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Coup D'Oeil: Strategic Intuition in Army Planning

Authored by Dr. William Duggan. | November 2005

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This monongraph reviews the U.S. Army?s standard methods for problem solving and decisionmaking to see how they might take more account of a commander?s intuition at every step. The ideas offered here go beyond the Army?s current view of intuition in its latest version of Field Manual (FM) 5-0, Army Planning and Orders Production, issued January 2005. That version presents ?analytical? and ?intuitive? as two different types of decisionmaking, for two different situations:

  • The analytical approach to decisionmaking serves well when time is available to analyze all facets affecting the problem and its solution. However, analytical decisionmaking consumes time and does not work well in all situations? especially during execution, when circumstances often require immediate decisions.
  • Intuitive decisionmaking is especially appropriate in time-constrained conditions. It significantly speeds up decisionmaking. Intuitive decisionmaking, however, does not work well when the situation includes inexperienced leaders, complex or unfamiliar situations, or competing courses of action (COAs).

This divide between analysis and intuition reflects an outmoded view of the human mind that science no longer supports. Recent advances in how the mind works have overturned the old idea that analysis and intuition are two separate functions that take place in two different parts of the brain. In the new view, analysis and intuition are so intertwined that it is impossible to sort them out. There is no good analysis without intuition, and no good intuition without analysis. They go together in all situations. Some scientists call the new model of the brain ?intelligent memory,? where analysis puts elements into your brain and intuition pulls them out and combines them into action.

This new model of the brain finds two striking precedents: research in cognitive psychology on expert intuition, especially by Gary Klein; and On War by Carl von Clausewitz. Both Klein and von Clausewitz put flashes of insight at the heart of problem solving and decisionmaking. Their views on how those flashes happen match quite well what neuroscience now tells us about how the brain works. To describe this phenomenon, Von Clausewitz used the term coup d?oeil, or ?glance? in French. Here we use coup d?oeil as a shorthand, thanks to its military origins, and ?strategic intuition? as a more formal term, where a COA forms in the mind through a mix of strategic analysis, intelligent memory, and expert intuition.

This monograph reviews the Army?s core procedures on problemsolving and decisionmaking from our new view of strategic intuition. We go step-by-step through the four main chapters of FM 5-0, which embody the Army?s common methods for how commanders of every rank decide what COA to take. We see in detail where these methods do and do not match our new understanding of strategic intuition. Then we consider the case of a brigade in Iraq that recently developed a shorter version of FM 5-0, to compare this real-time experiment to what we suggest in this report.

This in no way criticizes the Army or its commanders. When Gary Klein tests methods closer to strategic intuition with Army officers in action, they tend to comment, ?That?s what we do.? Good commanders use strategic intuition. They treat manuals only as guides, and adapt procedures as they see fit. Coup d?oeil is really a description of what Army leaders already do. We have gained enough scientific knowledge on how a commander?s mind works to revise our manuals accordingly, so there are fewer adaptations needed. Everyone takes FM 5-0 with a grain of salt: now that we know how the salt works, we can add it directly to the recipe.