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Design Thinking Comes to the US Army

by Nick Gall  |  May 4, 2010  |  1 Comment

Great review by Roger Martin of the US Army Field Manual 5-0: The Operations Process and its embrace of design thinking. His review was published yesterday on the Design Observer website. Martin gives a GREAT backgrounder on how the field manual came to be revised to emphasize design thinking (lots of great links to earlier Army thinking and debate on the topic). I just left a comment on the article that will hopefully show up on the page soon. Here’s what I said (partially in response to a comment by "Jason"):

For me, this is one of the most important passages in FM 5-0:

The introduction of design into Army doctrine seeks to secure the lessons of eight years of war and provide a cognitive tool to commanders who will encounter complex, ill-structured problems in future operational environments…. As learned in recent conflicts, challenges facing the commander in operations often can be understood only in the context of other factors influencing the population. These other factors often include but are not limited to economic development, governance, information, tribal influence, religion, history and culture. Full spectrum operations conducted among the population are effective only when commanders understand the issues in the context of the complex issues facing the population. Understanding context and then deciding how, if, and when to act is both a product of design and integral to the art of command. (paras. 3-16 & 3-17, emphasis added.)

For me, the key word "if" (as in "deciding if to act") speaks directly to Jason’s legitimate concern that design thinking might merely be used to inflict pain, suffering, and death (one of the explicit objectives of warfighting) more efficiently. Design thinking will only be a success in influencing Army doctrine if it sometimes leads to decisions NOT to engage in armed combat; to try a different, less lethal approach to achieving an objective.

I think if you read FM 5-0 more closely Jason, you’ll see that this is one of the primary reasons for introducing design thinking into battlefield operations doctrine: to better understand when force of arms is NOT the right approach.

That said, I am somewhat disappointed that one needs to read FM 5-0 so closely to see this message. The concept of "human centeredness", which I feel is essential to design thinking is not highlighted in the field manual. I hope that in discussions of FM 5-0 and eventually in revisions to it, that the concept of "human centered experiences" and meaningfulness take center stage.

Additional Resources

Category: hybrid-thinking  

Nicholas Gall
VP Distinguished Analyst
14 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Nick Gall is a vice president in Gartner Research. As a founding member of Gartner’s Enterprise Planning and Architecture Strategies, Mr. Gall advises clients on enterprise strategies for interoperability, innovation and execution. Mr. Gall is a leading authority on middleware… Read Full Bio


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