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Senior officers capable of critical and creative thinking are needed more than ever to plan and conduct operations in strategic and operational environments that offer ever-changing uncertainties in increasingly complex conditions. Officers who have a broad body of knowledge gained through experience and extensive study and capable of identifying and evaluating potential military response options within the context of a grand strategy are necessary to achieve the goals of the nation. The development of such officers requires a shift in their extensive focus from the operational and tactical environments to the strategic environment. This is a tremendous undertaking given that by far one spends the majority of one’s career at those lower levels of war and promotion to senior ranks relies upon excellence in tactical thinking and execution. The aim of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, is to educate strategically minded officers with the ability to view military affairs in the broadest context.
This essay posits that integrating design as a process within JOPP is a shortsighted attempt to legislate thinking whereas the more appropriate option would be to develop officers capable of design thinking. To develop senior officers who possess the requisite worldview, critical and creative thinking must underpin the concept of design. Senior officers must understand the role constraints play within design and how the strategic environment is affected. Two accepted approaches in design thinking, analysis/synthesis and conjecture/analysis, could provide senior officers with the unique perspectives necessary for planning at all levels of war. In addition, the unique skills that specific personality types possess that make strategic-thinking and design thinking more inherently natural must be recognized and promoted.
Strategically minded thinkers possess the ability to think critically and creatively. To think critically, one needs the ability to break concepts or objects into simpler parts and understand the relationship and organization of the parts relative to the whole. To think creatively, one needs the ability to rearrange the components or ideas into a new whole; in other words, to produce something through imaginative skill. Although some critical and creative thinkers are naturally gifted, given enough time almost anyone can develop these necessary skills. Unfortunately, for the majority of senior military leaders, time is something that is not in vast supply. In fact, given the relatively short duration of time that senior officers spend operating in the strategic environment and the even shorter periods they serve in any one position, it is a natural desire to attempt to develop a checklist or shortcut that will guide these officers through the wicked problems rife within complex environments.