Tag Archives: Pacific

A Post-It Rebel Goes to Sea

This article originally appeared on Medium and was republished with the author’s permission. You can read it in its original form here

By Anne Gibbon

Design thinking is beloved by many, and is more than a flash in the long list of new management tools. Why? Because it’s embodied learning. In recruiting your body, emotions, and rational brain to explore problems with others, we get to better solutions than pondering them alone in a cubicle. But for messy problems and large bureaucracies, design thinking alone isn’t sufficient. Systems dynamics appears to be the discipline of choice, but up to this point, the theoretical underpinnings have been developed to the exclusivity of embodied exercises.

This is my story of learning to facilitate design thinking as an embodied experience, rather than an intellectual exercise, and to begin to include systems thinking into the work. I have faith that the small prototypes will eventually snowball and make a greater impact than well written policy think pieces alone.

I confess, I put bandaids over my piercings. I never should have done that, I should have just taken them out — but the piercings are more me than the uniform these days.

Thirteen months after finishing ten years of service in the Navy, and days after finishing a fellowship at Stanford’s Design School, I put my foot down and really stretched my rebel wings. I got a very small nose piercing and three studs in one ear, most people don’t even notice them. But to me they are freedom. My problem: I still had to show up at Navy Reserve drill weekends with a proper uniform on. Too bad I never did ‘uniform inspection’ very well. One weekend someone complained about my pink nail polish and the gold ball earrings that were 2mm too big; I think she would have fallen out of her chair if she had discovered the band aids weren’t covering scratches.

The author leads a workshop at the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy in July 2015
The author leads a workshop at the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy in July 2015

For the last two years of running design thinking workshops for various ranks and departments of the military, I have done the equivalent of putting band aids on piercings. We used Post-It notes and sharpies, but I usually left the improv at home. And the effect was an often neutered process. I led the groups through exercises and talked about modes of thinking — deductive, abductive, and inductive — as a way to make the creative, messy work more palatable to people who spent lives in frameworks so narrowly defined that playing at charades with their colleagues would have represented an existential crisis.

November 2013, our d.school fellows group hard at work

Design thinking has been the bright shiny magic wand that somehow hasn’t lost its luster. HBR gave it some east coast gravitas by featuring the process on the cover of their September issue. Popular in many management and product design circles, design thinking continues to spread. The White House just published a post about the use of Human Centered Design (HCD) by the USDA and the Office of Personnel Management’s Innovation Lab to improve the National School Lunch Program. My parents are still confused that I make a living writing on post its, but I feel lucky to be one of the many professionals using this process and adapting it for the real world. Fred Collopy, a professor of design and innovation at Case Western University has spent a career immersed in the theories of decision science, systems thinking, and design. He makes the point that design thinking has been so successful as a practical tool to effect change in organizations precisely because practitioners engage with it first by doing — not by thinking through the associated theories. Fred makes the point that systems thinking failed to spread widely as a management tool, not because it isn’t applicable, but because the discipline didn’t make the leap from theory to embodied exercises. The arcane details of the theories were and are hotly debated by a few, with the result being that the practical exercise of the main concepts are lost to the rest.

In large part, design thinking has avoided this trap because some of the most successful schools teaching the process are schools of practice, not ivory towers of thought. While I personally love dissecting the minutiae of different modes of thinking, the advances in neuroscience that allow us to explore augmented sensing, and the role that the autonomic nervous system plays in reaching creative insight, I reserve that for my fellow design practitioners. I’ve learned that when I’m leading a workshop, my job is to be the chief risk taker for the group, the leader in vulnerability. Their job is to embody each step in the process, and by fully immersing themselves, stumble into surprising reframes, 1000 ideas for a solution, and a few brilliant, wobbly prototypes.

While Fred’s article describes design thinking more as an evolution to systems thinking, I see them as complementary disciplines. Systems dynamics is worth plumbing intellectually, but for the purpose of emerging on the other side with methods and exercises that can be used as tools in the world, similar to the 5 step design thinking process from Stanford’s dschool. The complex theories associated with systems thinking and systems dynamics have at their root a set of ideas very similar to design thinking — engaging a broad set of stakeholders, using scenarios to explore them, reframing problems, and iterating. I want to explore what they might do together, with both disciplines having a rich underpinning of theory and accessible, embodied exercises.

Over a period of about seven months this year, I consulted (civilian role, not reservist) for the Pacific Fleet. I worked for a staff function in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and got the best of both worlds — the camaraderie that is a unique joy known to those who have served, and the luxury of wearing hot pink jeans to work. I learned a lot about myself as a designer and a facilitator. At the end of those months, I wrote a long report on how design thinking and systems dynamics might serve the vision of the Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Swift. The staff that hired me didn’t ask for any insights on systems dynamics, but I gave it to them anyways.

Natural Resources in the South China Sea, Courtesy CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative http://amti.csis.org/atlas/

The Pacific Fleet needs uniformed practitioners of design thinking and systems dynamics who understand the theoretical nuances and who can also lead the embodiment of the exercises. They need this because the messy military problem they concern themselves with — maritime security — can’t be silo’ed into the pieces that only relate to the military, leaving other aspects to diplomats and environmentalists. Maritime security in our era is about rapidly declining natural resources, extreme climate events, rising levels of violence at sea, but more importantly, these different forces affecting maritime security are so interconnected that they require intense collaboration with unexpected partners. I fear that if we frame the problem of maritime security as an issue between great powers best left to great navies, we will miss the dynamics influencing the global system that supports human flourishing — our food, our climate, and many people’s freedom. (Did you know about the extent of slavery at sea?)

 Global Fishing Watch, the prototype from Google, Oceana and SkyTruth to use open source satellite data to identify illegal fishing.
Global Fishing Watch, the prototype from Google, Oceana and SkyTruth to use open source satellite data to identify illegal fishing.

I don’t have a suggestion for how to frame the problem of human flourishing and maritime security in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. I have my own opinions, but I would rather they be challenged and iterated on through a process that mixes systems and design thinking. How should the Pacific Fleet approach the challenge of understanding and leveraging the system of maritime security in Indo-Asia? Instead of policy, I suggest behaviors I think Admiral Swift would want to observe as patterns in his Fleet.

  • Encouraged collaboration — Leaders emerge from the crowd, assume the role of creative facilitator, and ensure collaboration when it’s needed.
  • Innovation at sea — Sailors innovating ‘just in time’ on deployment lead to non-traditional employment of fielded capability.
  • Using patterns — Sailors provide context, not single data points. Leaders guide the mastery of knowledge and foment the curiosity to identify and exploit patterns of action.
  • Decentralized Execution — Leaders prepare subordinates to be decision-makers, challenging them to gain insights on context and patterns.
  • The crowd organizes itself — Communities of interest will proliferate, building networks between the silos of the operational, maintenance, and R&D force.
  • The crowd learns together — The Fleet leads the debate of war fighting instructions and populates a shared electronic repository of FAQ’s and how-to resources.

My contract ended with the Pacific Fleet at the end of July, and in keeping with my commitment to spread my wings, I’m leaving for New Zealand to work and play with food and agriculture technology and innovation ecosystems. But first, my own embodied prototype of decentralized execution. On October 26 and 27, a couple friends, a senior officer at the Department of State and a PhD futurist, and I will co-facilitate a design workshop in San Francisco on maritime security. We’re inviting a wildly diverse group of participants and we’re going to test new methods for embodied systems thinking. There’s no contract guaranteeing pay and no senior leader who has promised to take the prototypes from the workshop and shepherd them to execution.

Which means there are no rules on this adventure. We’ll publish the exercises mixing systems dynamics and design thinking, and we’ll share the prototypes — hopefully you’ll test them. Please get in touch if you’re interested in more detail.

Sea Control 96 – Host Review

seacontrol2Our cadre of hosts: Matthew Hipple, Natalie Sahmbi, Alex Clarke – and now Matthew Merighi, discuss everything – from China to personal life. This is an update or sorts, or an introduction, for those who haven’t been with us from the beginning, or those who want to know what comes next.

DOWNLOAD: Host Update

Sea Control 90 – An Australian Marine Corps?

seacontrol2Should Australia develop its own Marine Corps?

In this podcast, Natalie Sambhi interviews Peter Dean, Senior Fellow at ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, and Associate Dean Education at the ANU’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, on the development of Australia’s amphibious capability. Why is Australia developing an amphibious capability? Where would it deploy this force? Also in this episode, they discuss what amphibious capability enables Australia to do with partners like the US, and Peter shares his strong sentiment on whether LHDs could be used as mini aircraft carriers.

For more on this topic, check out Peter’s recently co-authored report with PACOM’s Lieutenant Colonel Ken Gleiman, Beyond 2017: the Australian Defence Force and amphibious warfare.

DOWNLOAD: Australian Marine Corps?

Music: Sam LaGrone

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.

A Pacific Rebalance with Chinese Characteristics

 Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Justin Chock

China’s newest national military strategy provides further insight on the framework that Chinese leaders use for their routinely enigmatic decision-making processes. The current paper builds on previous military white papers, which necessitates a look to previous editions in understanding the most recent one. Comparing the 2013 Defense White Paper with the 2015 strategy shows a great deal of overlap, but more interesting than the party lines consistent over many years are the differences, including the absence of key issues, from the most recent document. A reading of China’s Military Strategy alongside an analysis of contemporary events in the Sino-Japanese relationship illuminates a subtle shift in Chinese strategy since late 2013 from the East China Sea toward the South China Sea in China’s own Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance centered on the Maritime Silk Road.

Controversial island building by the Chinese and surveillance flights by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander have highlighted the significance of South China Sea relations within the past few months, but the 2015 Chinese Military Strategy further reflects this importance. In the paper, China highlights their “South China Sea Affairs” that encounter the “meddling of other powers,” a point notably lacking from the 2013 White Paper given the long history of the dispute and the degree of scrutiny that decision makers put into these documents.

SouthChinaSeaReclamation-Economist
South China Sea Land Reclamation Efforts by Country, Economist

But observers may question why Chinese planners decided to undertake the hugely provocative project of island building and why the 2015 paper would touch upon it. Part of the reason may deal with the timing of the building with respect to other claimants. Vietnam began its land reclamation around 2010, and the Philippines followed suit with runway construction in 2011.

So China was not the first to engage in island-building activity (although the speed and scale of the projects vastly outweighs the Vietnamese and Philippine efforts); instead China, under the comparatively bolder Xi administration after 2012, decided to run full speed in the race to grow its claims starting in October 2013 when the projects were first spotted. This start date coincided closely with the One Belt One Road announcement in September 2013 and Maritime Silk Road announcement in October 2013, with the latter running directly through the South China Sea and near the disputed areas. Additionally, the October 2013 efforts post date the 2013 White Paper, published on April 16, 2013, allowing time for a strategic shift that was not solidified until after the document’s publication (or was perhaps deliberately omitted).

Major Crude Oil Flow in the South China Sea, Bloomberg.
Major Crude Oil Flow in the South China Sea, Bloomberg.

So, for China it appears the importance of island building in the South China Sea lies in ensuring secure maritime lanes for both its current trade and for the heightened flow that will come from the Maritime Silk Road. As a comparison of China’s land and sea economic trading shows, the nation is effectively an economic island, and the vulnerable flow through the South China Sea is the lifeblood of China’s economy. Should the nation lose control of that flow, its economy would be crippled, the consequences of which the Chinese people (and the Chinese Communist Party, which owes a great deal of political legitimacy to its economic growth) do not want to risk. The result: islands to enable enhanced oversight of the sea lanes.

As important as the addition to the 2015 paper, however, are its omissions. The 2013 paper depicts a “Japan (that) is making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu islands,” but nowhere in the 2015 version is there an explicit mention of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. The only mention of Japan in the new strategy addresses the “overhauling [of] its military and security policies” (an understandable mention given the recent Japanese Diet bill increasing the scope of Self Defense Force operations) and its potential inclusion with the above South China Sea “meddling powers,” though the latter is not explicitly stated. The decision to remove an explicit mention of the Diaoyu islands dispute mention from the 2015 document is significant. This significant shift is reflected in recent reports of oil rigs in the East China Sea showing that China is choosing to literally not cross the line with Japan in this contentious geography. Statistical anomalies and shifting tactics aside, this is consistent with its deeds and not just its actions. If one is to make comparisons—albeit difficult given the different situations between East and Southeast Asia—a provocative statement toward Japan equivalent to South China Sea island building would be to cross the median line and assert China’s original stance regarding the continental shelf on the Japanese side of the line.

china-japan-us

Instead, China sees the larger picture: the East China Sea is at a stalemate while the South China Sea remains comparatively free to shifts in the status quo. This couples with the decrease in Chinese patrols within Senkaku/Diaoyu waters beginning in October 2013 and coinciding with the beginning of Chinese island-building efforts in the South China Sea. If one were to draw an albeit difficult analogy, a provocation equivalent to island building in the South China Sea would be for China to literally cross the line and assert its original stance on Japanese and Chinese claims to the continental shelf. Yet, it appears that China is taking a holistic strategic view of regional issues and refraining from simultaneous confrontation.

There are a number of reasons why China might decrease its focus on Japan. Whether China feels secure enough in the region with the November 2013 establishment of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or whether Chinese leadership have taken into account the increasingly interdependent economic relationship, the potential to warm the Sino-Japanese relationship, or too much perceived risk in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, their words and deeds suggest Japan is no longer China’s primary security focus. Instead, China’s military (or at least, its maritime forces, which the National Military Strategy states will be increasingly emphasized) is drawing resources away from the East and toward the Southeast to support the Maritime Silk Road in China’s own Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance.

For the U.S., this Southeast-Asia Pacific Rebalance warrants careful consideration of any substantial increase in support of Japan or major shift in Japanese posture (e.g., expanded operational scope for the Japanese Self-Defense Force [JSDF]). Since a shift in the current balance may force China to once again focus on the East China Sea, for both the U.S. and Japan this suggests the wisdom of measures to reassure China. For example, emphasizing that the JSDF’s increased scope does not imply a corresponding increase in hostile intent or the targeting of that scope against China.

With respect to the South China Sea, and extending the analogy between the East and South China Seas, awareness of this rebalance places more decision-making leverage in American hands. Should the U.S. want to deter China in these waters as in the waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, stationing troops in the region, partnering with Southeast Asian allies, or reconciling with states in Southeast Asia and along the Maritime Silk Road are all potentially viable approaches. These approaches will become increasingly important as the Road is further established in the coming years and as China correspondingly shifts its focus to these waters; as China shifts focus to Southeast Asia, the U.S. must shift focus as well.

The new U.S. National Military Strategy falls in line with this thinking, describing how China’s “claims to nearly the entire South China Sea are inconsistent with international law,” and thus are a strategic focus of the U.S. However, conscious efforts must be made to maintain this momentum as China’s Rebalance appears to be a long-term project. This includes, as the Chinese Strategy states, further partnerships with states along the Maritime Silk Road as it expands, the groundwork of which will require diplomatic and political work today in preparation for the Road’s expansion. While other pressing issues (e.g., Russia, ISIL, etc.) top the list in describing the strategic environment in the U.S. Strategy, the American Asia-Pacific Rebalance must endure as the long-term strategy.

China's Martime Silk Road
China’s Maritime Silk Road

This interest in increased U.S. presence along the Maritime Silk Road is reciprocal. For Southeast Asian leaders, China’s rebalance marks the beginning of more vigorous Chinese engagement in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia as a whole. These nations must be prepared for increased Chinese presence and attention, and plan for higher levels of more geopolitical friction. Each nation’s approach will depend on their unique circumstances, but allowing U.S. counterbalancing forces into the region is one of a handful of options for adapting to the changing circumstances.

For all parties, tensions in the South China Sea present a serious challenge to both joint economic growth and regional security. While the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute will remain on China’s agenda, the evolving Chinese military strategy and Chinese actions suggest that South China Sea is the next area of focus for the rising nation. This gives the region and the states within it an increasing strategic priority that cannot be ignored.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.