Emerging from a Chrysalis: Design at the War Studies University in Poland

By Piotr Harężlak, Robert Rosa and Radosław Jagiełło

The War Studies University organizes a design education module for mid-level officers in Warsaw, the capital of Poland, every year. We, Piotr Harężlak, Robert Rosa and Radosław Jagiełło, are both designing the exercise and facilitating design teams. In this blog, we seek to share an account of our continuous learning experience with design education.

Figure 1: Team 1 leveraging the course map technique to visualize their learning progress up to day 6 of the exercise

The Polish Military Design Team was very busy in mid-December. We finished our original seven-working-day design thinking module as part of the Higher Operational-Strategic Course. This time, we taught design to 34 students, mostly lieutenant colonels from five countries (in alphabetical order): China, France, Germany, Korea and Poland. We provided them with a fictional humanitarian crisis scenario including multiple actors with competing interests in order to challenge their way of thinking. Our intent was to force students to innovate by creating novel understandings and approaches. This time, we divided students into four syndicates. We did not allow them to see the work of their colleagues. However, participants relied on the course map technique to share their learning progress with other syndicates. Each day, four different syndicate representatives shared their progress graphically. They, then, explained to everybody what was important for them during the previous day. Right after, we shared theoretical components and some tools participants could use to prepare and refine their product every day. Overall, we tried to minimize lectures and maximize time for practical activities as much as possible. We culminated the exercise with final presentations to senior leaders, faculty, and fellow students. We found inspiration in Canadian Forces College Design’s CAPSTONE “Shifting Sands” building on the Dragons’ Den TV show where participants pitch their business idea in a short presentation and defend it in a conversation with potential sponsors.

 

We decided the leitmotiv for this edition was metaphors and narratives. We tested the “Omega” model invented by Dr. Piotr Harężlak building on these notions. This figure offers a proposal for a general interpretation of the design thinking (DT) approach to address a problem situation.

Figure 2. The essence of the DT process

Harężlak divides the Design Space horizontally, between the present and future and vertically, between the real and metaphorical world. So, the imaginary X-axis remains a timeline from the present to the future and the Y-axis traces the fluid transition between realism and metaphor

The model begins with an analysis of a real problem situation (A). Then, teams must generate a metaphor to provide a richer or a different understanding of this problem situation (B). The next element is the metaphorical projection of the future (C) along with the way to reach it; the so-called transition (from B to C). Both the future and the transition must meet several requirements. First, they must be reachable and implementable. Secondly, teams should use the natural features and trends of the system. Reducing the resistance of the system to change with these natural features and trends reduces the costs of changing, and increases the likelihood of success. Thirdly, teams should show the expected state of the system deliberately. Fourthly, the transition and the future must be flexible – enabling a smooth response – in adapting to unexpected behavior of the system during the change. Teams leverage their creativity by numerous approaches to generate B, C and transition (B-C) metaphors. The final stage, the transition from C to D, combines the metaphor addressing the problem with the requirements of the real reality, allowing planners to take these ideas from there.

 

With the Omega model, we seek to bypass the numerous obstacles to the adoption of an overall design idea within a military organization. In the last three years, we faced both the challenge involved in teaching design on the one hand, and the challenge involved in students applying design for exploring the environment and generating novel approaches. For example, students often tend to perceive the minimal structure of design activities as a barrier. Students can be suspicious of anything that does not resemble an algorithm since they have been trained to follow instructions during their whole career. In opposition, the potential of design thinking depends on its fluid and indefinite nature. This essence of design does not make it attractive in the eyes of functionalists.[1] Despite this, testing the Omega model proved successful overall and is showing promises for future iterations. We observed that students quickly grasped the idea. This model also helped them to prepare their final product.

 

Of course, we were not left alone. As always we could count on our friends: Ben Zweibelson, Bogdan Gieniewski and Jim Wetzel from the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), as well as Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard from Canadian Force College. Ben and Jim ran a Jaws exercise and Philippe gave a motivational lecture co-developing tips with the students to help them carry on their journey (available soon on the Archipelago of Design).

 

We are open for cooperation. If you are interested in taking part to our next design journey in December 2020, please contact us. Let’s design together!

 

LTC Piotr Harężlak, PHD (p.harezlak@akademia.mil.pl)

LTC Robert Rosa, MA (r.rosa@akademia.mil.pl)

Mr Radosław Jagiełło, MA (r.jagiello@akademia.mil.pl)

 

[1] See Burrell, Gibson and Gareth Morgan, 2019, Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis: Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life, New York: Routledge. (Originally published in 1979).

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