Strategic Synthesis: Designing Military Decision-Making in an Alternative Frame

Ben Zweibelson, PhD
17 min readJan 25, 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).

Original graphic from the SPADE 2018 Accommodations and Venue document, IBM/AFCEA Europe; 18–20 June 2018, Copenhagen, Denmark. The author was invited to lecture on military design at this closed conference for design and security in the Digital Age. See:

The term ‘synthesis’ is in both the title of this monograph and established from this section forward as a major element for institutional reflection and transformation. Modern militaries invest almost exclusively in analytical thinking and have little appreciation for synthetic thinking as reflective in modern doctrine, education, training and their decision-making methodologies. This is not meant to be pejorative- again, analytical thinking is the cornerstone of modern technologically advanced societies and are how militaries can improve efficiencies, convergence, reliability, uniformity, risk-reduction and control in complex, even chaotic security contexts. Yet analytical thinking alone is insufficient, even counterproductive for strategic thinking in truly complex, dynamic systems. When one is immersed in complexity, one must shift from analytical tools to those that promote synthesis; analysis does not lead to synthesis nor can ‘doing better analysis’ compensate for this difference. Complexity theorist Russell Ackoff provides an explanation of synthesis and how it differs from analysis, as well as how organizations tend to misunderstand the relationship of both efforts toward complex systems:

The perceived wrongs in a system can seldom be considered separately and removed one by one; wrongs are generally systemic properties that arise out of the interaction of the system parts. To right the wrongs one must deal with them holistically (synthetically), not analytically. Research is the paradigm of analytical thinking; design is the paradigm of synthetic thinking. Therefore, by redesigning systems, one can right its…

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'.