s theory…but the model itself remains. “A model is neither true nor false; only the theory of its similarity to what it represents.”[38] Theories can gain and lose accuracy over time, but the models themselves often can carry over into other activities or be employed with entirely different theories to generate different methods from earlier attempts.

Modern military strategists and analysts use many conceptual models within NATO-OPP/JPP such as ‘SWOT’ analysis, levels of war, spectrum of warfare, the ‘CARVER’ matrix (for special operations and targeting methods nested to JPP), stakeholder analysis, ‘iceberg models’, as well as operational design models such as lines of effort, measures of performance and effectiveness linked to operations and campaigns, and others. Thus, NATO-OPP/JPP are methodologies used by militaries that employ doctrinally sanctioned models complete with a range of select military theories. These theories support institutional as well as individual belief systems, group values and symbols. Militaries will, often without self-reflection, reinforce adherence to institutionally sanctioned (indoctrinated) models where the community of practice is incentivized to repeat usage of many models. In the event of failure, the practitioner is encouraged to repeat the process of employing the models while self-evaluating whether they can adhere in greater compliance with the model to produce desired outputs. One is not encouraged to seek alternative models outside of those approved by the regulated community of practice, nor should one experiment with a never-before-seen innovative act of creating a new model either.

Author’s original illustration

The above figure is enhanced to highlight how a shared belief system is foundational to informing our language through metaphoric construction. All language is metaphoric, although many words and terminology are so established into our frame that we hardly realize or are aware of them. As our belief system shapes, informs and influences our language construction, when we encounter a dynamic, changing reality we must perpetually invent new terms for those new things and experiences that cannot be articulated with our legacy frame, and we also over time edit and retire language that becomes irrelevant or insufficient. Organizational theory posits an endless, iterative and dynamic cycle of how our assumptions we make as we engage with reality are shaped by our values (belief system) which in turn enable us to conceptualize and engage with artifacts in the real world (things, experiences, action). Some of these artifacts become symbolized, yet that process also is in flux as we continuously assess and re-assess these relationships. Some symbols become problematic or are rejected, while new concepts and artifacts gain symbolization. The green arrow above shows how language itself is part of this endless cycle that influences our belief system (assumptions, values) in an emergent, dynamic fashion.

This is significant when we seek to frame the modern military paradigm and understand how everything from theories to models and the language we use is all connected and interdependent in complex ways that reflect a process of becoming rather than a static being. Using the framework depicted in the last two illustrations, we will now attempt to comprehensively frame the modern military paradigm, acknowledging that this too is merely a model and all models are approximations of reality through abstraction and simplification. Some models are better than others. Yet if readers examine all contemporary military doctrine whether in NATO, Joint or service-generated content, there is no consideration of why militaries believe what they do, how they assemble these constructs into a coherent frame, or what that frame consists of (and therefore, does not consist of as well).

Instead, militaries remain stuck in single or double-loop practices [see earlier Medium articles by Zweibelson on single, double, and triple-loop thinking] where things like COG analysis or the OODA Loop are used by operators, but they are unwittingly employing them with non-reflective action. We follow processes without realizing how that process came to existence, how it perpetuates itself, or why the institution directs process compliance and prevents critical reflection beyond the process that is presented in isolation. Militaries learn the steps of NATO-OPP or JPP, and in isolation how to do COG analysis, or separately how the OODA Loop functions. Nothing is nested systemically- merely positioned in sequence through systematic ordering. We are obligated to follow the rules of planning such as: “one must conduct COG analysis at this step before proceeding”- yet we cannot consider doing the planning process devoid of COGs entirely, or with a substitution of another model that is entirely dissimilar to what COGs are. In each sequence, activities are isolated not just by linear-causal processes as if JPP was a factory assembly line, but modern staffs themselves are isolated by how the Prussian-Napoleonic organization specializes and erects barriers to which parts of planning are conducted by particular staff specialists. All participants excel at converging toward process completion and assess through process adherence/efficiency, yet none are permitted to view the frame systemically.

This is just a section from what is a design book under final editing for publication next Spring with the Air University Press at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. This book will be available in print and online digitally. This section and others may not reflect the final versions, and all opinions, statements and content is the author’s own and does not represent or reflect any official position of the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense or Air University. See more of my recent Medium articles for other draft sections, and follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and here at Medium for new uploads.

[1] Bousquet, “Chaoplexic Warfare or the Future of Military Organization,” 919.

[2] Gharajedaghi and Ackoff, “Mechanisms, Organisms, and Social Systems,” 290.

[3] Derrida, Of Grammatology; Tsoukas and Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity”; Cilliers, “Complexity, Deconstruction and Relativism”; Naveh, Schneider, and Challans, The Structure of Operational Revolution: A Prolegomena.

[4] Boisot and McKelvey, “Integrating Modernist and Postmodernist Perspectives on Organizations: A Complexity Science Bridge,” 418–19.

[5] Gharajedaghi and Ackoff, “Mechanisms, Organisms, and Social Systems,” 290.

[6] Hatch and Yanow, “Methodology by Metaphor: Ways of Seeing in Painting and Research”; Bousquet and Curtis, “Beyond Models and Metaphors: Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking and International Relations”; White, The Content of the Form; Ricoeur, Time and Narrative.

[7] Ackoff, “Towards a System of Systems Concepts”; Ackoff, Redesigning the Future; Ackoff, “Why Few Organizations Adopt Systems Thinking.”

[8] Weick, “Theory and Practice in the Real World,” 455.

[9] Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

[10] Burrell and Morgan, Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis: Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life; Schultz and Hatch, “Living with Multiple Paradigms: The Case of Paradigm Interplay in Organizational Culture Studies”; Ritzer, Sociology: A Multiple Paradigm Science.

[11] Hazlett, McAdam, and Gallagher, “Theory Building in Knowledge Management: In Search of Paradigms,” 33.

[12] Clarke-Hill, Li, and Davies, “The Paradox of Co-Operation and Competition in Strategic Alliances: Towards a Multi-Paradigm Approach”; Gioia and Pitre, “Multiparadigm Perspectives on Theory Building”; Lewis and Grimes, “Metatriangulation: Building Theory From Multiple Paradigms”; Lewis and Kelemen, “Multiparadigm Inquiry: Exploring Organizational Pluralism and Paradox.”

[13] Worsley, “50 Years Ago: Cargo Cults of Melanesia.”

[14] Image source: Hall, “Cargo Cult Psychology.”

[15] Native Americans adapted horses into their culture, lifestyle, and war paradigm upon introduction by the Spanish Conquistadors yet developed a different form of applying mounted warfare than that of European practices; the Chinese generated gunpowder centuries before Feudal Europe but never would use it for offensive weapons as the Europeans would later configure it towards. The ‘Cargo Cults’ of Melanesian islanders during and after World War II offer yet another example of methodological variation through different social paradigms in operation.

[16] Hatch, Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives.

[17] Gerhart and Russell, Metaphoric Process: The Creation of Scientific and Religious Understanding, 102.

[18] Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 175.

[19] While earlier philosophical theories existed for centuries such as by Aristarchus of Samos, Philolaus and Hicetas, it would not be until Copernicus’ mathematical modeling would the concept gain a scientific quality that later was validated by Galileo Galilei through telescopic observations.

[20] Gharajedaghi, Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, A Platform for Designing Business Architecture, 8.

[21] Naveh, Schneider, and Challans, The Structure of Operational Revolution: A Prolegomena, 31.

[22] Schultz and Hatch, “Living with Multiple Paradigms: The Case of Paradigm Interplay in Organizational Culture Studies,” 529–32.

[23] Clausewitz, On War, 75.

[24] Schön, “Generative Metaphor: A Perspective on Problem-Setting in Social Policy,” 137–43.

[25] Foucault, The Order of Things.

[26] While it is tempting to state this is a ‘paradigm’, social paradigms do not adequately encompass all the interrelated philosophical, organizational, social, and cultural aspects of this synthetic frame as depicted.

[27] The U.S. Department of Defense in turn inspires and influences most all NATO, Coalition, and Western Industrialized democratic societies to apply a similar war paradigm. See: Paparone, “How We Fight: A Critical Exploration of US Military Doctrine”; Paparone, “Designing Meaning in the Reflective Practice of National Security: Frame Awareness and Frame Innovation”; Zweibelson, “Professional Reading Lists: Thinking Beyond the Books and into Military Paradigmatic Biases.”

[28] Gharajedaghi, Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, A Platform for Designing Business Architecture, 118.

[29] Zweibelson, “The Enemy Gets a Vote and Other Dangers in Military Sense-Making.”

[30] Zweibelson, “Preferring Copies with No Originals: Does the Army Training Strategy Train to Fail?”

[31] Paparone, “How We Fight: A Critical Exploration of US Military Doctrine.”

[32] These concepts combine a range of theorists drawing primarily from: Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 52–54; Searle, The Construction of Social Reality; Schultz and Hatch, “Living with Multiple Paradigms: The Case of Paradigm Interplay in Organizational Culture Studies”; Schön, Displacement of Concepts; Weick, “Reflections: Change Agents As Change Poets- On Reconnecting Flux and Hunches.”

[33] Kelly and Brennan, “Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy,” 8–11; Tsoukas, “The Missing Link: A Transformational View of Metaphors in Organizational Science”; Paparone, “On Metaphors We Are Led By.”

[34] Epistemology is how we define the origin of knowledge within our discipline, field or community of practice. It addresses how we know how knowledge functions as well as the limits of what we believe it to be. See: Hazlett, McAdam, and Gallagher, “Theory Building in Knowledge Management: In Search of Paradigms,” 32.

[35] Paparone, “On Metaphors We Are Led By”; Paparone and Davis Jr., “Exploring Outside the Tropics of Clausewitz: Our Slavish Anchoring to an Archaic Metaphor”; Hatch and Yanow, “Methodology by Metaphor: Ways of Seeing in Painting and Research.”

[36] Advocates of contemporary doctrine might argue ‘complexity theory and systems thinking was clearly incorporated into NATO-OPP and JPP in the last two decades. As this monograph will explain, the military prefers to assimilate certain terms and language from outside concepts but then removes the theoretical and modular constructs so that the borrowed language complies with the existing (and unaltered) legacy frame.

[37] Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 53.

[38] Jaynes, 53.

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