Design Facilitation 101: Using Trojan Horses to Sneak Past the Institutional Barriers for Complex Security Affairs

Ben Zweibelson, PhD
13 min readMar 21, 2022
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In multiple strategic planning sessions, design working groups, and other situations where my organization confronted some complex, adaptive problems, I gained some valuable insight on organizational change. In this article, I present one approach on how to inject major reform and change without suffering the “Cassandra Syndrome” of Greek lore. My approach over time has also acquired another metaphoric nickname taken from ancient times- the Trojan Horse. As a design facilitator for security organizations in particular, one needs to ‘Trojan Horse’ past the institutional defenses most design methods, models and theories in order to nudge the designers beyond the self-imposed limits that often prevent breaking out of set ways and convergent mindsets. These design metaphors are useful in that they help establish new connections between disciplines of thought, and cast light upon things that we tend to not even realize are operating behind the scenes.

For those unfamiliar, the Cassandra Syndrome (or Effect) is when you or someone else gains critical or creative insight into a complex situation, but cannot warn the organization how best to solve the problem or gain the advantage. Regardless of how often you try to communicate this information, your organization ignores you. The metaphor comes from ancient Greek lore: Cassandra was a Greek beauty granted prophetic powers by an admiring Deity, but when that same Deity attempted to enter romantic relations, Cassandra snubbed him. His revenge was to modify her future telling gift by not letting anyone believe or understand her. Cassandra subsequently lived in a horribly world where she saw all sorts of solutions to wickedly complex problems, but no one would ever listen to her solutions (French Postmodernist Michel Foucault also explored this concept with his own term, the “problematizer”- a concept incorporated into military design theory by Dr. Shimon Naveh and Dr. Ofra Graicer in their extensive work educating the Israeli Defense Forces as well as American and other militaries over the last two decades). When a designer or other sort of innovator does stumble upon something novel and transformative, they will next run into institutional resistance as well as the need for the new design…

Ben Zweibelson, PhD

Philosopher of Conflict; Director for the U.S. Space Command’s (USSPACECOM) Strategic Innovation Group; Author of 'Understanding the Military Design Movement'.