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US Army Command and General Staff School

Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC) Common Core
David Brady, C171 Argumentative Essay

28 May 2015

Since all Army officers are required to solve problems throughout their career, they should use many resources available to them. The elements of thought described by Drs. Paul and Elder is one resource that will assist Army officers in conducting the Army Problem Solving Process. By augmenting the Army’s model with Paul and Elder’s, Element of Thought, the Army officer can better round out their skills in analyzing doctrinal concepts, fleshing out assumptions and making themselves better aware of points of view.

Though doctrine is a key source of concept in the Army it is not the only source. Paul and Elder allows for elaboration of concepts rather than locking into a rigid doctrinal position for doctrine sake.

The Army defines doctrine as “Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.”1 The key to this is “It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.” The Army provides 15 Army doctrine publications (ADPs) and 14 Army doctrine reference publications containing fundamental, enduring principles that guide the actions of Army forces and explain how those principles support national objectives as well as elaborate on the fundamental doctrinal principles described.2

Paul and Elder’s idea of concept gives us a process for the judgement in application of these publications. They suggest asking questions such as;3

  • What idea am I using in my thinking? Is this idea causing problems for me or for others?

  • I think this is a good theory, but could you explain it more fully?

  • What is the main hypothesis you are using in your reasoning?

  • Are you using this term in keeping with established usage?

  • What main distinctions should we draw in reasoning through this problem?

  • What idea is this author using in his or her thinking? Is there a problem with it?

The idea of concept helps shape and refine our thinking as we work through doctrine. It reminds us to ask valuable questions that can assist us in finding variables that can be over looked in fluid situations.

The second way Paul and Elder’s Elements of Thought can assist Army officers in conducting the Army Problem Solving Process is to flesh out assumptions. Paul and Elder defines assumptions as “beliefs you take for granted. They usually operate at the subconscious or unconscious level of thought.”4 The Army defines assumptions as “information accepted as true in the absence of facts; it is thought to be correct but cannot be verified.”5

Both of these definitions are useful but can be joined together to make for a more thorough picture. It can be assumed in mission analysis that the Chaplain will do battlefield circulation together with the Commander and Command Sergeant Major. In the Army way of thinking this could most likely be true since it is a “typical” action that takes place. However, in the elements of thought mode the Chaplain could assume this, since the Commander is possibly a chapel attender. The Chaplain based the assumption on a bias or perception which was either conscious or unconscious. Both assumptions were based on a guess but each came from a different thought process.

Being aware of how assumptions are derived will help a staff better understand how they see a problem and point them to a better way of assessing and resolving it. Here are a few of the questions that Paul and Elder suggest we ask;6

  • What am I assuming or taking for granted?

  • Am I assuming something I shouldn’t?

  • What assumption is leading me to this conclusion?

  • What is … (this policy, strategy, explanation) assuming?

  • What is being presupposed in this theory?

Now that we have thought through our doctrinal concepts and worked out where our assumptions are based, we can look at our points of view. The Army can give the impression with Army values and various branch creeds that we all think pretty much the same. It can come across pretty clinical, for example; officers think one way and enlisted think another way. Though we have common experiences of military bearing and training, we still come from different environments bringing different values and points of view into the Army Problem Solving Process.

There are several different points of view and value systems in the world. One person can believe in Moral Relativism; the view that what is morally right or wrong depends on what someone thinks or Moral Objectivism; the view that what is right or wrong doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks is right or wrong.7 These two points of view would see and process actions completely differently.

The Army says we have assumptions and opinions and that we can make judgements based off of those but Paul and Elder help deepen that concept looking at points of view. They define point of view as; “Point of view is literally “the place” from which you view something. It includes what you are looking at and the way you are seeing it.”8 It is true we can solve problems without considering this but we may only see part of a picture in place of the whole thing.

Ultimately, an Army officer can conduct the Army Problem Solving Process without Drs. Paul and Elder’s Element of Thought but adding this concept into our process the Army officer can better round out their skills in analyzing doctrinal concepts, fleshing out assumptions and making themselves better aware of points of view.


1. ADRP 1-02, Terms and Military Symbols (Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, September 2013), 24.

2. Doctrine Update, 1–12 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Mission Command Center of Excellence, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, December 2011), 3.

3. Accessible via .


5. ATTP 5-0.1, Commander and Staff Officer Guide ((Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, September 2011), 11-2.

6. Accessible via .

7. Accessible via .

8. Accessible via .

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