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UNPACKING: "Second Generation Military Design"

Updated: Mar 3

Peer Review Series: Review #3 of 10:

By chance we saw reference to this podcast on LinkedIn some time ago and decided to include it in this peer review series due to it being so different from much of the conversations underway on-line around this subject of Design Thinking.

The challenge of defining what Design Thinking is, or needs to become in the context of high complexity comes up early in this podcast and the dialogue around those definitions is worth the listen.

In this series we are asking this question: Is this podcast adding to the clarity or the confusion around this subject of Design Thinking? Lets take a listen and then read the reviews. 

NextD Peer Review Contributors: Charlie Black, Jeanine Guido, Peter Jones, Wolfgang Jonas, Tiiu Poldma, Dave Snowden, Fabian Szulanski, GK VanPatter.

To listen to this podcast go here:


Charlie Black:

First and foremost I must mention that I have personally met most of the Podcast participants. I have also previously taught design thinking concepts with Ben Z to the special operations community.  We share a common desire to bring design methods to the military.   

To answer the key question upfront - this Podcast contributes to clarifying various design interpretations and methodologies applied within the military context.  The facilitator and the three core participants focus much of the discussion about Ben’s assertion that to more effectively deal with increasingly complex challenges the military must advance to 2nd Generation design.  What follows are a series of short discussions about the introduction of design to Western militaries and their view on shortfalls and challenges. 

This Podcast is most useful for the military audience and design practitioners collaborating with military entities.   There is a degree of tacit knowledge that underpins much of the rich discussion that will be absent from listeners unfamiliar with the military eco-system. The participants in this podcast have requisite personal and professional experiences to make valid assumptions and assertions as it relates to acceptance and interpretation of design by the military.  To that end, they did avoid overuse of military jargon that enhanced clarity and intent. 

The challenge as mentioned by the moderator is how to best organize groups around perceived problems and move in a common direction to achieve a collective goal.  The internal system is equally as difficult as the external. The introduction of design related approaches is in some measure a response to ever increasing rates of change and realization that traditional institutional ways are insufficient.  

The group framed 1st Generation design as a grouping of various methodologies, each with a specific purpose or application in mind.  Ben offers some valid descriptive differences and commonalities. I’d goes further to assert that this grouping of 1st Generation approaches are often underpinned by linear and convergent thinking or what some might frame as  downstream assumption based methods. Upon deeper examination one could make reasonable arguments that not all of the existing military methods fit the groups loose definition for 1st Generation design. In fact, the many differences between various methodologies is revealed the practice of change making or lack thereof. 

There is not a detailed discussion about the range of existing methodologies that are used within the military that in my opinion inaccurately bins them as similar in method.  As acknowledged by the participants, there is no one design. There is in fact, a diversity of methodologies types and applicable scale and purpose. One must be cautious to not discount the benefits of a particular methodology if applied within the appropriate context. However, one should never mischaracterize an assumption based method for upstream or open method. Each methodology has a purpose and can contribute to the community of practice. 

The key assertion of the podcast is that the existing Design Thinking methodologies employed by the military system are insufficient for the challenges it confronts. I believe many of the methods are sound and question the application in context.  One must also consider that the breadth and depth of adoption of all any and all design and creative problem solving methodologies is extremely limited. The entire system (the military) is “designed” to replicate certain behaviors and does not question the efficacy of itself, its ideas or approaches. Overall useful Podcast. 

Jeanine Guido:

I actually found this podcast quite interesting for several reasons:

1)    It recognizes the limitations of industrial-age structures which no longer serve us.

2)    It recognizes our education system is not providing and/or preparing people for the 21st century.

3)    It recognizes that in today’s world, their convergent and risk avoidance modus operandi is no longer applicable and are looking for ways to become more divergent.

Listening to this podcast brought to mind David Snowden’s theories on Complexity management and; in fact, I found it to be a good setup for the application of his Cynefin framework which has no relation to [Conventional] Design Thinking (imho).

Although they call it ‘second generation design,’ and there was a lot of terms I didn’t quite get fully, I think the conversation was rich in illustrating the need for a myriad of methods to deal with the complexity of the problems the military is faced with.

They realize a linear process type of approach is not serving them well and a recognition that the nature of their problems has changed drastically and continues to change which requires different approaches, it requires them to become adaptable to a world of continuous unknowns. I wish they had talked more specifically about the need for sensemaking as I integrate this into my own work.

I found the conversation about General McChrystal quite illuminating in understanding what is happening. Half way through the podcast, they refer to General Stanley McChrystal’s book, Teams of Teams.

In this book, General McChrystal talks about how he was trained to be a ‘chess master,’ as such, he was to function in a world where problems have been framed within constraints that you have been provided. He noted that Iraq was totally different because the ‘rules’ of the game were not defined and everything kept on changing so the ‘rules’ were not helpful; in fact, the problems they were dealing with were what we consider ‘wicked problems’, you tackle one and another one you didn’t know existed comes up and so on.

The challenge to McChrystal was:

As a planner, "how do you move large organizations in one common direction?"

As a planner, his role was to work with his staff to create stability amid the chaos in order to do things as a group and quickly. They had to synchronize and integrate the different functions across time and space. The chaos stemmed from a new landscape where relationships were constantly changing and the network he was trying to combat was constantly morphing. His aha moment came when he realized he needed a different approach, a more flexible one; he needed to become a ‘constant gardener.’ He realized he needed to tend to a network that had a shared-consciousness and he had to enable, what he called, ‘decentralized empowered executions’ versus coming up with a perfect plan with perfect measures and success metrics.

McChrystal realized he had two kinds of problems. A complicated problem and a complex problem. Complicated problems, managed by objectives, work well when you have Cartesian mindsets where things are predictable and six sigma methods work well to achieve efficiencies. But complex problems require adaptation; a network rather than a strategy is more suitable because of the many layers, networks require a process of management by discovery. As a leader you have to be able to do both. Very similar to the theory of being in the balcony and the floor at the same time.

McChrystal’s situation is no different from the one large corporations are facing today with the difference that the risk in the military is the loss of human lives and the risk in a corporation is extinction. This is complexity at every level with multi-skill problems that require different mindsets, education, metrics, goals, systems, and structures.

I think the advocates for Design in this podcast made a case for the need to infuse creativity and divergent thinking into a system that can no longer respond to the issues they are facing. Whether it is called 1st or 2nd generation Design or Design Thinking, they recognize the value of it and the need for it. I believe they understand that the nature of their problems is so complex, they actually need a combination of tools/methods to help them address not only creativity and divergent thinking but complexity and innovation as well. 

Wolfgang Jonas:

Listening to these guys, always keeping the POTUS and commander-in-chief and his behavior and awful rhetoric in mind, causes me physical discomfort, so I could only stand it until minute 14. I suspect that in the rest of the time will be conveyed what Donald Rumsfeld said much more concisely in a few words in 2006:


So, in my humble opinion this podcast document does not contribute to clarity, but rather to confusion regarding Design Thinking.

Peter Jones:

The development of Design Thinking and methods in institutional territories is something I have been following for about a decade and see a groundswell building. I note this podcast doesn’t have yet even a thousand listens, in over two years, so it may not be spreading beyond its immediate military discourse community. To me this means it is still largely an insider’s discussion, so our reflections are quite unusual, as we are informed outsiders, looking in.

I find the discussants show a rather deep understanding of the contexts of design applications in the military planning and operational domains. They have real experience and knowledge in the domain, more than they would in design, so their points have weight and depth.

As design consultants we might be surprised that generally non-design trained thinkers in an unfamiliar domain might advance such a coherent case for design approaches and methods in these contexts. The podcasted discussion is rendered understandable and meaningful to non-military listeners by its absence of design jargon (instead there are military acronyms that are expected to be understood by the audience). 

What strikes my listening primarily here is that they have serious intent to develop the value of design, they are truly invested in the problem of value adoption and have skin in the game (their reputations are on the line). These are not (really) multidisciplinary design advisors that could also work in healthcare or education – they know their own domain well.

What I’m NOT hearing - what’s refreshing - is the lack of design promotion, the absence of design-led ideology (such as we might hear in a current design podcast). Design leaders in the US Army, Canadian Forces, and Australia (I take it) are wrestling with the demand to change mindsets within a continuing traditional command and control organization. 

They frame “op” or operational design (considered the first generation) as a promising methodology that could improve military effectiveness in complex problem areas such as navigating security among extremism. After all, canonical doctrine has arguably not performed well in these contexts. But then neither has operational design thinking I or Systemic Op Design (is that II?). 

Shimon Naveh (who is cited in many of the related articles around the podcast) was an originator of advanced design thinking in military circles. He advocated a systemic approach to operational design (or SOD), and used very unconventional training methods.

He would be recognizable as a highly intuitive and brilliant theorist – but you can find some controversy in the literature (and experience) as to the effectiveness of SOD in practice. Israel’s setback in the 2006 Lebanese conflict is the case referred to, when these techniques were (thought to have been) put in practice at the front lines. When I see the apparent advancement of design conceptualization, I do wonder whether it has become too philosophical, too intellectual.

Design Thinking can be a highly abstract exercise, one that yields the inherent satisfaction of collaborative ideation and conceptual argumentation toward apparently high-level ends. However, design itself, the “small d” of design making, demands a pragmatic orientation to re-imagining and improving the interfaces and services in the world for which we are responsible.

My sense is that the elevation of Design Thinking to a kind of senior reasoning capability could further diminish the ability to innovate and improvise the designable options that manifest in everyday military operational settings, as well as in planning. Are they at risk of repeating the conceptual overreach of Naveh from over 10 years ago? (See the 2009 DTIC article The Case Against Systemic Operational Design)

Design Thinking, however, has a much more challenging mandate than the previous organizational missions of Quality or Collaboration.

These podcasters are promoting it as a change in problem solving and reasoning about complexity and right action in the face of various types of complex situations. Design Thinking appears to be part of the development of new epistemologies ( See http://militaryepistemology.com) that challenge the way military planning and operations are conducted. These changes will be a long time in coming, since military organizing has a very long-standing (“Lindy” as Taleb would say) tradition.

The systemic approach goes back to Sun Tzu. We still organize territorial control like the Romans. Napoleon’s methods and Clausewitz are classical strategy, not ancient. So who are the ur-Design Thinkers the leadership could follow?

However, this being an exercise within the academies and at the middle-levels of influence, will it have staying power? Can its proponents show demonstrable operational benefits? How would such organizational effectiveness be demonstrated? Can Design Thinking become part of doctrine or will that ruin its creative impact? Will it instead always be in creative tension with doctrine and checklists? Then who gets to decide, especially in a high-stakes setting, which problem solving approach is employed?

Back to the podcast. 

We should not be too astonished by the high level of intellectual discussion. They are not speaking about Design Thinking as a management fad, as people in corporate worlds often tend to do. They do not need to “sell up.”

I have seen in my own experience with the US Air Force Research Lab, and other military discourses, the pragmatic undertaking of many promising methodologies, that are adopted by pioneering groups within the enormous military structure.

As with Design Thinking, they are given space to be trialed and evolved to determine their effectiveness and fit to purpose. I have designed and led development of some of these, including adaptive planning, collaborative foresight, office automation networking, multi-level graphical simulation for logistics.

I’ve worked with teams to integrate advanced project management and quality back in the 90’s, methodologies that were extremely successful in their adoption. So the challenge of defining the space of Design Thinking II in Anglo-American military is taken seriously. This is the state of the art in this organizational domain. 

Yet, a lot of the discussion frames Design Thinking as a methodology believed well suited for complex problem types, and they make the distinction between complicated and complex, as canonical types.

What is missing is any real depth in then approaching complexity with systems thinking, or a felicitous integration of systems concepts with design methods, as in systemic design. Several of the leading thinkers in military epistemology raise these ideas but they do not really cross the boundary into systems thinking. Why?

Was that a case of “we tried that once and it failed?” I’m seeing signs of troubling underconceptualization of complexity with the reliance on design methodology as a problem solving capacity. They have not yet integrated field-level or human research, political understanding, or insight into the levels of analysis and action appropriate for design.

Different levels of command and intelligence have very different views of the ground of action. Are they at risk of training, say Majors and Captains in Design Thinking and then their subordinates are following straight checklists?

Are the generals aware of the difference outcomes that might emerge with the interpretive license of multi-perspective problem solving? When I see words like hermeneutics, Ba, and thrownness in a glossary of design thinking terms (on military epistemology) I wonder whether the audience has been trained in philosophy and research as well, to understand the limits of their knowledge and use of methods. These are laudable ideas, but are they helpful to effectiveness? I wonder, would I train physicians in design in this same way? (Probably not, and I do).

We are all familiar with the overpromising of design. When Design Thinking threatens to break the frames of doctrine, it will risk losing credibility. Picking up on thrownness, when soldiers at any level of hierarchy are faced with immediate choices where action is required, what will they rely upon to inform choices?

As Alex Ryan points out in another (recommended) related article, when Design Thinking meets simple doctrine in the operational world, doctrine (which is formalized culture), wins out. Operational design and Design Thinking does not intend to disrupt doctrine, but they are very different cultures, and as I have seen in the Air Force as well, these have not been reconciled. It will take some time.

As a closing note - many may also know, I’m a peace advocate and work with new peace strategies and reimagining foreign policy and rethinking the business models that drive the defense industry. These agendas are not entirely incompatible in our emerging world. If the future of the military’s mission in society and civilization is changing, who should advise with a view to the future?

My own position is that “war has changed, the peace movement must change,” and indeed it has started. As Cognitive Edge and Humantific have been pointing out for some time, as I have myself, Design - strategic sensemaking has an increasingly important future role to play in many areas, visioning, systems visualization, and creative culture in both of these domains. 

How do we think it ought to evolve?

Tiiu Poldma:

I have listened to this podcast three times, and each time I have had reservations on how to respond. It’s a tricky one I have to admit...:-)

(Please note – These comments are about the design content and not specifically criticizing military approaches.). 

Unpacking the concepts within this podcast has been challenging. While I understand the need to create a conversation around second generation military design, coming from a design perspective, I had trouble grasping the basic concepts that were discussed. Words were presented within the context of statements and metaphors, while the audience is trying to grasp the ideas about existing (first) and newer (second) generation military design and issues of complexity. However, from the outset, a confusing set of statements is presented, rather than setting the foundations with some clear definitions about basic concepts.

The conversation was missing the foundational aspects of what constitutes design, design thinking and the design process from broader perspectives that are hinted at but not defined or elaborated in depth. Multiple words and metaphors that add confusion to the topic, rather than clarify the topic.

As we listen along, we are not engaged with specifics of what constitutes designing as a foundation to inquiry and action. Generally the discussion veered towards “pigeon-holing” design as “either” “or”, rather than exploring designing as a dynamic process of thinking and doing, suited to the messy situations that are being discussed.

The discussion completely evacuates art/science current emergent concepts as intertwined and dynamic, presenting design as “art” or “science”. I am having trouble with the idea that “design” is without constraints. The idea of “epistemology was presented but lacked clarity. Epistemology is about knowledge position and construction of a philosophy of knowledge. There is a lot more to be said on the subject and framing various concepts as presented in light of their application into military design might be considered.

The podcast missed an opportunity to speak to “sense-making”, and actually touched on this valuable approach very briefly. Given how complex situations require different thinking modes, it was unfortunate that “sense-making” as a means of understanding “externalized” methods that might be useful ( VanPatter & Pastor, 2016) was not developed further.

As the podcast wound up, it was not clear how the application examples were helping frame ideas presented earlier – not hearing how “design” specifically has tools that provide the foundation for sense-making and problem-situating that actually offer change-making and action.

Dave Snowden:

I am in transit doing this so apologies that my review of this pod-cast is in notes form: 

Nice to see a lot of Cynefin language and metaphors!

Type one seemed to be defined as content may vary but form doesn’t.  I’m still not sure what Type two is after listening to the podcast but the definition seemed to be more ‘it isn’t type one, its experimental, its emergent’ and variations on that theme

I think it is better (and this is what Cynefin is about) is to define different forms for different domains and then allow content to vary within the appropriate form.  That makes it easier for people to grasp and is more accurate anyway.

Within complexity is is about journeys from the current state and not objectives, but we can have interim objectives.  We spent a lot of last year on the idea of a typology of scaffolding to create different objectives - you design the scaffolding and the interactions with that (or try and control both against the enemy) then monitor for emergence

Part of that links to wider contextual assessment - the work I presented on Apex Predator theory at the War College recently had a lot of resonance.  Again that is about energy efficiency in information processing which links to ..

… in the context of asymmetric threat how do we reverse Ashby’s Law by using out citizens or our technology and …

… mentioning no names how do you compete with an enemy with AI advantage and no compunction about sacrificing lives.  That is increasingly the issue and a neglected one.

Commander’s intent needs to be metaphorical and adaptive - done work on this including counterfactuals;  happy to talk about this but think about “Little Roundtop, no Chamberlin” and you will get the idea.

The sequel to Team of Teams has a lot of good stuff in it (and not just because it explicitly quotes Cynefin)

The commercial v life risks difference between silicon valley and military design is key and under estimated

Gary Klein and I did work on a different type of simulated game as a risk/reduction design method - runover a day with human games masters it can radically increase data used in sense-making.  Originally used with Singapore Military.

Attitudes matter on managing complex risk and need monitoring

There is a seminar coming up on Boyd and Cynefin: and I am also doing something with Toyota which has Navy links but Agile focus.

Interested in helping set up something specifically on complexity based design in a military context - we have just started a commercial two day event - but running something at the war college, or Pittsburgh or DC would be good and we could all learn from it.

This blog link may also help.  I’m dubious about workshop techniques and talk of ‘mindsets’ in complex sense-making.  Need real time capability and that involves human sensor networks

That comes from my work with Poindexter on Genoa II in DARPA days the good project not TIA :-)  Than included the how to reverse Ashby’s Law work as well as distributed situational assessment which to me is a key aspect of whatever generation of design we are talking about.

A complex system is governed by constraints, so mapping, modeling and changing constraints is more effective that either journey or objectives ….

On the question of whether or not this pod-cast dialogue contributes to clarity around the subject of Design Thinking I would say definitely. Its a solid contribution and I think it would make sense to have another one or possibly a seminar with a pure complexity perspective, later in the year.

Fabian Szulanski:

In this podcast there has been an emphasis on operations and tactics. Only one of the featured speakers went a bit more into human and complexity related issues. 

Many times in the podcast, complicated was made equal to complex.

This might be a sample of the military/engineering mindset, generally biased towards execution and taking human beings out of the operational processes.

Less tilted towards divergent thought processes and sensemaking, than to convergence and action.

That might be an opportunity to broadly infuse some more creative problem solving and upstream design thinking, expanding the scope of attention to a truly PESTEL + view, before delving into pure execution.

GK VanPatter:

Insightful, objective, imperfect and much needed are the words I would use to describe in brief this pod-cast. While I did not agree with every aspect of the conversation, comparatively speaking this is really what I would call a break-out podcast on the subject of Design Thinking. Calendar-wise it broke-out some time ago...:-)

There is little going on in the traditional design community on-line discussions, in the large LinkedIn Design Thinking Group with 100,000+ subscribers or even in the PhD Design discussion list that compares to this dialogue. Nothing that has appeared in the much vaulted Harvard Business Review on the subject of Design Thinking compares with the objectivity of this dialogue. In all of its imperfections let’s give some credit where it is due.

Some readers might find it odd that such design methods related insights are coming from the direction of the US Military. I am myself surprised and delighted to say that this is among the most enlightened and relevant podcasts related to the subject of Design / Design Thinking that I have seen published in the last few years.

With academic design community leaders largely absent for more than a decade from the front lines of public dialogue around this often difficult evolving subject there is huge need for this type of material to be aired in the community as a form of leadership modeling. In all of its bumpy imperfections this is what design methodology leadership dialogue sounds like.


When was the last time you heard the professors over at Stanford dSchool describe the [Conventional] Design Thinking methods they teach [described as Generation 1 in this podcast] as analogous to being stuck in a race track? :-) Don’t hold your breath on that one!!

One of the more useful passages from this podcast is this one: "Regarding reframing...What they cannot do in Generation 1 design methods is change the racetrack."

BINGO! In our parallel Humantific practice universe we have for some time referred to such methods as assumption-boxed. (You can see examples of assumption-boxed reframing in the earlier posts in this NextD series.)

To acknowledge such framing/reframing limitations and to move away from the widely held (in the traditional design community) mantra that "Generation 1 Methods" are universal requires courage.

Without any fanfare or objection from anyone present these podcasters sweep 90% of current design methods into what it depicts as "Generation 1 Methods". Whether you agree with that assessment or not, that dialogue alone is worth the listen. That's a real head turner for many who are out in the marketplace selling Conventional Design Thinking workshops focused on product, service, experience creation spinning the tale that those methods are applicable to all contexts.


Thinking in terms of their own significant global internal organizational challenges while spelling out the scale and types of challenges they face externally the podcasters articulate not only a stunning critique of current state design methods but a compelling look at what design is on its way to becoming...indeed must become in the operational context of high complexity, not just in the military.

Perhaps most importantly to the Rethinking Design Thinking Methods Movement, without entangling themselves in design community politics, without blinking an eye these podcasters spell out a clear need for Design Thinking methods to be evolving more in sync with the scale and complexity of challenges being faced.

Please show me where else in the Design / Design Thinking community this kind of dialogue is occurring recognizing such need for methods change based on the shift of challenge scale and complexity. This recognition, in this podcast aligns with much of what we have been pointing out in NextD Journal since 2005.

Operating in a different universe from many of us in “civilian life” the expression of that need for redesigned methods is a commonality between this podcast and the Rethinking Design Thinking Movement.


While this podcast dialogue is not perfect and a tad fuzzy in several spots it is clear to me that these folks are actively seeking to inject an approach to complex problem solving into the military while simultaneously recognizing a need to change and update that methodology. It is the later part of that duality that is missing in 99% of the discussions around this Design Thinking subject, particularly those seen in the academic community where marketing present state methods by the tenure track crowd has become the status quo.

This podcast is kind of a fly-thru touching on many subjects, layers and often overlapping metaphors. The podcasters circle in many diverse concepts including the notion of emergence without much fine tuning of each. We know from practice that emergence of outcomes is different from emergence of methodology. While outcomes are often 100% emergence, to operate in a working environment with 100% emergence of methods (make it up from scratch each time) creates fatigue and alot of reinvented wheels. In the wild west of the marketplace we sometimes see consultants out selling no process skills as "emergence" so buyer beware its a slippery term.

I would have liked to have seen more precision around what exactly is meant by emergence in this military context. Again we have already learned from practical capacity building experience that the encyclopedic approach to innovation methods rarely produces deep skill. Creating some stability within the encyclopedic methodology chaos of today is important in terms of scaling capacity building. "Building for adaptation" can be folded into methodology design. We already know that moving away from assumption-boxed methods is fundamental to building for authentic adaptation.

As we have written about elsewhere, the age of combining multiple parts of multiple methods is certainly here. We were recently asked by a global enterprise client to combine aspects of 4 approaches that included Creative Problem Solving, Conventional Design Thinking, Agile and Sprint. To do that combining requires a deeper level of process knowledge beyond the various marketing materials. At the end of the day is that new combined, hybrid approach Design Thinking or something else? Each case is probably going to be different.


Among the most important methodology related notions worth noting in the podcast dialogue is around sensemaking of challenge types. It gets a little bumpy with several foggy notions being folded in but this issue is key to understanding of this evolving subject.

Unlike folks working in the societal changemaking arena on well-known, already identified challenges such as poverty, degradation of the environment, population, economic stagnation, etc. the military is often facing a different type of challenge condition known as fuzzy or in their context, to use one of their metaphors; foggy situations. (Also known as an unprogrammed situation as opposed to a programmed one we have seen before.) These are challenges that are not only unstructured (wicked) but unknown at the time of their encounter. These are challenges never before faced exactly as being presented so historical precedent is of limited value.

This characteristic constitutes a different starting point from working from known already defined societal challenges, even giant sized ones. For a couple of very good reasons I would like to have seen this expressed more fully and clearly by the podcasters.

From years of practice experience we already know that the tools and skills needed for working on known organizational and societal problems are quite different from the tools and skills needed to work on unknown foggy/fuzzy situations where customized, never before seen cocreated framing or defining is required. This was touched upon several times in the podcast but became rather muddled in the dialogue about complexity.


I was a little perplexed to hear some of the podcast machinations around differentiating complicated from complex with artificially constructed definitions, that don't exactly match the real world. Some of the podcasters seemed a little confused in this sense.

In our practice world, unlike what was stated by the podcasters, complicated does not equate to framed challenges, nor to Six Sigma, nor to best practice check lists. Such notions would not hold water in our practice universe. I considered that a bit of an over simplified, rather confused false narrative there that might perplex some listeners.

Rather than debate whether something is complicated or complex before we really understand it we simply ask: Is this a well known, well identified challenge or one we have never seen before? Do we understand the constellation of challenges embedded in this foggy situation? If it is not..if we do not then we know we have to apply different skills and tools.

We refer to the sensemaking that is required in this specific context as Open Challenge Framing...mapping challenges in discipline-agnostic mode without preconceived assumptions that we know what the embedded challenges are.

Out of that Open Challenge Mapping of the so-called "problematic" that is done iteratively with stakeholders will come the teams realization of what challenges bubble up to be more complex than others within the initial fog.

One podcaster did refer to this obliquely when he referenced the importance late in the podcast of creating a map of challenges from broad/complex to narrow/simple, although there was no description of how that was going to be accomplished....:-)

In the marketplace there is considerable confusion around some of these issues so it was not a surprise to see some of that here in this podcast.


Some of the popular techniques that exist in the marketplace clustered around the topic of “complexity” are geared towards early guesstimating as a form of sensemaking. As useful as guestimating if a problem is going to be complicated or complex that exercise is not Open Challenge Framing.

Making a bubble map in mind-mapping form of how various topics are probably connected together (sometimes referred to as a world view) is often useful but is also not Open Challenge Framing/Mapping. Nor is such guestimating in itself problem solving. At best it is a prelude.

Iterative Open Challenge Framing with multiple constituents is a particular sensemaking skill needed in both Design scale/context 3 (Organizations) and Design scale/context 4 (Societies) where most often the challenges are unknown at the outset. Based on this podcast dialogue it clearly would be a skill needed both internally and externally in the military context.

Of course I noted that the term "sensemaking" did pop up numerous times in the podcast described as a "key terminology" but I got the feeling that the group was in the early days of truly understanding the important role that this activity plays in the context in which they are operating. Suffice it to say much could be enhanced there.

The podcasters did point out the need in their military context for their teams to "go get the information" intended to inform possible action. Today in many industries the challenge has shifted from "go get the info" in the context of info shortage to making sense in the context of information overload. Almost every industry is being impacted by that shift and I would love to have heard from this group on that issue. How is sensemaking changing in their military context? How important has it become to them and why?

Such in-progress developmental hiccups did not detract from my appreciation of the overall podcast dialogue and its intent.

Realistically since what the podcasters see a need for in their "foggy lake" operational context does not conform to what Conventional Design Thinking actually is today that new version of methodology that is being organically redesigned within the military might or might not be called Design Thinking. Certainly that is their choice to make.


Among other things this podcast surely demonstrates that it really does not work to be bringing either the assumption-boxed tools from Design 1 & 2 (depicted as Generation 1 in this podcast) or the tools geared to large scale, already identified societal problems into the foggy/fuzzy situation arena. For me this was among the most important methods related aha revelations bubbling in the sometimes bumpy podcast dialogue.

Of course acknowledging the interesting and insightful dialogue, the question arises as to whether or not any of these folks are active professional designers by background and education…and if not why not. That itself is always a not easy chicken & egg question when operating in new terrain. We face the same questions in our own unusual practice. Where are we educating design professionals to think objectively about methodology like this? Please tell me as we would like to hire a few at Humantific!

The effects of these podcasters growing interest in believable thinking/doing methods useful in the context of constant fuzzy change and high complexity propels them into the time line of methods rethinking beyond where much of the Design Scale 2 (product, service, experience creation) community remains focused today. For that I congratulate them for their efforts. Overall I would say this podcast makes a significant contribution to clarity around the evolving subject of Design Thinking.


What is not 100% clear in this podcast is whether or not the podcasters know that others are working on hybrid methods creation/development beyond what they have depicted as Generation 1 Design Thinking methodology. They are not alone in this undertaking. NextD began that journey around 2005 so we have learned alot along the way.

We will talk/write more about what is and is not going on in the community regarding new methods design in future posts....and in the upcoming NextD ReThinking Design Thinking book. Peter Jones and I are at work on the final conversation for that (long overdue) series looking at the theme of "Urgency."

Last but not least I would second Dave Snowden's suggestion that a follow-up session of some kind with a wider group of participants involved in the Rethinking Design Thinking Methods movement would be a logical follow-up to not only this podcast but to this review.

Stay tuned!


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