Lecture portions on Complexity, the Idea of ‘Problem’, and on ‘Reflective Practice’ in Design…

Ben Zweibelson, PhD
12 min readSep 30, 2022

This comes from a systemic design lecture I provide to various military PME programs in academic year 2022; select graphics and the ‘notes page’ that corresponds with roughly what I discuss are provided below. I will upload groups of slides and speaking points in upcoming Medium posts for subscribers and those that follow me on social media.

Slide pulled from upcoming systemic design lecture 2022 by Author (this one animates in the actual presentation)

The first bunch of slides and lecture notes posted are available here:

Humans conceptualize problems in four primary modes according to complexity theorist Russell Ackoff. These consist of problem absolution, problem solution, problem resolution, and problem dissolution.

“I know smoking is bad, but if I quit, I will gain weight. That is worse; so I smoke to avoid worse health issues.”

Problem absolution consists of ignoring a problem with the expectation that over time, it will fade away or otherwise not require any activity to address it. This non-action is itself an action in any complex system, and paradoxically many organizations utilize ‘problem absolution’ wittingly as well as unwittingly in that they apply their decision-making methodologies (such as the Joint Planning Process) to particular identified security issues but not to others. They also may unwittingly misidentify or fail to identify rather complex challenges or employ reductionist methods to focus on an isolated portion of a broader challenge so that a desired ‘problem’ is paired with an institutionalized solution in the same single-loop process while the vast remainder of the broader problem is ignored or unrealized through problem absolution.

In the presentation, this is the second animation…

Problem resolution is: “to resolve a problem is to select a course of action that yields an outcome that is good enough, one that satisfices.” Ackoff calls this…

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'.