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Tag Archives: Systems Thinking

World Modeler Has Me Rethinking Trade Studies

Although I am not trained as a scientist or an engineer, I did spend over 20 years working with engineers and (yes, Virginia) rocket scientists. I also may not be a professional scientist, but I’m a pretty good amateur one, and I like to think that being around all that knowledge and brain power bestowed on me at least a patina of engineer/scientist. I do know I am loathe to make decisions without a great deal of information and as much knowledge as I can locate about the consequences of my decisions.

One of the methods we used to make engineering design decisions is called a trade study, which is  short for trade-off study. It’s essentially a very simple concept, whereby you develop the desired outcomes, e.g. features and capabilities of a system,  schedules and cost structures, break them down into measurable parts, and compare various ways to achieve those outcomes. The process itself is reasonably simple, but the details can become staggeringly complex and frequently overwhelming.

Selection Criteria

Expertise System Trade Study Selection Criteria

As I learn more and more about Decision Science and its derivatives, I look for examples and analogies from previous experience that I can revisit with newfound knowledge and capability and, perhaps, understand a little more clearly or completely than I did back then. I am convinced Decision Science, which embraces the concepts of Decision Engineering and Decision Intelligence, as well as the use of Decision Modeling to pull it all together, is a powerful tool that too few people know about.

One of the things that occurs to me, and I want to throw this out for your consideration, has to do with the remarkable software tool Quantellia has created, called World Modeler. It seems to  me it is to trade studies what AutoCAD is to hand-drawn blueprints. It is so rich in modeling functionality, it just makes every other tool I’ve worked with seem flat, unimaginative, and terribly cumbersome in terms of what we know we’re facing and how we see problems in today’s environment.

Just after the turn of the century (that would be 2001) I conducted a trade study for a software tool, some of the requirements of which were that it would run on our intranet and  was designed to both locate expertise and facilitate the exchange, use, and capture of knowledge in a form that would remain useable for some time to come. In short, one kind of knowledge management system that was being sought after back then.

The trade study I conducted looked at three products and rated them over about a dozen criteria we were interested in. There was no formal weighting and it was a fairly simple, straight-forward comparison of capabilities. A simple effort based on what we knew at the time and the very palty list of vendors who were providing the kind of service we wanted. In fact, as you can see in the accompanying graphic, there were only three . . . and one of them (Primus) was actually — if memory serves — an internal service of Boeing’s developed specifically for airplane mechanics to share information on their service and repair activities worldwide.

With World Modeler, we would have been able to model so much more than just these paltry selection criteria. We could have included in our decision the aggregate likely impact of things we assumed would happen, thereby surfacing possible misconceptions that some had. We could have included connections to IT, HR, and Communications, thereby giving us a clearer picture of the likely impact on the enterprise of implementing the system.

Frankly, in retrospect — and based on the fact that its use steadily declined after my retirement — I’m still not certain it was a good decision, though I had lots of reasons to believe so back then. So, getting back to my point, I think World Modeler is an incredibly powerful tool for an organization to measure the value of many of its decisions before making them. It’s also useful, in my opinion, in a wide array of situations and scenarios. I intend on addressing many of them as time goes by and I become more versed in its capabilities and more comfortable with my understanding of its value to various organizations and situations. You should check it out.

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Serendipity Runs Circles Around Causality

Funny how some things seem — given enough time — to come full circle. Although I have always seen patterns and complexity, as well as the intricacies of their interplay, I wasn’t introduced to the concept of Systems Thinking until I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at (what was then) Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division. That introduction included being exposed to the thinking of Dr. Russell Ackoff, a recognized authority in the field. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him, twice in Philadelphia, prior to his death in October of 2009.

Shortly after retiring from Rocketdyne in 2010, I was introduced to Dr. Lorien Pratt of Quantellia, LLC, who showed me a tool her organization had developed called World Modeler. I was excited at what I saw and hopeful I could somehow become involved with Dr. Pratt and her team. However, that was not to be at the time. I was provided the opportunity to more thoroughly investigate the tool, but I had made a conscious choice to refamiliarize myself with Apple products (after over two decades of living in the PC, DOS, and Windows environment) and World Modeler was not written to be run on a Mac. Furthermore, the PC laptop I had wasn’t powerful enough to do the math and drive the graphics required for running models in real time. I was hosed.

Decision Intelligence Technologies

Decision Intelligence Technologies

Finally, about six months ago I was contacted by Dr. Pratt, who asked me if I wanted to assist in writing a paper that described an effort in which they were involved with the Carter Center. I enthusiastically said “Yes!” I’ve done a couple of other things with Quantellia since then but, beginning a few weeks ago, I took on an entirely new and (for me) exciting role as a referral partner.

Right now I’m spending a fair amount of time learning Decision Science in general, and the process and tools Quantellia uses to help organizations understand complex interrelationships and make better decisions based on that understanding. As I’m doing this I watch videos, read blogs and articles, look for original research, and work on presentations that will help me educate others in this important approach to business and organizational operations.

So . . . here’s the full circle part. As I’m looking for definitions, or explanations, of Decision Science and its origins, I Google the term. The first two hits I get are to The Decision Sciences Institute and to Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences. The third link is to a Wikipedia article on that same Department. In that article, there’s a link to Decision Science, specifically. However, it redirects to an article on Operations Research, which is where Systems Thinking originated. At the bottom of the page is a list of researchers under the heading “See Also”. One of the researchers, unsurprisingly, is Russell L. Ackoff. To me, that’s a combination of serendipity and years of working on better understanding how an understanding of systems can work to the benefit of any organization; actually, anyone.

I’ll be writing a lot more about Decision Science, including my understanding of some of its constituent parts, Decision Intelligence, Decision Engineering, Decision Modeling, and the power and value of our tools, World Modeler and DEEPM (Decision Engineering for Enterprise Project Management). I hope I will be able to clearly explain what it is we have to offer and, more importantly, what everyone has to gain by understanding it. The value exists independently of me or even Quantellia. We’ve just been at it for a while and can apply and employ the discipline both efficiently and effectively. Stay tuned.


An Eerie Realization

So . . . I’ve just got to share this. In my mind, the feeling/realization described in this animated gif file is somewhat related to a post I did a while back on whether we would have any way of realizing we’re dead and, in so doing, somehow miss the life we had so recently departed from. What they’re calling a realization I think of as a feeling. I have often marveled at the tenuous yet, in some ways, deep connection I have with random people in random vehicles heading in random directions other than my own. My mind momentarily expands, seeking the trajectories of their lives and the countless people they interact (or not) with. This picture seems to convey the feeling rather well. It’s also evocative of a paper I once wrote for a Labor Law class, where I likened society to a living being and analogized commerce to the human circulatory system. 

 


Veteran’s Day – The Bigger Picture

Corporate Social Responsibility

From Marcia’s piece in Fast Company

Today we celebrate the service and dedication of all who have worn a uniform of one or more of the armed forces of our country. Let’s be sure we keep in mind their service was – and is – not merely to protect corporate greed and power; neither is it for maintaining the salaries of CEOs nor the dividends and capital gains of shareholders.

Most everyone who serves does so in the belief they are helping to protect their nation – the people who dwell and work within her borders – from enemies both foreign and domestic. Those people are the strength, the vitality from which a healthy nation grows.

In a wonderful piece for Fast Company – “Is Your Company Ready to Make the World a Better Place?“, Marcia Conner reminds us that our obligations are, and must be, greater than to the bottom line. They are to the future of our world, our species, and the entire planet. Let’s honor our service men and women by taking stock of what we do and how it affects the entire system within which we live. Let’s resolve to truly make this world a better, more livable, and healthier environment for all who inhabit her.


Movin’ On Up!

Quantellia Logo

I am pleased, proud, and excited to announce I have joined the team at Quantellia, LLC. Located in Denver, Colorado. My official title is Consulting Analyst and my main duties consist of (oddly enough) analysis . . . and some writing. OK, lots of writing.

Woman working on equations

Making Sense of Complexity

Quantellia is the leader in the emerging discipline of Decision Intelligence and, among other offerings, provides a software platform, World Modeler™, designed to rapidly create interactive simulations for envisioning and understanding highly complex systems interactions and the results of decisions affecting them.

For my friends in the Knowledge Management field, as well as anyone who is involved with complex business, governmental, or other organizational decision making, I invite you to learn more about Quantellia. My professional opinion is (though somewhat slanted) you won’t regret it.


Continuous Improvement

Thumbs up

It’s All Good!

One of the things I noticed when I was working at PWR was the seeming inevitability that people who were most knowledgeable about some skills seemed considerably challenged when it came time to demonstrate the skill in their own work. What I’m referring to is analogous to the cobbler whose children are shoeless or the accountant who never balances her own checkbook.

I found this to be true of many of us who were the most active in what we still refer to as Knowledge Management (KM). We could help others – whether individuals or large product teams – to organize their approach to capturing and sharing knowledge, but we couldn’t keep our own calendars or contact lists up-to-date to save our lives. I was surely guilty of this; still am, though not nearly as profoundly as before.

I credit the concept of continuous improvement for my ability to refine my personal knowledge management and to slowly become more effective and efficient in performing the tasks and commitments I take on. I suppose, in that regard our lives are a bit like physics avoiding pyramids. The basic, foundational skills we learn early in life remain at the bottom of the edifice. However, as we gain experience and further skills, the foundation continues to broaden in order to provide maximum support for those new capabilities we keep piling on top of it.

In that spirit, I have just added another page to this site. On it, I’ve taken a screen grab from my LinkedIn profile in order to share some of the recommendations I’ve received over the past few years. They’re from colleagues and friends and, in that regard, they may be taken with a tiny grain of salt. I do believe they’re reasonably honest and accurate. I paid nothing for them 🙂

The page has been added to the Menu on this site, under “Background”, “Personal”. If you’d like to check it out now, the link is here.


More Softiness!

Yesterday I posted my thoughts about empathy and kind of wondered aloud why I find it easy to get so deeply immersed in a fictional drama that I can be moved to tears; sometimes to really distressful levels of sadness and grief. At the end of that post I wrote:

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


What I’m In2

In2:InThinking Logo Pin

The In2:InThinking Logo on a Lapel Pin

A little over ten years ago, a group of people who were students or admirers of W. Edwards Deming decided to create an event that would honor the teachings of Dr. Deming here on the West coast. I am not privy to all the details of its genesis and they aren’t really all that necessary to this post, but I do want to provide a bit of context, as I’ve never before written about this event in this venue.

I’m bringing it up now because I attended this year’s In2:InThinking Forum for the first time since leaving Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne nearly two years ago. It’s funny, but I couldn’t remember whether or not I attended the Forum in 2010. However,  I just checked and . . . not only did I attend, I co-presented a three hour session with Professor John Pourdehnad of UPenn entitled “Emerging Social Software Platforms – How & Why Emergence and Adaptability Increase our Common Understanding”. I’m not sure what that says about my priorities, or my memory, though having looked it up I can now recall the session somewhat vividly. 😦

I stopped attending for several reasons, not the least of which was I had to start paying for it out of my own pocket. I’m essentially of the opinion now that I should have continued to attend, despite the extra expense, but I guess I wasn’t thinking all that clearly for the last couple of years. It is not an exaggeration to point out my “retirement” has knocked me for more of a loop than I anticipated when first I decided to accept the severance package offered to all employees who were 60 or over, back in the first quarter of 2010.

There were numerous reasons – besides the cost – I made the choice to not go in 2010 and, again, they were likely pretty stupid or silly, but that’s spilled milk under the bridge 🙂 . Suffice it to say I’m very glad I went this year. Among other things, I got to meet, talk to, and have a picture taken with the Dean of the United States Military Academy, West Point, Brigadier General Tim Trainor.

General Trainor gave Saturday morning’s keynote address and responded to questions afterward. One of the questions was from my friend Steve Brant. Frankly, I don’t remember his question but I do remember the answer included a somewhat sheepish apology for injecting a sliver of politics. It was this apology I addressed with him afterward when we had a moment to speak.

What I said to him was, essentially, that I thought it was time to start talking a little more politically; not in support of any politician or specific policy, but more in an effort to build dialogue and respect for diverse opinions. Unfortunately, discourse in this country has sunk to the level of pig-headed name calling and the delusional belief there is only one answer to any question (and it’s mine). This is a recipe for disaster, especially the latter belief, in any endeavor and surely with respect to the national discourse.

And though I hope I might have the chance to discuss it again with him (hopefully on [his] campus 🙂 ), and I will write about this subject again as well – probably numerous times – it’s not the point I wanted to convey here. That’s far simpler and less contentious, I think.

Linear Aerospike Engine Hot-fire

Look Ma. No Nozzle!

I attended an all-day, pre-forum workshop based on Barry Oshry’s Organizational Workshop. It was the third time I’d attended this workshop and it was led by a former colleague and dear friend. There were several other sessions conducted that day and we all started out together in the Leadership and Learning Center* at PWR’s Canoga Ave. campus. One of the participants/presenters was Col. (Ret) Debra M. Lewis and, just before we split up into our separate groups for the day’s activities, she said something that stuck with me the rest of the weekend.

She pointed out that, unlike many other conferences, forums, seminars, symposia, etc. she had attended, her being a little late wasn’t met with anything other than warm welcomes, hugs, and appreciation for her presence. As I said, that comment stuck with me and, when she and her husband LtCol (Ret) Douglass S. Adams shared their experiences on their year-long Duty Honor America Tour, I realized how much I had missed out on by not attending last year and by not remaining in touch with my former colleagues and so many friends I had grown close to over a career that spanned a little over 23 years.

As well, it reminded me these are very special people. There is no person who makes it to the In2:InThinking Forums who hasn’t become aware of the systemic nature of organizations and life itself. Every one of them is also a kind and compassionate soul who cares about the impact they have on their places of work, their families, and their communities. None of them are there primarily to sell a product or service. They come to share. If they’ve written a book they bring some, but it’s not their primary purpose. These are leaders and teachers. I’m very lucky to have been a part of the journey with them, and now look forward to many more years of positive engagement.

I’m also slowly realizing the process of “retiring”, which has entailed an awful lot of refocusing and not a little concern over how long I’ll remain sharp and capable, has affected me far more deeply and in more ways than I apparently cared to think about. So . . . my journey continues and I look forward to gaining a more clear understanding of how I’m coping and what I intend to do to make things interesting and productive. Reflection is good, don’t you think?

* It’s worthy to note this center contains, both within and just outside in a patio area, a rather large collection of rocket engines and the parts from even more, including some very historical engines. Among these are the SSME, J-2, RS-68, both an annular and a linear Aerospike, and a SNAP-10A nuclear reactor (minus the fuel).


This is NOT Your Grandparent’s Brain

The Divided Brain

Beancounters on the left and ne'er-do-wells on the right. Is this accurate?

This morning I came across this picture – actually a drawing – in Facebook that purported to characterize the two hemispheres of the human brain. As long as I can remember we’ve been told the left hemisphere is the seat of rationality and the right the seat of emotion and artistic endeavor.

I shared the picture on my Timeline, along with my observation that the left depicted “bean counters” and the right “ne’er-do-wells”. It was a light-hearted attempt at defining the so-called characteristics of each hemisphere.

However, I soon received somewhat of an admonition that all this was a fallacy, accompanied by a link to a wonderful animation (set to a lecture by the psychologist Iain McGilchrist) from the folks at RSAnimate, and I wanted to share it.

If I understand McGilchrist’s description of the brain’s activities, I believe the left side can be seen as the analytical part and the right can be seen as the synthetic (in the sense of synthesis; not man-made or chemical) part of how we see the world.

As one who considers himself a Systems Thinker and, especially, on a blog entitled Systems Savvy, this makes a great deal of sense to me, though I must admit I was in thrall to the belief that our left and right hemispheres were more like the graphic and less like the video. I, therefore, share them both and am curious to see if anyone will take the time to watch the video and tell me what they think. Have at it!


If Russ Ackoff Had Given a TED Talk

I love TED talks. Sometimes I watch them while walking on my treadmill (which I don’t do often enough; walk on the treadmill, that is). Some of them I’ve seen several times and I’m reasonably certain I will watch them again. I recently shared a talk by Alan de Botton on this blog, which I found fascinating and, apparently, so did quite a few others. They are all fascinating.

When I originally started this blog, part of my plan was to discuss Systems Theory and its relationship to Dialectical Materialism, as well as how they affected our relationships, our economics, and our society. For various reasons, I was unable to pursue that particular goal at the time, but it’s why I called this blog Systems Savvy. I now find myself in a position to spend more time researching and thinking about that relationship and its ramifications. In that regard, I want to share what I would consider a fundamental aspect of my understanding of Systems Theory.

We are fortunate that a good friend of mine, Steve Brant, has managed to gather a fairly extensive collection of videos of the man I consider one of the leading thinkers, writers, and doers in the world of Systems Thinking, Dr. Russell Ackoff. The one that follows is a particularly good example, in my less than humble opinion, of what Systems Thinking is and how it should inform our understanding. Actually, let me share Steve’s words that accompany the video on YouTube:

“This presentation is from a 1994 event hosted by Clare Crawford-Mason and Lloyd Dobyns to capture the Learning and Legacy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Russ knew Dr. Deming and speaks here about the difference between “continuous improvement” and “discontinuous improvement” as seen through the lens of systems thinking.

“Russ was going to give a TED talk in Monterey, CA in 2005 and had to cancel because he was recovering from eye surgery. If he had given one, this is probably what he would have said… because there’s a powerful and unexpected lesson at the end. Enjoy!”

Rather than say much more about Russ or his research and his teachings, let me just share the video. As time goes by I will share more, as well as my thoughts on how his teachings can be used to help us understand the endeavors I’m most interested in: Knowledge Management; Economics; Social Media, etc. As Steve says, Enjoy!


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