Recursiveness: A Key Design Concept for Transforming Organizations from Centralized Hierarchies toward what Militaries Hark as ‘Mission Command’ and ‘Mutual Trust’ in Complex Warfare Contexts (using Whitesnake lyrics and a Friends Episode)

Ben Zweibelson, PhD
18 min readOct 23, 2022

From time to time, I will post some light-hearted design thoughts as well as offer up some techniques in teaching design to military, governmental and other agencies that need to work and think in socially complex, dynamic security contexts. These stem from my own work as a design educator, theorist and facilitator where I have worked with Special Operations Forces, international militaries, NATO, war colleges, government agencies, health and human services, law enforcement and more. Sometimes, using a fun pop culture reference is a gate-way drug to opening up new understanding of what can sometimes be an off-putting or dense new concept. In this Medium post, I introduce the design concept of ‘recursiveness’ with a Friends episode and a classic Whitesnake video. There are few academic references below except the essential ones, and some links to related content should a reader be inclined for more.

Recursiveness is not a common term offered in design workshops, nor does one find it in any existing military design doctrines, and on the commercial side of the design equation, one must hunt far and wide to find any specific mention of it. Karl Weick, Christopher Ansell, Haridimos Tsoukas, Douglas Hofstradter, Donald Schön, and postmodernists such as Deleuze and Guattari make many direct or implied examples and applications of what recursiveness is- but these also might get muddled in the educational application to new designers, strategists and planners.

Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/169940585910738617/

This brief Medium post takes a playful, pop-culture direction on how there are a range of quite familiar examples of what recursiveness is, how it is foundational to significant design concepts and techniques, and why it is valuable to present these things in design education and facilitation. Indeed, we will explore how Whitesnake may have unwittingly built some recursiveness into their most famous song involving a model doing splits on the hood of a Jag, and also how a classic Friends episode offers a wonderful scene where recursiveness frames an absurd…

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'.