Moving Beyond ‘Problem-Solution’ Logics in Military Decision-Making:

Ben Zweibelson, PhD
14 min readJan 6, 2022

This is an excerpt from a design monograph that addresses design, NATO operational planning and Joint planning methodologies (NATO-OPP, JPP, and various service-specific deviations therein). This monograph is pending publication and was produced through the Joint Special Operations University where the author is a design educator (contractor) for the U.S. Special Operations Command. The title of the monograph is: “Disrupting Modern Military Decision-Making: Deconstructing Institutionalized Rituals through Design Synthesis.” (Follow Ben Zweibelson at Medium to see more on strategic design, war theory, operational planning and military philosophy).

Modern military decision-making, to include how NATO and Joint Forces approach complex warfare activities with NATO-OPP, JPP and other associated decision-making practices focuses exclusively on a ‘problem-solution’ relationship that is systematic (cause-effect, input-output). Systematic logic works best with closed, simple systems where there is one best or only solution. Simple systems include things like rifles where only a 5.56mm round can be loaded into the M4 rifle and loaded only in the proper manner inside the magazine. The rifle can only fire when mechanically operated, and once fired the bullet cannot be returned into its earlier form. Many forms of military decision-making require closed-system, systematic thinking in simple contexts because best practices occur where clear causes lead to established and reliable effects. Standard operating procedures, checklists, tactical sequences, and rote memorization of drills and exercises all function remarkably well in warfare with military knowledge curation secured through doctrine, repetition, uniformity, risk reduction activities and standardization.

Yet simple systems are the lowest form of system variation in complex reality, and complicated systems require humans to frame ‘problems’ in more than a ‘optimized solution to clear, closed-loop problem identified’ as available in simple system contexts. Complicated systems do not feature a single ‘best solution’ and often multiple, dissimilar solutions exist for what is conceived as a problem. Further, the clear optimization available in simple systems is absent, where in complicated systems often only a slew of ‘good enough’ solutions…

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'.