An image of a human brain stem illuminated with fluorescent proteins.
I don’t think I use this blog enough to share info like I do on Facebook. As I think about it, though, it seems the things I post here have a much longer shelf life than those I share on FB. Also, my original intent for this blog was to address issues of seeing systems, particularly emphasizing how infrequently — and incompletely — we do so. The piece from Business Insider I’m going to link to here was shared with me by Jon Husband who, in my mind, is inextricably linked to systems concepts via his pioneering work with what he has labeled Wirearchy.
The article concludes with the researchers, Kevin Tracey and Paul-Peter Tak, recognizing how science and, particularly, medicine have approached understanding of the human body as an effort to understand each organ in isolation, and as separate entities. They now realize the systemic nature of the body, and argue for an understanding that is more holistic and that recognizes how everything is connected.
I also found myself thinking about the progress of our understanding and how it shows just how indifferent nature, biology, and evolution are to anything resembling “fairness” or “justice”. Those are human concepts, creations that make sense to us, but have no place in how or why things happen in natural systems. Evolution is interested in what works and a level of adaptability that allows for constant change in survival strategies. Everything else is merely part of the side-show.
What really struck me was the thought of all the people who have existed before us and how much discomfort, pain, and agony have been suffered in the past, prior to our gaining the various understandings we have come to embrace over the last few hundred years of our existence as a species. The “breakthrough” discussed in this article seems somewhat revolutionary and serves to point out how valuable the ability to see systems really is at improving our lives.
Here’s the link. Check it out. Shouldn’t take more than five minutes to read.
World Modeler adds a Systems approach to Project Management
In my last post I took a stab at defining, and explaining, the concept of Decision Intelligence. I’m willing to bet you’re going to be hearing a lot about it in the not-too-distant future. So you don’t have to click back and forth, I’ll copy over what I wrote about it in that post:
This is the term Quantellia now uses to describe what it is we do. NB – The term is not “Decision Analytics”; there’s a reason for this. Perhaps it is best understood when one looks at a part of how decision modeling is accomplished. Part of the raw material available today for making decisions is what we call “big data”. There’s an awful lot of attention being paid to the field of predictive analytics, which uses big data as its raw material. We at Quantellia prefer the term predictive intelligence. This is because predictive analytics uses past performance (data) to project trends into the future. We like to think we take the concept a bit further.
While we believe analytics are useful and important, they lack the dimensions of human knowledge and understanding that can more completely predict how the past will play out in the future. A subtle distinction? Perhaps, but I find it a valuable one. Unless we’re talking about the future activity of a machine designed to perform a very limited set of instructions or actions, our activities involve human understanding, emotion, and interpretation. There are times when these attributes can dramatically change the course of an organizational effort, rendering previous decisions moot or, at best, only partially useful or correct.
By providing a method whereby human understanding, intuition, and wisdom can be incorporated into the decision model itself, we believe we can more intelligently predict the future. We are well aware there is no such thing as infallibility. However, we also know the more useful and actionable information and knowledge we have available to understand what has happened − and is likely to happen − the better our decisions will be.
Now, having had some time to think about it – it’s been over a month since that post -and having discussed it a bit with Quentellia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Lorien Pratt (@LorienPratt), I’d like to add a little something to both the definition and the description of what World Modeler has to offer. Keep in mind, as with many things, perhaps even more so with something truly emergent and reasonably new to my experience, both my understanding and my ability to explain are evolving; developing structure and nuance as I learn more theory and encounter more examples of real-world situations.
I consider systems thinking, or the ability to see systems — and systems of systems — as the most effective way to understand what is happening within any one or more of those systems, as well as have a chance at affecting the outcomes of the ones designed to produce value and realize valuable results or consequences of their workings. The more elements of a system that can be modeled, the more likely you will be able to understand downstream effects of your decisions, and the more likely you are to see the unintended consequences of actions before you take them.
Here’s where Quantellia’s World Modeler™ excels as a decision modeling — and making — tool and enabler. Consider Predictive Analytics, the practice of extracting information from existing data sets in order to determine patterns and predict future outcomes and trends. PA usually returns fairly simple, pairwise relationships, e.g. these customers in this demographic, with this amount of revenue, etc. are likely/not likely to churn or devoting a certain amount of energy to customer retention is likely to affect/not affect customer churn.
World Modeler, on the other hand, allows you to create a highly complex systems model. This means you can look at numerous elements and their interrelationships to see how they work together, e.g. customer characteristics, customer retention efforts, likelihood to churn, total customers, revenues, and even business rules that might have to be taken into consideration if certain levels of activity are reached. Furthermore, when you don’t have data for one or more of these elements, you can use human expertise, the tacit knowledge of your employees or the group to fill in the gaps. When you have real data, if you later are able to gather it, you can then plug it into the model and continue going.
One more thing. World Model is a highly flexible, iterative navigation mechanism. It allows you to predict without complete or perfect knowledge, then pivot and change the model as new and/or different knowledge, information, and data are gathered or encountered. You can do this repeatedly over the course of months or years, whatever’s necessary to help you make the best decisions for achieving your desired outcomes. So success doesn’t depend on long-term predictions. Rather, it depends on navigation and alignment between the organizations systems, processes, and the humans that employ them.
Now . . . having learned all that, aren’t you interested in seeing how this tool works? You can get a free evaluation copy and all you’re giving up is a little contact information. There’s no obligation. Click on this the link to download a fully-functional two-week evaluation copy of World Modeler. Give her a Whirl(d)!
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’sRocketdyne 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There’s a reason I named this blog Systems Savvy though, to be truthful, I haven’t really done what I intended when I decided on the title. Blogging for me has been somewhat aimless as I’ve attempted to find my voice and considered what I wanted to accomplish. For the last year and a half, starting with my decision to accept the early retirement package offered by my former employer, I’ve considered how to use it to both promote my new business and educate the people I wanted to reach.
The result has been a number of fairly well-directed posts on various issues involving small business and social media marketing. However, I am only beginning to become accomplished at marketing, in general, and frequently feel I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said – and said better – by others.
Lately, especially during a period of time I have been working with an associate on a fairly ambitious proposal (which, last week, was declined), I haven’t had much to say at all. I have, however, been giving a lot of thought to the direction I would like this blog to go in, and I think I’ve come to a decision on what I want to do. Let me explain.
My original intent was to look at various world views, philosophies if you will, that attempt to provide a systemic approach to understanding nature, society, economy, etc. The thinkers I have come to respect and, I think, understand include people like W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Drucker (among others) from the business world, and Karl Marx (an eyebrow raiser, I know, but more about that in later posts) and Friedrich Engels, especially with respect to the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism. This effort began on January 7, 2008 where, in my first post, I explained what I hoped to accomplish. Unfortunately, the distractions and obligations I referenced back then kept me from accomplishing what I then thought would be useful . . . and possible.
Now, after being somewhat forced to accept what for me was a way too early retirement package, and having embarked on my journey back into the world of small business, I’m finding I need to rethink the direction this blog should take. I want to bring it somewhat back to my original intent – with one small wrinkle. I need to write more about the lessons I’ve learned; not merely with respect to the things I experienced and accomplished in my over two decades at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, but also with respect to those things I learned in the preceding two decades in small business, as well as the many experiences I’ve had outside of the business world. One more thing. I’m not dead yet and I am far from inactive in my community.
To do this, it seems I will have to buck one of the “rules” of blogging, i.e. “it’s not about me“. This concept has made it exceedingly difficult to share some of the things I wish to write about for two main reasons. One I wrote about earlier, and that’s this feeling I’ve had all my life that everyone knows what I know. After all, it’s obvious! Right? The second is I’ve been repeatedly asked to write about many of my life experiences, which are not quite “mainstream” and from which I have gleaned some lessons that have been important . . . at least for me, but I’ve been constrained by that admonition against making it about oneself, as well as my inborn desire to please, not offend, others.
I’m constantly working on the first of these issues and here’s what I’ve come to think about the second. I am NOT in the middle of my career. After all, I’m now collecting Social Security and a pension from my previous employer. Less than a year from now I will be eligible for Medicare and, increasingly, I will need it to deal with the medical problems that come from aging. Most bloggers I know (not all) are between 20 and 30 years younger than I am. They have decades to go in their worklife. I may have a decade or two left, but the prospect is far less certain and, truth to tell, I really want to slow down a bit.
I think a change is in order. I think I need to write about all the things I care about. I have also previously written about the dilemma I faced when I realized the disparate “friends” I had on Facebook and how it momentarily took me aback and caused me to reconsider what I was willing to share – with everybody! As then, I have come to the conclusion I can, and should, write about the things that interest me, no matter how they might seem disconnected . . . because they aren’t! They’re taken from my life, my experiences, and the conclusions I’ve drawn or the questions I still have regarding them. If some are offended by this, oops! Too bad.
Me and You as Systems
I am interested in systems theory; systems thinking. Part of my understanding about it is we are all part of various systems. As living organisms we are ourselves systems. For over 60 years I’ve felt, as most of us do, forced at times to separate my life into its constituent parts: Personal; professional; political; religious; philosophical; etc. Yet they are all – for me – intimately related and inextricably intertwined. They are what has made up my life.
Perhaps I’m getting a bit melancholy as I realize my time is surely winding down. I hope to have at least a couple more decades left in me, but there are physical changes making it clear that it won’t be the same. I am showing signs of essential tremors, which my mother had and which sometimes make it hard for me to eat with a fork or grab a small bottle out of the medicine cabinet. Just this past Monday I had a suspicious mole removed from the scar on my back that is the result of surgery to remove a melanoma a couple of years ago. My hair is mostly gray. I have chicken skin, moderate hypertension, and type II diabetes! There are other signs. Perhaps I’ll write about them too.
So here’s the deal. Although I will continue to build my business, which includes a large dose of pro bono and civic-minded activities as well as remunerative ones, I intend to increasingly share my thoughts about the rest of my life as well. I know I have written some posts that were personal, political, and even relating to religion (thought certainly not promoting it), but I have lately been going in the direction of making this a business blog. I will no longer do that. I’m not sure this is the right thing to do. Were I younger, perhaps it would definitely not be the right thing to do. However, I’m not really worried about looking for a job or offending my parents. They both shed their mortal coils years ago.
Frankly, I don’t know if anything I have to say is all that important, but I have the opportunity to write about it and, if nothing else, it will be available for my children, who are now only 7 and 10 years old. I want to leave something so they will be able to better understand who I was and, especially, just how much I love them and want the very best for them. That’s important to me!
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.