Of Garbage Cans and Paradox: Reflexively Reviewing Design, Mission Command, and the Gray Zone


  • Grant Martin US Army


As a rule-following organization, the military both suffers and benefits from bureaucracy. One of the negative characteristics of bureaucracy is the co-opting of innovation. This co-option results in the dismantling of ideas and the re-wickering of innovative tools into something unworkable or at cross-purposes to their original intent. To make sense of this we first must look at the concept of paradox and understand that what we observe is not irrational or abnormal: paradox is the rule in how human institutions behave. Second, there are ways with which to make sense of paradox. Next, one example is provided, applying the Garbage Can Model of Decision Making to some of the military’s examples of paradox. Lastly, I use these insights to describe how organizations co-opt new ideas. This concept could allow military professionals to understand what happens to new ideas and why they happen so that they can anticipate co-option’s negative effects.


Author Biography

Grant Martin, US Army

LTC Grant M. Martin is a Special Forces officer in the US Army. He has served in Afghanistan and South America. He graduated from The Citadel, has an MBA from George Mason University, and an MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies. He is a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University’s Public Administration program with special interest in researching the organizational obstacles within SOCOM and DoD to effective Irregular Warfare. He has been published in the International Journal, Military Review, OODA.com, and the Small Wars Journal, in addition to contributing to chapters in two textbooks on Design Thinking.