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Powerful Tools

Cybernetician W. Ross Ashby‘s law of requisite variety states that “only variety can effectively control variety“. Another way of stating the law is that in order to control an innately complex problem with N degrees of freedom, a matched solution with at least N degrees of freedom is required. However, since solutions to hairy socio-technical problems introduce their own new problems into the environment, over-designing a problem controller with too many extra degrees of freedom may be worse than under-designing the controller.

In an analogy with Ashby’s law, it takes powerful tools to solve powerful problems. Using a hammer where only a sledgehammer will get the job done produces wasted effort and leaves the problem unsolved.  However, learning how to use and wield powerful new tools takes quite a bit of time and effort for non-genius people like me. And most people aren’t willing to invest prolonged time and effort to learn new things. Relative to adolescents, adults have an especially hard time learning powerful new tools because it requires sustained immersion and repetitive practice to become competent in their usage. That’s why they typically don’t stick with learning a new language or learning how to play an instrument.

In my case, it took quite a bit of effort and time before I successfully jumped the hurdle between the C and C++ programming languages. Ditto for the transition from ad-hoc modeling to UML modeling. These new additions to my toolbox have allowed me to tackle larger and more challenging software problems. How about you? Have you increased your ability to solve increasingly complex problems by learning how to wield commensurately new and necessarily complex tools and techniques? Are you still pointing a squirt gun in situations that cry out for a magnum?

  1. Ray
    February 24, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I am like MacGyver. A squirt gun can be turned into to flame thrower to attack the problem.

    • February 24, 2010 at 8:23 am

      LOL! Good one Ramone. Do you wear a duct tape dispenser on your belt?

  1. February 25, 2010 at 4:21 am

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