Did you realize that the military has explicitly included design as part of its operational doctrine? Why, you might ask?
Here’s what they say:
“growing uncertainty, rapid change, increased competitiveness, and greater decentralization. Given these trends, our leaders must expect and be prepared to confront a variety of complex problems, most of which will include myriad interdependent variables and all of which will include a human dimension.” (p. 1)
Sound like your organization’s situation? Read on.
(i posted the stuff below as a response to a comment on our LinkedIn group, but i thought it might be useful to post here as well)
I have been studying the military a bit for a while now as part of my research into organizational theory, and i think it’s instructive for all organizations. Not that they should all be militaristic, of course, but that the military deals with some of the most difficult situations that any organization might deal with, so it makes a handy bell-weather for organizational theory.
In the US Military, the shift to the doctrine of CI (Commander’s Intent) occurred a while ago as a result of the need for quicker adaptation on the battlefield. The idea was that a commander could issue a “5-paragraph order” to a group, then let soldiers go do their job, without micromanaging them every step of the way. A later extension of this was the shift to NCW (Network Centric Warfare) in the 1990′s which leveraged instant communications networks in service of the Commander’s Intent doctrine. The most interesting thing, in my mind, is the newest addition to military doctrine: Design. It takes up an entire chapter in the brand-new Army FM 5-0 Operations Process manual (http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm5-0.pdf ) published in March 2010. I think it’s one of the best examples of an attempt to promote design thinking intentionally at every level of an organization.
Check out these interesting quotes:
“Commanders leverage design to create and exploit opportunity, not just to ward off the risk of failure. Design provides the means to convert intellectual power into combat power. A creative design tailored to a unique operational environment promises—
- Economy of effort.
- Greater coherence across rotations among units and between successive operations.
- Better integration and coordination among the instruments of national power.
- Fewer unintended consequences.
- Effective adaptation once the situation changes.
Design requires the commander to lead adaptive, innovative efforts to leverage collaboration and dialog to identify and solve complex, ill-structured problems. To that end, the commander must lead organizational learning and develop methods to determine if reframing is necessary during the course of an operation. This requires continuous assessment, evaluation, and reflection that challenge understanding of
the existing problem and the relevance of actions addressing that problem.” (p. 52)
..and lest this sound completely top-down..
“Under mission command, commanders delegate most decisions to subordinates. Doing this minimizes detailed control and allows subordinates the greatest possible freedom of action within the commander’s intent. Collaboration among commanders during execution supports mission command as leaders in contact interpret the situation, seize opportunities, and coordinate with each other to gain advantages.” (p. 20)
Perhaps the biggest lesson from this for any organization is that the military is using de-centralization and design thinking, mixed with things like commander’s intent and hard data gathering, not as some mooshy-gooshy touchy-feely idea, but as a core way of gaining situational advantage in a rapidly-changing world.
By the way, there’s a lively discussion of this and related organizational/design topics going on on our LinkedIn group here. Jump in any time!