AOD’s Member of the Week:
Adam Karaoguz is an active-duty prior enlisted United States Naval Special Warfare Officer. Over the course of 25 years of service, he has deployed numerous times to the Middle East, Africa, and other locales. He has a Bachelor of Arts from the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University and a Master of Science in Irregular Warfare from the Naval Postgraduate School.
At present, he is serving as an NROTC Assistant Professor of Naval Science at the University of Rochester in western NY.
Member of the Week:
Please introduce, and tell us about yourself
I am a prior-enlisted active-duty US Naval Special Warfare officer with 24 years of service at present. I am currently serving as an assistant professor of Naval Science at an NROTC unit in western NY. I’m a huge bookworm, and I enjoy writing, running long distances, and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, injuries permitting.
The Archipelago of Design is a metaphor used to describe a collection of islands as a part of a larger community, celebrating our differences, learning from one another and representing our connection in forming a greater network where we share ideas.
If you could picture your own Archipelago island, what would be unique to it?
Hmmm. Physically, it would look something like Dark Island – A big castle, a huge library, and secret passages. Lots of strange little places to explore. Writing fiction is something I’ve been doing since age 10, as well as time spent as both a player and game master for tabletop role-playing games (My Army Special Forces brethren would say writing fiction is not unique for a Frogman, but that’s a topic for another day…) I work hard to read widely and be able to synthesize information – I love to make connections between seemingly unrelated disciplines.
What advice would you give to a younger person hearing or learning about design for the first time and where to start?
Design is such a broad topic. I would recommend this book as a foundational primer. Design can seem esoteric depending on who is prognosticating or pontificating, which can be off-putting for someone looking for clear value and relevance to their daily job/life. Regarding military design, the Australian Aaron “Jacko” Jackson has some excellent work that is illuminating and understandable. I would also point to the well-produced Joint Special Operations University Master Class on YouTube here, featuring voice actor Dr. Ben Zweibelson.
What’s your elevator pitch for how you would describe your model of design?
I have a persistent curiosity to learn and understand, with humility informed by experience, and a relentless desire to create. First, I strive to gain awareness of the ground truth of a problem through investigation and research. Then, I look at it through a succession of perceptual filters/frames to reveal new aspects (The dreaded “ontology” and “epistemology” words). Next, search for metaphors that can highlight the revealed facets, using that to inform a possible approach/course of action/creation. Finally, get feedback and begin the cycle anew. Even putting that down in words makes me realize that the process will be different every time, even structurally/procedurally. Each context will require an individually tailored inquiry.
What are some key differences in your experience in design, compared to other practitioners?
I am fairly new to design as a practitioner, so I’m certain there are many levels of maturity/progression to go for me. I’ve never done design at a staff level – I’ve done mostly scenario development in the schoolhouse and one design-like tactical endeavor I was fortunate to be able to participate in that had real world results. You need a conducive environment for design, both organizationally and environmentally. Design is like any other craft, in that the more you do it, the more you get exposed to the nuances and possibilities of it.
How has design been utilized in the modern day in both professional and personal contexts?
On a personal level, I would point to something like designing an ideal morning routine – something that is unique to an individual’s temperament, age, and context, but with the same objective – to get a human ready for the day and make some incremental improvements towards long-term development. On a global level, the first thing that comes to mind would be something like the iPhone – merging a phone with a computer in a revolutionary fashion, with functionality and aesthetics.
What excites you about the future, and what do you look forward to in any upcoming projects?
Watching my kids grow up is high on that list. Figuring out what I’m going to do when I grow up and retire. Hopefully it involves lots of reading and writing – I’m working on some fiction writing, as well as our Hive Minds project submission.
What is design thinking to you, and what do you think are some common misconceptions?
Design gets a reputation for a bunch of hand waving and magical thinking. I think that skepticism is reasonable initially. To me, it’s a way to synthesize art and science into a middle approach. Design is about taking a complex problem, trying to understand/come to terms/correspondence with it, and then applying knowledge, experience, and creativity in novel ways – challenging boundaries and assumptions as you go. That sounds hand wavy, perhaps. Design thinking is not a panacea, it doesn’t work for everything – for many problems, you don’t need it. Doctrine and checklists are extremely valuable and solve many problems, have saved many lives. Design thinking is useful in a complex or chaotic environment – places where doctrine and checklists fall short. That’s where it can help – out on the chaotic frontier of a given endeavor.
Can you share an example of adversity in your professional, academic, or personal life?
Lots of adversity all over the place, but academically, I struggled with calculus and physics. A US naval officer must pass two semesters of calculus and two of calc-based physics as part of their university requirements. I failed Calculus II the first time I took it and came within a whisker of failing Physics II – which would have delayed my commissioning. It took a great deal of focus and effort to pass these courses for me – lots of tutoring and extra work. Adversity can be unpleasant in the moment, but ultimately it sharpens you as a human.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Hmmm. I think the answer to this question changes according to where you are in life. I feel humbled to have been able to enjoy the career that I’ve had, to have finished various trainings, served in units, completed deployments. I’m fortunate to have a family, and to do my best as a parent and spouse. If I had to nail it down right now, my biggest accomplishment is helping others on their route to where they want to go, whether it’s a school or training or an operational tour. I was fortunate to have many people who helped me along my path, so I would say paying it forward has been my biggest accomplishment.
What has the COVID-19 Pandemic taught you?
So much to unpack there. Humans generally are not super good at numeracy – understanding probability and exponential growth, it doesn’t come naturally to us the way the more emotional, tribal stuff does. Reality is fragmenting into a la carte, niche perceptual bubbles according to your individual information diet. Attention spans are truncating/splintering, and I have no idea what is cyclical change and what is (quasi) permanent. If you can’t watch it in two minutes or read it in three, forget it.
To learn more about Adam, visit https://aodnetwork.ca/author/adamkaraoguz/