9 July 2018

Old Wine into New Bottles? Designing Meaning on Emergent Events and Situations

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By Chris Paparone

The larger philosophical perspective I am advocating is “critical military epistemology” — how we may be critical about how our military institutions conceive of and share meaning; hence, seek to be more creative in how we can generate novel concepts to interpret novel situations.

Therefore, my IMDC 2018 presentation was based in Donald A. Schön’s work, primarily from his books The Reflective Practitioner (1983) and Educating the Reflective Practitioner (1987).  A seminal quote from Schön that helped set the stage for my 15 minute panel presentation at IDMC 2018 was, “When a practitioner becomes aware of his frames, he also becomes aware of the possibility of alternative ways of framing the reality of his practice.”[1]

The importance of this effort is best summarized by the quote from Herbert Blumer’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism (from his book of the same title), “events, and situations do not convey their own meanings, we confer meaning on them.”[2]  I have lately concentrated my effort in the military education community to the learning outcome of “generating innovative concepts” a.k.a. frame innovation.

The intent of design in professional practice is to emancipate oneself from, or at least remain skeptical about, personally- and institutionally- habitualized frames and purposefully diverge into the process of innovating new meanings while facing or anticipating unique events and situations where traditional frames do not seem to work.  Thus, my tentative thesis is, how can military educators coach practitioners in becoming more innovative framers?

My offering is to expose students to constructs such as frame awareness and frame innovation, where we may help them to better design meaning into unfamiliar situations.  We may also enhance their mindfulness of the limits of institutionally-accepted frames and the dangers of frame rigidity.  Frame awareness is the process of instilling a mindfulness of how humans conceptualize events and situations.  Frame rigidity refers to habits of mind that blind us to alternative ideations we may otherwise confer on emergent events and situations.  Schön’s theory of Reflective Practice offers a holistic antidote to frame rigidity and involves coaching the practitioner to design interpretations as they are confronted by unfamiliar events and situations.

To help them design, I spoke to these four methods at the IDMC 2018 panel:

(1) Linguistic Approaches, comprised of (a) onomasiological exposure, and (b) metaphoric reasoning/ displacement of concepts awareness; and,

(2) Relational Approaches focused on (a) multi-paradigmatic “role playing” and (b) paradox awareness or Janusian/thinking-in-opposites.

I have reserved detailed discussion of these methods for a longer article to-be-published in a special, upcoming issue of the Australian Defence Force Journal.  For this blog posting, I will cover (1) (a) — onomasiological exposure — to give the reader a taste from the longer article.

My suggested method of onomasiological exposure involves demonstrating to practitioners how frames are often renamed yet still refer to the same idea.  There is no better example than the idea of frame rigidity which I have already presented.  The idea is not new.  Around 360 BC, the Greek philosopher, Plato, presented his cave allegory in his treatise, The Republic.  He referred to what I label as frame rigidity as “shadows of the objects” speaking figuratively about prisoners locked in a cave, only able to interpret projections of the truth, but not able to see the reality they only partially represent.  The “prisoners” believe that the shadows they see are reality; hence, they name them and over time ossify those, now shared, meanings as an objective truth.  His point is that these beliefs become so concretized in the minds of the “prisoners” that they cannot even fathom conceptualizing reality any other way; that is, they cannot reframe.  Interestingly, modern philosophers and social scientists have created different expressions with virtually the same meaning as Plato intended (see figure below).


Figure 1. Onomasiological Exposure of the Meaning of Frame Rigidity.  These are Different Naming Conventions of Roughly the Same Concept of Plato’s Shadows of the Object[3]

One classroom approach to exposure would be to assign student-practitioners research projects to discover the onomasiological historiography of national security concepts that convey the same basic meanings with different words.  Modern militaries, for example, have a history of operational frames that mean roughly the same thing.  For example the US Marine Corps published its Small Wars Manual in 1940 framing war through the logic of a scaled continuum; that is, if you have small wars then you must also have medium and big wars.  In 1959, Rear Admiral Eccles, while on faculty at the Naval War College, produced a “spectrum of conflict” graphic (Figure 2).[4]  In his 1960 book, The Uncertain Trumpet, General Maxwell Taylor developed a similar idea that led to the Kennedy Administration’s “flexible response” and the establishment of the Green Berets for the “irregular” wars.  The latest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publication Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, makes claims to a “new” framework in this, presumed futuristic, document (see Figure 3). Onomasiologically, the idea of a scaled continuum of conflict has been repeated in several variants in US operational doctrine for almost 80 years.  The point is, are such proclamations really new ideations or are such concepts just “new wine in old bottles“?

                           Figure 2.  The Scaled Continuum Frame from Henry Eccles’ 1959 Book.

Figure 3.  “The Competition Continuum.”[5]

My hope is that you have gained an appreciation toward remedying frame rigidity, helping practitioners become more mindful of onomasiological meanings through a method of exposure.  Presented here is just one idea, onomasiological exposure, of the four I cover in a longer article to-be-published.


Chris Paparone is professor of strategic leadership at the US National Defense University, Eisenhower School of National Security and Resource Strategy, Fort McNair, Washington, DC.


[1]   D.A. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, New York: BasicBooks, 1983, p. 310.

[2]   H. Blumer, Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1969, p. 134.

[3]   Here are the corresponding citations for Figure 1 in the order of author(s) last name and year published.

  1. Plato, The Republic, p. 318.
  2. Peirce, C. S., “On the algebra of logic: A contribution to the philosophy of notation.” American Journal of Mathematics, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1885, pp. 180–196.
  3. Weber, M., The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Trans. Talcott Parsons, New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1958, p. 181 (Original German edition 1921). Weber’s metaphor was referring to machine-like economic and technical rationality. This phrase was also adopted by institutional theorists P. DiMaggio and W. W. Powell, “The iron cage revisited: Collective rationality and institutional isomorphism in organizational fields,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 48, No. 2, 1983, pp. 147-60.
  4. Piaget, J., Judgment and Reasoning in the Child, London: Routledge & Kegan Pau, 1928 (original French edition 1923).
  5. Lukács, G., History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, Vol. 215, Boston: MIT Press, 1971, p. 83.
  6. Mannheim, K. Ideology and Utopia. Routledge, 1936.
  7. Sherif, M., The Psychology of Social Norms. Oxford, England: Harper, 1936.
  8. War Department, Army Air Forces Field Manual 1-75, Combat Orders, Washington DC, 1942: 29. According to this manual, SOPs ensure “making many of the activities…automatic…” (emphasis added).
  9. Merton, R.K., “The self-fulfilling prophecy,” The Antioch Review, 8, No. 2, 1948, pp. 193-210.
  10. Parsons, T. & E. Shils (Eds.), Toward a General Theory of Action, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1951: p. 4.
  11. Austin, J.L., How to Do Things with Words, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957.
  12. Kuhn, T.S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  13. Stinchcombe, A.L. and J.G. March, “Social structure and organizations,” Handbook of Organizations 7, 1965, pp. 142-193.
  14. Argyris, C., Increasing Leadership Effectiveness, New York, John Wiley, 1976.
  15. Johnson-Laird, Philip N., “Mental models in cognitive science,” Cognitive Science 4(1) (1980): 71-115. See also Johnson-Laird, Philip N. “The history of mental models” in the Psychology of Reasoning: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives (2004): 179-212.
  16. Janis, I.L. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.
  17. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner: 21.
  18. Perrow, C.P., Complex Organizations – A Critical Essay, Glenview, IL, 1986.
  19. Bourdieu, P., The Logic of Practice, Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 1994.
  20. Heifetz, R.A., Leadership Without Easy Answers, Harvard University Press, 1994.
  21. March, J.G., A Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen, New York: The Free Press, 1994.
  22. Schön and Rein, Frame reflection, p. 33.
  23. Weick, K.E., Sensemaking in Organizations, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995, pp. 71-75.
  24. Bozeman, B. Bureaucracy and Red Tape, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2000, p. 12.
  25. Snowden, D.J., & M.E. Boone, “A leader’s framework for decision making,” Harvard Business Review, Vol 85, No. 11, 2007, p. 69.
  26. Boxenbaum, E. and L. Rouleau, “New knowledge products as bricolage: Metaphors and scripts in organization theory,” Academy of Management Review 36, No. 2, 2011, pp. 272-296.

[4]   H. Eccles, Logistics in the National Defense, republished in Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication 12-14: 16.  Accessed online February 27, 2018 from

[5]   Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning, Washington DC,March 16, 2018, p. 8.  Accessed online May 16, 2018 from





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