Solving Tactical Dilemmas with Indirect Experience (Education & Training) and White Castle Cases


“To stay on top of their game, effective leaders learn about themselves and their environment and use this knowledge to develop their abilities along many dimensions.” ~Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves, Leadership 2.0

Bruce I. Gudmundsson the purveyor of The Case Method in Professional Military Education has another Blog post “White Castle Case” to help those using the case method in designing decision making exercises to develop pattern recognition, situational awareness and decision making capabilities and to help us stay on top of our game. The moment we think we have nothing more to learn is the moment we ensure we will never know our true potential. One way of continuous learning and improvement is to use tactical decision games. There are multiple ways to facilitate tactical decision games and each method offers unique challenges. As Bruce states;

“Sometimes, a decision-forcing case can be built around a single problem, a meaty dilemma that students can chew on for quite some time. Such a case can be compared to a jumbo hamburger with the story delivering the problem in much the same way that a Kaiser roll facilitates the consumption of a half-pound patty of Angus beef.”

For police, an example of this that comes to my mind would be a hostage or barricade situation where the threat of violence is apparent but not actively in progress. In this type of case, time is slowed. The meaty dilemma is developing a strategy, working out the release of hostages and/or the surrender of the barricaded subject. Our focus of effort is on, gathering actionable information as to, the subject’s background, motive and intent. This is done mostly through investigative means and direct interaction and communication. This takes time both in real life and decision making exercises) but when a sound strategy is applied, it leads to very often a peaceful outcome. Obviously a hostage/barricade situation is fluent and there are many other things going on logistically but the main focus (meaty dilemma) is the mediating a safe release or rescue of innocents.

“At other times, a case consists of a series of small problems, each of which can be engaged in a matter of minutes. In honor of the restaurant chain that serves plates full of little hamburgers, such a case is called a “White Castle Case.”


Let’s change the situation to an ongoing deadly action (active shooter) where time is of essence, circumstances are rapidly changing and risk to life is high. This is a good example of the white castle case. Our strategy with an active shooter is to deny the attacker access to potential victims. Defend against attack. Lock-down, evacuate, stop ongoing deadly action. Here time is sped up and risk is high and the focus turns tactical as we search for, locate and stop the threat. Actions must be taken by all involved, the police and the potential victims working together adapting to the changing conditions. To be successful at mitigating the carnage these types of cases it’s important that the actions we take help us implement tactical options that counter the adversary’s actions. Parallel evolution (everyone doing their part) is important here to solve the series of problems unfolding in real time and OODA loops are rapid. Parallel Evolution is the process of making coordinated changes throughout the crisis response system in response to changes in the situation.

True to form, Bruce gives us the history behind the method. “White Castle Case” is a tactical case that, strange to say, is called “The White Castle.” This case, which is based upon the diary of a battalion commander who fought in France in 1940, deals with a series of small (but pressing) problems that the protagonist faced while conducting a personal reconnaissance near the ruins of Coucy le Château, a medieval castle famous for its white stone walls. In particular, the student who plays the role of this officer must, among other things, respond to the failure of a reconnaissance patrol to show up at its rendezvous, deal with the appearance of small detachments of enemy troops, and make sense of the sound of machine gun fire coming from the other side of the castle.”

“Direct experience is inherently too limited to form an adequate foundation either for theory or for application. At the best it produces an atmosphere that is of value in drying and hardening the structure of thought. The greater value of indirect experience lies in its greater variety and extent. “History is universal experience”—the experience not of another but of many others under manifold conditions.” ~B. H. Liddell Hart

This is exactly why we work the case method and all its variances to develop sound decision makers, problem solvers as well as develop our abilities along the many dimensions necessary to deal with crisis.

Stay Oriented!