Archive

Posts Tagged ‘systems thinking’

Abstract Decomposition And Concrete Composition

November 6, 2014 1 comment

On the left we have the process of abstract decomposition, and on the right we have the process of concrete composition:

Decompose And Compose

Note that during the concrete composition from parts to final system on the right, we gracefully transition through two stable, intermediate forms. Some people and communities, especially those obsessed with “velocity” and “time-to-market“, would say “bollocks” to all those value-subtracting, intermediate steps. We no need no stinking intermediate  forms:

direct composition

 

 

 

 

Hopelessly Irreducible

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Some of the parody accounts on Twitter are hilariously creative. Take “InfoSec Taylor Swift” for example:

Irreducible

The key word in Ms. Swift’s aphorism is “irreducible“. Being one of those things that isn’t objectively measurable (it’s funny how many things in real life are unmeasurable), one man’s “irreducible” is another man’s “reducible“.

I’ve discovered that many people, especially penny-obsessed managers, are so quick to assume and accept irreducibility in a complex system that they don’t even attempt to reduce its complexity:

  • It takes time (which directly maps into expense) and hard mental labor to unravel complexity.
  • In macho org cultures, irreducible complexity is often seen as intelligent sophistication, a badge of honor, a step toward lofty guru status.

Conversely, it is easier and less time consuming (which again directly maps into expense) to concoct an irreducible complex monolith than it is to thoughtfully build a reducible complex system of smoothly interacting parts.

reducible

Dude, Cut Me Some Slack

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Since I enjoyed reading Tom DeMarco’s “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency” years ago, this diagram in  Jamshid Gharajedaghi’s “Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity” brought back some fond memories of that book:

Slack

The diagram shows the slow, insidious erosion in flexibility that occurs in a complex system when efficiency and optimization initiatives are relentlessly applied to the system by its uninformed stewards. As the “slack” is stretched out of the system due to increasing internal pressure, it: 1) loses its robustness to external stressors, 2) the tension between connected nodes increases, and 3) the inter-node couplings harden. At the system breaking point, one or more of the connections crack open, the nodes fly apart, and the conglomeration ceases to function as a whole – a system. I hate when that happens!

Nasty, Non-linear, Inter-variable Couplings

September 14, 2014 6 comments

To illustrate the difference between analytical thinking and systems thinking (which some people think are identical), Jamshid Gharajedaghi presents these two figures in his wonderful book: “Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity“.

Equations

Anyone who has been through high school has been exposed to equations of the type on the left. To discover the impact of one variable, say x1, on the system output, y, you simply vary its value while keeping the values of the other (so-called) independent variables fixed. But what about equations of the type on the right? Every time you attempt to vary the value of one variable to discover its effect on system behavior, you unwittingly “disturb” the values of each of the other variables… which in turn disturbs the variable you’re trying to directly control… which in turn disturbs the set of variables yet again… ad infinitum. It’s called the law of unintended consequences.

Nice and tidy equations of the type on the left are applicable to, and only to, problem modeling in the natural sciences in which the players are time, energy, and mindless chunks of matter. Intractable sets of equations of the type on the right, unsolvable messes in which every variable is correlated which every other variable, are applicable to socio-technical systems where the most influential players have minds of their own. System thinkers focus on the coupling and dynamic interactions between the variables in the system to understand emergent behaviors. Analytical thinkers assume away (either consciously or unconsciously) the nasty, non-linear, inter-variable couplings and thus form an erroneous understanding of the underlying causes of system behavior. Welcome to the guild of business management.

Induce, Deduce, Reflect

August 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Induction is the process of synthesizing a generalization from a set of particulars; a mental step up in abstraction from many-to-one.

Induction

 

Deduction is the process of decomposing one generalization into a set of particulars; a mental step down in abstraction from one to many.

Deduction

A good personal software design process requires iterative execution of both types of sub-processes; with liberal doses of random reflection thrown into the timeline just to muck things up enough so that you can never fully retrace your steps. It’s pure alchemy!

butdreflect

Firm Substructure And Soaring Liberty

July 12, 2014 2 comments

Ing-ing My Way Through Life

November 24, 2013 4 comments

My twitter bio reads: “Fumbling, bumbling, stumbling, exploring, discovering, and being. So many ings!“. As that “ing-ful” first sentence implies, I’m always poking around for new ideas and alternative ways of looking at various aspects of the world. To BD00, inging one’s way through life is a big part of really living life itself. Life is too short to stop inging. But hey, it’s just badass BD00’s opinion; it doesn’t have to be yours.

When I first discover some novel and interesting work from someone I never heard of before, my levels of excitement and curiosity rise. I then dive a little deeper into the work in an honest attempt at ferreting out and understanding the real foundational substance of the work. If (heaven forbid!) I judge a newly discovered work as “meh“, then I move my attention onward toward the next adventurous expedition. There’s no sense in wasting time on something that doesn’t tingle my nerve endings with new meaning. Again, life is too short, no?

If (heaven forbid!) I judge that a newly discovered work is “good” or “bad“, then I get hooked and my current mental models of the world get rattled to an extent proportional to the work’s influence over me. Hell, my mental model(s) may even move off their concrete foundations a bit. In the areas of systems thinking and institutional behaving, the brilliant works of people like Deming, Ackoff, Argyris, MacGregor, Livingston, Warfield, Powers, Starkermann, Forrester, Meadows, Bateson, and Wheatley have considerably shaped my foundational views.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve decided to share with you below the relatively benign (compared to this people-oriented, blasphemous model) state transition diagram model of what I suppose goes on inside BD00’s forever inging mind. As you can surmise, the external behaviors (speaking, writing) that I manifest while dwelling in the “sharing” state are bound to piss some people off. Also notice that, in homage to my man Shakespeare, I have inserted a “pausing” state in the model. It’s purpose, which doesn’t always get fulfilled, is to inhibit “the rush to judgment” malady that we all to some extent exhibit(?).

Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful – George Box

What does your thinking model look like? I’m especially interested in hearing from those of you who “think” you have transcended the innate human trait of judging objects – the set of which includes people. What would a world without judging look like? Would it be worth striving toward a world without any judging at all? Is it realistic to think there can be a world where people only judge “non-people” objects? BD00 doesn’t “think” so. D’oh!

Ing STD

Effective, Incompetent, Coercive, Klueless

September 7, 2013 Leave a comment

In any control system design, the accuracy of its input sensors, the force of its output actuators, the ability of its controllers to decide whether the system’s goals are being met, and the responsiveness (time lag) of all three of its parts determine its performance.

However, that’s not enough. All of the control system’s sensors and actuators must be actually interfaced to the controlled system in order for the controller + controllee supra-system to have any chance at meeting the goal supplied to (or by) the controller.EICK

A Danger To Themselves And Others

May 16, 2013 3 comments

“Efficient systems are dangerous to themselves and others” – John Gall

A new system is always established with the goal of outright solving, or at least mitigating, a newly perceived problem that can’t be addressed with an existing system. As long as the nature of the problem doesn’t change, continuously optimizing the system for increased efficiency also joyfully increases its effectiveness.

However, the universe being as it is, the nature of the problem is guaranteed to change and there comes a time where the joy starts morphing into sorrow. That’s because the more efficient a system becomes over time, the more rigid its structure and behavior becomes and the less open to change it becomes. And the more resistant to change it becomes, the more ineffective it becomes at achieving its original goal – which may no longer even be the right goal to strive for!

Eff vs Eff

In the manic drive to make a system more efficient (so that more money can be made with less effort), it’s difficult to detect when the inevitable joy-to-sorrow inflection point manifests. Most managers, being cost-reduction obsessed, never see it coming – and never see that it has swooshed by. Instead of changing the structure and/or behavior of the system to fit the new reality, they continue to tweak the original structure and fine tune the existing behaviors of the system’s elements to minimize the delay from input to output. Then they are confounded when (if?) they detect the decreased effectiveness of their actions. D’oh! I hate when that happens.

Thought Actual

Sensors AND Actuators

%d bloggers like this: