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Applying Clausewitz and Systems Thinking to Design

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Book chapter

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Strategic campaign planners and statesmen often begin their analyses by assuming a linear cause-and-effect relationship, similar to a move-countermove exchange in chess. Although such linear formulations may sometimes be a useful starting point, they can also be disastrously misleading. Systems thinking, however, provides an alternative that compensates for the limits of linear reasoning in military design. This chapter considers the implications of systems thinking as a theory and applies the implications of systems complexity specifically to military operational design. The perspectives of Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, inform current doctrine on design, and the Clausewitzian concept of center of gravity provides an essential tool for commanders to employ in designing campaigns. For centuries, the basic approach of science relied on linear logic and a belief that the best method for understanding any phenomenon was to break that phenomenon into parts that could be studied independently. Doing so was thought to simplify a problem, thereby making it more manageable for the scientist. The approach assumed the whole was simply equal to the sum of its parts. The logic of this linear thinking and its associated mechanical metaphors transferred outside of the natural sciences and applied to many other disciplines. Beginning in the 1950s, pioneers of the systems paradigm questioned whether this mechanistic approach was the best method for gaining knowledge of the natural and social worlds. Some of these theorists were concerned that the expansion of knowledge was so great that it resulted in excessive specialization, which prevented scientists from communicating across disciplines, so that physicists, biologists, and sociologists were isolated from one another. The advocates of a systems approach wanted to create a general theory that could identify the existence of laws that might apply to similar structures in different fields.

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  • Administration and Management
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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