14 May 2018

Enabling Innovation Through Emergent Transformative Design

by :

By Dr. James Greer, Leads Institute


Enabling Innovation Through Emergent Transformative Design

The Challenge

Today’s global environment is increasingly networked and connected, presenting challenges and opportunities that simply didn’t exist a few short years ago. These challenges and opportunities exist in virtually every realm of human activity, whether economic, security, social, political, technological, or informational. Industrial and even Information Age models, processes and heuristics are insufficient to produce the innovative approaches necessary for success and resilience in the global environment of today and the near future.

Emergent Transformative Design

We must therefore design innovative solutions to the emergent problems and opportunities. The foundation for such a new approach to innovation must be learning: learning about environments, about contexts, about opportunities, about solutions, and about what might be solutions. New approaches to individual, team and organizational learning will result in new ways of thinking, new ways of problem solving and ultimately a culture that enables innovation. An emerging approach to such learning is Emergent Transformative Design (ETD). ETD is a learning, thinking and decision making approach that enables innovation by integrating knowledge curation, connectivism, and action learning.

Triple Loop Learning

In designing solutions for any environment, the learning challenges consistently lie in three areas, regardless of our perspective. This “rule of threes” suggests that for any set of challenges we must learn across all three domains: the psycho-motor, cognitive, and affective. This enables us to appreciate the physical, mental and moral in order to think through and innovate the what, why and how of our solutions. This also enables us to learn at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, and to consider physical, virtual and human aspects of our system. The rule of threes requires “triple loop learning.” Triple loop learning enables us to explore rules, principles and insights in order to change behaviors (Loop 1), change our thinking (Loop 2) and change our perceptions (Loop 3).

Knowledge Curation

Knowledge curation is a collaborative approach that progresses through the learning taxonomy to understand the meaning found in new environments and contexts. Knowledge curation must account for generational differences in learning across the design team, recognizing that Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Net Generation individuals have different learning theories, learning practice, learning locations, and reasoning approaches. For example, Net generation learners tend to learn primarily through on-line sources, whereas Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to seek more traditional sources such as books or lecture. Additionally, Net Generation learners are observed to employ abductive reasoning more often than their older counterparts, who were educated to employ deductive and inductive logic.


Connectivism connects learners, planners and decision makers both internal and external to the organization to new sources of knowledge, develop new heuristics and create new understanding. Connectivism begins with the development of a personal learning network by each member of the design team, tailored individually to how they personally learn and their experience, expertise and interests. Innovators on the design team then connect their personal learning networks and additionally connect to other learners, designers and experts, as well as others sources to maximize the learning across the team.

Action Learning

Action learning enables collaborative creation to produce innovative solutions to the problems and opportunities that emerge. Action learning requires mastery of thinking skills to translate learning into action. These thinking skills include: visual thinking, systems thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking, strategic thinking, and detailed thinking. Humans are visual learners and developing visual thinking skills promotes collaboration across the design team. Systems thinking enables us to appreciate complex environments in which we are immersed. Critical thinking allows us to derive the implications of those environments in terms of challenges and opportunities. Creative thinking leads to innovative solutions, while detailed thinking enables us to translate ideas into reality.

Concluding Thoughts

Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “If I only had an hour to save the world I would spend 55 minutes figuring out the problem and 5 minutes solving it.” Said slightly differently he would have spent the overwhelming majority of his time learning about the problem the environment, capabilities, options, and other factors and only when that learning was sufficient would he have moved on to developing a solution.  Innovation is the same in that comprehensive learning up front leads to effective solutions. As a learning approach to innovation, Emergent Transformative Design builds upon the advances in design in the instructional, security, and business sectors, harvesting best practices to create a coherent methodology that can be implemented by any organization to create and exploit an innovative culture.



Dr. James Greer, PhD has more than 40 years of experience leading, developing and managing leader development, training, education and operations for national and multi-national organizations with varying missions. Colonel (Retired) Greer served 30 years in the US Army, commanding organizations up to Brigade level and serving in strategic planning positions on the Joint Staff and in support of the National Security Council. A past Director of the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), he is a student and practitioner of Design in support of planning and decision making. He currently leads the creation of leader development programs focused on development of design, strategic planning, strategic foresight, complex problem solving, crisis management and values-based leadership skills for commercial and private sector organizations. He has facilitated the application of Design to campaign planning for ARCENT, ARNORTH, and USARPAC. Jim has taught Design across the Federal Government, including SOCOM, CYBERCOM, CENTCOM, USARPAC, ARNORTH, ARCENT, multiple Corps, Divisions, Brigades and Battalions, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Canadian Forces Colleges, and at the university and community college levels. He holds a Doctorate in Education, focusing on Army leader development, and Master’s Degrees in Education, Operational Planning and National Security.

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