Security Design Techniques, Methods and Facilitation Fundamentals: Using DIXIT Cards for Divergence Acceleration!by : Ben Zweibelson
Original blog post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/security-design-techniques-methods-and-facilitation-fundamentals-using-dixit-cards-for-divergence-f02142d840f5
Ignoring the contradictory nature of organisations may be dysfunctional for managers and researchers. Many theories do not consider contradictory elements- they simply assume away one of the competing elements. This may lead to dysfunction… Theories of congruence have an order bias. Synthesis is a desirable but not required in organisations. Achieving a perfect fit or congruence may lead to a tensionless state in which the system becomes static. Paradox need not be always resolved. Paradoxes are paradoxical… they are both confusing and understandable, common and surprising.
– Colin Clarke-Hill, Huaning Li & Barry Davies
Planning is associated with convergent knowledge in that it involves a reasoned approach to excluding other possible courses of action.
– Christopher Paparone
The shock and strangeness of confronting a different cultural paradigm reveals the exotic chaos of order when we reach outside the conventions and codes that define western perceptions of the cosmos…. It is out of this shock, confusion and chaos that a new paradigm of understanding can be allowed to gradually emerge.
– Robert Chia
This is the first part of a new Medium series where I present techniques, methods and facilitation fundamentals for systemic design with security forces on the wicked topics of defense, war and military transformation. In this case study, I will illustrate the thesis that ideation, improvisation, experimentation and creativity requires a shift from convergent thinking to that of divergence. This is largely a tacit skill for design facilitators, built up over years of influencing and informing design teams to break away from set practices and institutionalized belief systems. It is often a subjective journey where each designer needing a path to diverge must overcome distinct and unique conceptual barriers. However- there are some valuable heuristic aids that design facilitators might apply to create short cuts to quality divergence in a majority of students.
In the opening quotes, Clarke-Hill et. al is first cited on the prominence of paradox in complex, dynamic system contexts. Reality is complex in terms of a first order where something such as a hurricane might be heading toward the Florida peninsula threatening devastation. The hurricane itself is a complex system and unpredictable weather phenomenon; the ‘spaghetti charts’ that torment most hurricane-prone areas seem akin to placing bets on a sporting event until the system is much closer to striking landfall. Yet humans collectively construct a second order of complexity atop this first natural order of reality- one complete with paradox and illustrated by the strange shopping panics such as when supplies of toilet paper and beer vanish in the week leading up to a possible hurricane impact. We humans are complex creatures, yet we tend to seek to order reality in an illusion of stability, one where we purposely ignore or marginalize paradoxes so that we can imagine a stable world where our convergent thinking practices make sense and work.
Thus, the default setting for most all people is to converge. Our societies crave order, structure, linear causality, ends-ways-means logic, and a manner in which we might engage in more non-thinking so that we can divert our attention to other things as the world advances like a steady escalator through time and space. For modern militaries, we employ vast tombs of doctrine, standardized terminology, and elaborate decision-making methodologies (the Joint Planning Process, the NATO Operational Planning Process, the Military Decision-Making Process, the Marine Corps Planning Process, and so on) that all share the same foundational convergent processes. Paparone in the second opening quote confirms this endeavor because the act of eliminating alternatives is intended to clarify and illuminate what is expected to be the best decision to enact the optimal solution to whatever problem we have identified standing in our path. We seek above all else to optimize warfighting, refining from past experiences with the assumption they must continue their relevance into tomorrow’s war.
Complexity theorist Russell Ackoff wrote extensively on this particular mode of framing ‘problems’, and how this overemphasis on ‘problem-solution’ or systematic logic (input leads to output; A plus B must lead to C) will often lead us to disaster as David Snowden, another prominent complexity theorist offers with his Cynefin Framework of systems. He provides a useful model on how orienting our decision-making toward simplistic systems (the only ones were optimized solutions exist) positions us to cascade into chaos. This is due to how complex reality resists over-simplification and dependence on convergent thinking for anything beyond institutionalized patterns of repetitive logic. Thinking about tomorrow using yesterday’s lessons only will work if tomorrow does match; complex systems are emergent and rarely will tomorrow be a proper extension of yesterday. Convergent thinking prepares an institution to predict tomorrow using established practices, models and belief systems so that one can eliminate all but the most linear, systematic, and reverse-engineered logics (ends-ways-means) so that we might continue to maintain this illusion of order, stability and control.
The third opening quote from postmodern philosopher Chia presents chaos in a less mainstream framework. We tend to fear chaos and consider it wildly destructive, dangerous and something to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps this is true, if only because Snowden accurately points out that most organizations enter into chaos by falling off the cliff of simplicity, where over-dependence on convergent thinking and optimized practices create massive gaps in our understanding. Chia instead views chaos in a divergent thinking framework that is the foundation to design thinking and practice. We simply cannot do anything novel or unique without first diverging from the established and institutionalized. Innovation is off limits for those seeking it through convergent mode of thinking. What this ultimately means is that when a military force prioritizes ‘innovation’ in their vision statement or strategic purpose as a warfighter organization, they must consider that this form of thinking cannot be accomplished by any indoctrinated planning methods. The models, theories, language and metaphoric devices within modern military planning generally prevent such divergent thinking since they prioritize convergence toward increased efficiencies, repetition, prediction and analytical optimization.
Shifting from Convergent Thinking to Divergent Thinking:
Divergent thinking has no basis in historic precedent; it becomes the antithesis of legacy frameworks in this regard. Deviation and novel experimentation orient away from the known-knowns; they seek out beyond the institutional limits and into the wilderness where there are no historic records. Thus, thinking divergently quickly takes on a flavor of fiction, fantasy, as well as failure in that the basis of designing a diverse range of prototypes (whether conceptual or tangible) must include a wide range of failed attempts. Failure within the convergent minded institution is a filthy word- one that can get you fired, demoted or outcast.
Yet in design and the process of any act of innovation, failure is perhaps the key ingredient and one that designers must be highly sensitive toward moving towards instead of away from. These failures relate to divergence in that convergent thinking (again, our default setting to extend the successful lessons of yesterday) work to take things that worked (not failed) and repeat them in a form that still possesses the potentiality of success, and thus remains convergent. This is wickedly hard to break people out of, with military forces perhaps being some of the most dependent upon convergent practices and logics of most modern professions. This is of course for good reason; the need for uniformity, repetition, prediction, control and reliability/efficiency is readily apparent in war contexts. Yet for innovation to occur, one must shift from converging to diverging.
The link between innovation and divergent thinking as well as the need to prototype many diverse options is well established in various disciplines including strategy but also from less expected areas such as artificial intelligence research and robotics as well as design theory and organizational studies. Design theorists have for decades championed the need for thinking outside of established lines, yet failure is something militaries have built up significant antibodies toward. The ‘zero defect’ mentality of modern militaries spans decades as well- and prominent features of this include the ‘up or out’ promotion process, much of the contemporary UCMJ structure with retention, as well as how militaries evaluate performance based on adherence to established doctrine, best practices, and codified patterns of behavior. In military training centers, evaluators critique those being evaluated with “give us three sustains and three improves” where both metrics orient exclusively in how convergent the performer was with respect to indoctrinated rules, behaviors, methods or comparisons to known past examples of success. Innovating within this framework is difficult, with the risks of not conforming/converging high.
Most basic design students will not at first realize this dependency on convergent thinking, and there are myriad ways to bring this to their attention (cite Jaws, puzzles, paper roll). Often, facilitators must encourage them to “drop their tools” both literally and figuratively. One excellent example can be found in the Karl Weick essays on the Mann Gulch smokejumper disaster in 1949. The firefighter team upon airborne insertion suddenly faced a chaotic and deadly change in wind and topography where the fire turned into a racing wall of death pushing them up the side of a steep hill. The trained smokejumpers watched as their foreman innovated on the spot and invented the ‘escape fire’ technique by burning combustibles in front of him and laying down in it, screaming for the men to join him. Trapped in convergent thinking and established training, the men ignored the innovative idea (unable to drop conceptual tools) and instead attempted to outrun the fire up the hill. Along the way, they still carried their gear (unable to drop their actual tools) due in part to identity and culture; a fleeing man without his firefighting gear was no longer a firefighter. Thirteen men died along that stretch of the hill, and as a case study it presents a powerful case for how institutionalized thinking in convergent processes can strengthen the organization but also make it increasingly unable to think divergently or innovate when they most need to.
Often, military students in design facilitation appear to hit this very same roadblock where one can see them clinging to their conceptual tools. In whiteboard collaboration activities this becomes pronounced when military design teams stick with words on the board, usually limited to the doctrinal terminology such as writing out problem statements and mission statements complete with proper language and definitions. They may draw on the board any of the wide range of established military models such as a ‘center of gravity’ analysis, or a SWOT analysis, lines of effort linked to a desired end-state, as well as breaking things into categorization models such as DIME, PMESSI-PT, or any host of established military heuristic aids for convergent thinking. A first technique for design facilitators to do is to shift the team from words to pictures. Restricting them from using words on the board will in essence force them away from some convergent thinking and open up the door for initial divergent thinking. That said, this first step often becomes a camouflage of the still lingering institutionalized convergence into those first drawings.
Weick frames the tension between convergent, institutionally oriented (conserving, preserving, ritualizing) thinking and that of divergent ideation, experimentation and disruption as thus: “knowledge involves acquiring. Wisdom involves dropping.” He is drawing from Lao Tzu (or Laozi), the ancient Chinese philosopher who stated: “In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired; in pursuit of wisdom, every day something is dropped.”In order to open the mind (and an organization composed of minds) to thinking outside of established norms and limits, we must be able to diverge intentionally and reflectively so that we realize the convergence of the institution (why we do as we do), so that we might explore that which we could not consider in the first place. Analytical reasoning alone forces systematic logic (clear input linked causally to known output; predictable and formulaic) and an overemphasis on description; the collection of data with the expectation that acquiring sufficient information over time will culminate in explanation. Convergence does not lead to wisdom; it only leads to reinforcing the legacy frame so that one can spiral into a descriptive loop (analysis paralysis).
Breaking Away from Convergence: Enter the DIXIT Cards
The first drawings after the facilitator restricts students from using their words and favorite military constructs will likely be crude mimicry of those same concepts. Instead of a COG analysis quadrant with critical capabilities, requirements and vulnerabilities- we might see a drawing that presents the ideas in a picture that merely converts the words into symbols. This is still convergent thinking, and students will be unable to move toward innovation without diverging further. This is where the DIXIT cards come into play as a quick and useful technique for design facilitators.
The DIXIT cards are from a French card game where the term itself is Latin for “he/she/it said” and is a wonderful tool for divergent thinking stimulation. The game itself centers around a deck of cards that all have abstract, often metaphysical themed images that are random, even dream-like and devoid of any specific details such as names, words or numbers. They are largely context agnostic- in that a picture might mean nearly anything, making them a fantastic enabling device to spawn divergent thinking. The game was introduced in 2008 and has won awards, but is largely known in Europe and is not readily recognized in America.
I first encountered DIXIT cards with my military design team in Poland in 2016 when providing systemic design education to the Polish armed forces in Warsaw. Our design team pushed the various Polish teams to draw and wipe their boards as we progressed them toward divergent thinking during the two weeks we were facilitating them. Many students including the Polish would complain “I cannot draw” or “I am not creative” as conceptual barriers to their design attempts. One morning we walked into one of the design student team rooms and found that one Polish student had brought in a stack of DIXIT cards from his home. He had played the actual game (it includes a board and pieces that are not relevant here) with his children, and wanted to show the pictures to his team to help stimulate ideas.
The cards were laid out on one of the tables and as the students looked at them, they began placing some on the white boards initially as substitutions for drawings and to foster discussion. Our faculty marveled at the images and after some time, we began taking handfuls of the cards into other design team rooms to experiment with ideation and divergent thinking. Previously, when a student told me they were stuck and “could not think of any metaphor or way to articulate the thing inside their head”- I would encourage them to free associate, or to rapidly prototype a wide range of concepts. The human-centered design methodology accomplishes this with Post-It notes activities where designers can quickly fill entire walls with hundreds of colorful notes with different ideas written on them. As we use a drawing emphasis with military students to take away their military terminology/words and doctrine, the Post-It note word prototyping is not as useful for our security needs. The DIXIT cards become a powerful device for generating metaphoric devices to diverge design concepts away from the institutional norms.
Handing a design student either a handful of cards, or offering them to select a card randomly (they cannot see the images for the best selection effect) puts an abstract image in their possession for the next step. Now, the facilitator encourages them to attempt to draw their idea by using inspiration from the DIXIT card. The cards are themselves so abstract, random and whimsical that nearly any design concept can be morphed into diverging with the DIXIT card image. Note- the DIXIT card is not a direct substitution for the designer’s idea or image; it is a stimulation; a catalyst; it supports ideation and creative transformation of the ill-structured idea being conceptualized into something that can become an artifact on the white board or in a written design narrative.
Design students when introduced to the DIXIT cards will, once the initial skepticism wears off, begin to use them to think divergently and enable them to articulate their design concepts in increasingly abstract, divergent paths that become further removed from the first convergent, conventional and institutionally recognizable efforts. There are many examples offered below as well as a couple of facilitator techniques to offer. One useful group divergence technique is to give a group of designers one random DIXIT card when they all are struggling to come up with a group design concept, or if they cannot agree on an idea or way to articulate/depict it.
The facilitator can tell each of them that they have 15 minutes to individually use their DIXIT card and draw their own idea on the board or on paper. They also need to be instructed not to share their card or reveal their drawing to any other member during the 15 minute ideation period. Each design team member will do this, and at the end of the 15 minutes, the team needs to share their ideas to the group. What happens here is the team has shifted to prototyping a wide range of ideas that, by nature of the abstract and random DIXIT cards, will be entirely divergent and usually quite provocative to the team during the back-brief. I have seen a team transform in 30 minutes from being downcast and frustrated into a highly energized, excited and motivated design team just with this DIXIT technique. If you listen in but remain outside the group so that you do not influence their discussion, as each student reveals their drawing and then the DIXIT card that inspired it, you probably will hear excitement and even shock or that all important “ah-ha!” moment when the design magic happens. Often times, the team will gravitate toward one or perhaps two DIXIT inspired drawings, and that might become the necessary divergent step that the team required to break out of the institutionalized constraints.
Below are a series of real-world DIXIT card facilitation examples from security force design facilitations. I will provide some context to each of the images to demonstrate the range of divergence possible through just carrying a stack of cards as a design facilitator. Note- I have found in practice that it is best to bring these cards out later in a facilitation session, often on day 2 or whenever you tend to see designers “get stuck.” It can be used at the onset of a design facilitation, but you may inadvertently halt or divert the divergence process by either preemptively halting any natural divergent thinking by the designers, or you might inadvertently make them dependent on DIXIT cards (someone else’s images and imagination) instead of having them come up with concepts and aid them in free association of divergent paths to better illustrate or metaphorically correlate their concepts into working design narratives. Note- you might be able to use other cards or images; but we have experimented and found that the DIXIT cards are abstract enough that they really generate divergent thinking with suggestive images that are ambiguous enough not to steer the designer to their own predetermined destinations.
The above image is common to how military design students will incorporate the DIXIT images into their design narratives, sometimes using the card as an illustration, or placing the card as the ‘stepping stone’ for how they then got to the ideas on the board.
The above image is that of a realized design deliverable by a group where they have placed a range of DIXIT cards they were inspired by and through this process, came up with their design drawing and overarching concept. This is how DIXIT imagery can aid as stepping stones for the ideation process to move the design team away from recycling convergent and institutionalized ideas.
This design team used a host of design artifacts and materials such as LEGOs for 3D conceptualization, Post-It Notes with words, and the dIXIT cards along with other imagery from their own Internet searches to develop their design discussion. This represents one of the in-between stages of design prototyping as they moved toward realizing their design deliverable.
This design team placed DIXIT cards into their final presentation that they opted to render into a PowerPoint presentation to the design strategic sponsor. The team used the cards and their own written narratives to set up what they saw as a useful way to explain the legacy system (how things were, what the problem or challenge is today) and then used some of the cards to help illustrate a desired future through the security design approach.
The above image shows what often occurs early in the DIXIT application; students will tape or affix cards to their words- this is an early stage of divergence and ideation as the students here have not yet let go of their favorite tools (words, terminology, doctrine, institutional models and methodologies) and are attempting to merge the abstraction in the DIXIT images to their convergent thinking (the lists of terms and mission-related concepts). A facilitator might encourage this team to “erase the board” and re-draw using no words. Instead, challenge them to take a DIXIT card and use that to inform their new drawing where they use metaphoric devices to articulate what their words here showed… but in a novel way that is different (divergent). Ideally- a design team of 5–8 people could all do this independently, and the team would generate 5–8 prototypes to then share and discuss.
This last image shows a design student referring to the DIXIT card that they received in a facilitation exercise that inspired them to redesign the team’s overarching design concept. During the team’s final presentation to the strategic design sponsor, the student is discussing the image and how in this case it inspired them to change the ‘multiple futures’ construct toward a different way of thinking about various diverging futures for a security challenge.
In closing- there are always certain design tools and techniques that are low cost with high payoff. Post-It notes, dry erase markers, and 3D sculpture tools like LEGOs are modern design facilitation staples. I hope that this post introduces a new one that can generate rapid ideation and divergent thinking just from a stack of whimsical, abstract cards from a lesser known French board game. Designers adapt and innovate by their overarching nature to transform… it makes sense that some useful facilitation tools will come from unusual sources as well!
Stay tuned for new articles in this series where I will introduce many more techniques, tools and models that support security design praxis. Subscribe to this Medium profile, and consider following me on Twitter as well as LinkedIn for more design content.
 Colin Clarke-Hill, Huaning Li, and Barry Davies, “The Paradox of Co-Operation and Competition in Strategic Alliances: Towards a Multi-Paradigm Approach,” Management Research News 26, no. 1 (2003): 8.
 Christopher Paparone, “Beyond Ends-Based Rationality: A Quad-Conceptual View of Strategic Reasoning for Professional Military Education,” Research Gate, May 16, 2016, 316.
 Robert Chia, “Teaching Paradigm Shifting in Management Education: University Business Schools and the Entrepreneurial Imagination,” Journal of Management Studies 33, no. 4 (July 1996): 423.
 Robert Chia, “In Praise of Strategic Indirection: An Essay of Oblique Ways of Responding,” M@n@gement 16, no. 5 (2013): 667–79; Henry Mintzberg, “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning,” Harvard Business Review, February 1994, 107–14; Antoine Bousquet and Simon Curtis, “Beyond Models and Metaphors: Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking and International Relations,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs24, no. 1 (2011): 43–62; Haridimos Tsoukas and Mary Jo Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity,” Human Relations 54, no. 8 (August 2001): 979–1013.
 Russell Ackoff, “On the Use of Models in Corporate Planning,” Strategic Management Journal 2, no. 4 (December 1981): 353–59; Russell Ackoff, “Unsolved Problems in Problem Solving,” Operational Research Society 13, no. 1 (March 1962): 1–11; Russell Ackoff, Redesigning the Future (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1974).
 David Snowden, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, November 2007, 1–14; David Snowden, “The Cynefin Framework,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oz366X0-8; David Snowden, Dr. David Snowden IMDC Lecture: “The Application of the Cynefin Framework in Military Design,” mp3 (Budapest, Hungary, 2020), audio recording from live event.
 Tsoukas and Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity”; Bousquet and Curtis, “Beyond Models and Metaphors: Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking and International Relations”; Jeff Conklin, “Wicked Problems and Social Complexity,” in Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems (CogNexus Institute, 2008), http://www.cognexus.org; Eric Dent, “Complexity Science: A Worldview Shift,” Emergence 1, no. 4 (1999): 5–19.
 Shimon Naveh, Jim Schneider, and Timothy Challans, The Structure of Operational Revolution: A Prolegomena, A Product of the Center for the Application of Design (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Booz Allen Hamilton, 2009); Shimon Naveh, “The Australian SOD Expedition: A Report on Operational Learning” (Unpublished manuscript, December 2010); Ofra Graicer, “Self Disruption: Seizing the High Ground of Systemic Operational Design (SOD),” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 17, no. 4 (June 2017): 21–37.
 Robert Chia and Robin Holt, Strategy without Design: The Silent Efficacy of Indirect Action (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Robert Chia, “A ‘Rhizomic’ Model of Organizational Change and Transformation: Perspective from a Metaphysics of Change,” British Journal of Management 10 (1999): 209–27.
 Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2015).
 Jean-Pierre Protzen and David Harris, The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning (New York: Routledge, 2010); Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences 4 (1973): 155–69; Victor Papanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971); Richard Buchanan, “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking,” Design Issues 8, no. 2 (Spring 1992): 5–21.
 Tsoukas and Hatch, “Complex Thinking, Complex Practice: The Case for a Narrative Approach to Organizational Complexity”; Mary Jo Hatch and Dvora Yanow, “Methodology by Metaphor: Ways of Seeing in Painting and Research,” Organization Studies 29, no. 1 (2008): 23–44; Haridimos Tsoukas, “Analogical Reasoning and Knowledge Generation in Organizational Theory,” Organizational Studies 14, no. 3 (1993): 323–46; Haridimos Tsoukas, “A Dialogical Approach to the Creation of New Knowledge in Organizations,” Organization Science 20, no. 6 (December 2009): 941–57.
 Ben Zweibelson, “Preferring Copies with No Originals: Does the Army Training Strategy Train to Fail?,” Military Review XCIV, no. 1 (February 2014): 15–25.
 Karl Weick, “The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster,” Administrative Science Quarterly 38, no. 4 (1993): 628–52; Karl Weick, “Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies,” Administrative Science Quarterly 41 (1996): 301–13.
 Karl Weick, “Drop Your Tools: On Reconfiguring Management Education,” in Keynote Address (33rd annual Organizational Behavior Teaching Conference, Rochester, New York, 2006), 15, https://iarss.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/drop_your_tools.pdf.
 Weick, 5.
 I have no stake in DIXIT cards or their company, nor do I have any financial motives; this specific card game is unique in the images they have and this adaptation is outside of the game instructions.