The prescriptiveness of teaching methods in officer training and the reliance on military doctrine inhibits creativity while also fostering an environment that isn’t conducive to creative thinking and problem solving. This article will discuss the process for teaching and developing creativity within military training establishments. I would argue that the current methods of teaching and rubric assessments limit trainee creativity as they cause trainees to be afraid of failure and they are not provided an environment that creates the confidence to experiment.

The employed training methods are necessary for foundation warfighting as they are highly prescriptive; however, the rigid processes hinder a trainee officer’s ability to apply lateral thinking later in training and career courses. Doctrinal adherence makes a military force predictable and easier to defeat than one that strives for creative solutions. Military capability and success in training must be maximised by seeing through the blurred line and tension of doctrine versus creativity and finding a balance. This article will seek to define the line between the conflicting literature and refer to the challenges that face military training institutions.

Understanding Creativity

Creativity is knowing how to identify the fundamental problem, work-through multiple perspectives, and cultivate unique ways to solve it. The ability to be creative and innovate through continuous experimentation is a critical success factor of any organisation or education system (Ali Taha et al., 2016).

Creative thinking can be taught, but it requires the correct environment as cultivating creativity is driven by organisational and social culture – particularly values, norms, and standards (Ali Taha et al., 2016). To establish an environment conducive to the natural tendency to innovate and improve, instructors are challenged with cultivating a safe environment to fail – notably before trainee officers enter a combat situation.

To engage students in creative thinking they need to feel confident and achieve psychological buy-in. Achieving this requires encouragement to follow through on original thought and subsequent development, improving their self-efficacy. Creative learning promotes exploration, variation, and diversity that is contingent upon taking risks and thinking outside of the doctrinal expectations. It is achieved by teaching that there is no right solution, instead that there are several creative solutions that will ultimately achieve the desired effects.

The unique capacity to think freely puts those in the profession of arms in a position to respond in original, flexible, and effective ways against the adversary. For success in military operations, it is imperative to out-think and out-manoeuvre the enemy rather than relying solely on attrition. The advancement of global military capability has seen the introduction of new tactics, systems, and infrastructure, thus demanding innovative solutions to the challenges of modern warfare. The infusion of creative problem solving into the training curriculum will enable junior ranks to develop creative combat solutions.

Within military training establishments, there is a perceived pressure that trainees must always perform highly for fear that failure will adversely affect their reputation or capacity for professional success. This fosters a culture of ‘grey men’, a term used to describe people that just get by, are never the highest nor lowest performers. These trainees plan operations in a doctrinally safe manner to satisfy the rubric and pass assessments. As a result, these trainees operate only with the knowledge that has been imparted on them and do not seek to challenge traditional thinking.

Many junior leaders recognise the paradox of creativity in the Army, while its use is expected when planning operations, instruction and marking methods are not conducive to original thought. And yet, doctrine states that we must be creative to maximise our advantage over the enemy and to fight using manoeuvre theory (ADF-P-5 Planning, 2021).

The paradox of creativity in the military is not exclusive to Australia. One US Army lieutenant colonel writes, "It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in their late forties". By embedding creativity into the everyday practice of trainee officers, it fosters an environment of independent thought, thus allowing for more effective use of mission command amongst all ranks.

The Thinking Behind Doctrine

Doctrine is the go-to source for all learning, and experience can be used to reinforce its content. It provides the foundation skills that guide armed forces to achieve success in pursuit of military objectives (ADF-P-7 Learning, 2021). The foundation skills of warfighting – such as weapon drills and field routines – must be reproduced to create unconscious competence. This form of information delivery during the initial months of ab-initio training seeks to encourage reproductive thinking as the skills in this area are highly prescriptive.

Reproductive thinking is the application of already learnt processes and assimilation of information to reproduce outcomes in a similar environment (Cunningham & MacGregor, 2013). This type of thinking is essential for the initial stages of learning as we seek to apply conceptual topics into practical application to solve problems and gain a better understanding. This leads to doctrinal solutions that rely on tabulated data, specific processes, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs). The instruction habits of quantitative objectives such as weapon drills follow a ‘like this, do that’ system that involves an adaptive learning approach. In basic training, instructors assess the ability to follow instruction as a core competency.

As the curriculum shifts, it requires a higher level of thinking and more independence, though this type of productive thinking becomes difficult due to tendency to seek ‘directing staff solutions’ and minimises lateral thinking. Productive thinking refers to the amalgamation of different and new perspectives that shines light on original and transformational approaches.

Applied to a learning environment, the initial lack of knowledge in an area may see trainees use creative and critical thinking to solve problems. By understanding the tool, planners can create tactics and methods to achieve a task without having their outside thoughts stunted by the answer being provided. The paradox of course is that by challenging doctrine in training will generally lead to a failed assessment which has flow-on effects, such as prolonged time in training or promotion blockers.

As officer training becomes more theoretical, the thinking process is constrained to an expected outcome that will minimise the scrutiny from instructors. Though reproductive thinking is essential to components of military training, it assumes that there always exists a singular best or most effective solution; whereas in reality the contemporary operating environment is complex and officers require productive thinking and problem-solving skills to effectively navigate it. The aforementioned reasons discourage creative problem solving as the culture in training establishments revolves around meeting marking criteria, rather than excelling as independent thinkers.

When over-adherence to frameworks and rigidity in mindset and procedure are used it creates a predictable military force that is easy to defeat. Take the ‘Musorian Armed Forces’ for example. While only a training adversary, it was developed in the 1950s and centred around opponents that the Australian Army was expected to encounter at the time, or had previously fought, leading to the development of tactics to defeat an army we would likely never face again. Repeatable and predictable practices made them an easy enemy to defeat. If you suppress creativity and create the predictable plan that replicates our doctrine, the intelligent enemy will pre-empt plans, out manoeuvre, and ultimately defeat us. Willingness to apply creativity results in new ideas that challenge trainee officers and create scenarios that more accurately reflect real life opponents.

A Solution

The purpose of officer training is to prepare trainee officers to be tactically proficient and leaders of good character. Training institutions have a responsibility to create the best product they can, and I argue that developing creative minds is a key component. The deliberate attempt to pursue creative education in officer training will create a culture of bottom-up acceptance of creative solutions and allow innovation to occur at even the lowest ranks.

This is not to say that military training institutions do not make attempts at developing independent thought. Some lessons use board games, challenge historical examples to find better solutions, and use science fiction to explain theoretical concepts. Holistic assessments of the trainee’s overall performance have also been introduced to reduce the pressure around individual assessments. Doctrine at its core is a planning aide and is encouraged to be used as a foundation for new solutions. But the content doesn’t require change so much as the ways of teaching and learning does.


ADF-P-5 Planning, Edition 3, 2021

ADF-P-7 Learning, Edition 1, 2021

Ali Taha, V., Sirkova, M. and Ferencova, M., 2016. The Impact of Organisation Culture on Creativity and Innovation. Polish Journal of Management Studies, 14(1), pp.7-17.

Cunningham, J. and MacGregor, J., 2013. Productive and Re-productive Thinking in Solving Insight Problems. The Journal of Creative Behaviour, 48(1), pp.44-63.