System-Design-Network Thinking…

Overlapping and disparate domains have interrelated abstract concepts that hold extraordinary value. Linking and exploiting them can make the opaque transparent and enable enormous benefits.

I think wholistically, i.e. strategically, at an organizational unit and at it’s systems… that is one perspective.

I think of components that make up the larger as subsystem abstraction levels, i.e. tactically, at functional groups and at IT infrastructure components… that is another perspective.

I think of service abstractions, functions, processes, inputs and outputs, i.e. information providers… yet another abstraction perspective.

The resulting combination of the layers IS complex, but not complicated. (see A Case for Complexity)

Art and/or Science

The power to coordinated the interactions and activities is an orchestration of complexity. Whereas complex systems can create unknown interactions, they are not unknowable.

Managing the interaction should be more science than art. Defining organizations, and processes and systems as complex sets of activities that are continually evolving sounds a bit like art. But that is precisely what enterprise architecture is able to do.

The multiple perspective approach that defines layers of activity abstractions allows the complex to become simple; Unknownable to be knowable; Disparate functions to become coordinated.

Allowing ‘command and control’ to become ‘involve and empower’ is the subject of a recent article by Angela Montgomery PhD entitled “From Silos to System: How to Build an Organization Fit for Complexity

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She points out that “In order to navigate complexity, organizations must shift from the obsolete, Newtonian worldview of individual, separate and hierarchical parts.

Indeed, a systematic approach to organization is needed to compete in the Age of Accelerations and increasing complexity.

Organizations need to be “Working towards a systemic and interdependent network. This kind of organization is founded on principles of continuous learning, continuous improvement and continuous innovation.

Cited is Peter Senge, a leader in Systems Thinking: “A Fundamental Principle Of Systems Thinking: Smart Individuals Are No Longer Needed, Collective Intelligence Is

Reading this article made me reflect on my evolution of thought and it’s melding of three basic ideas:

I feel the amalgam is a wholistic way to observe, think about and envision solutions.


Parts is Parts

Systems are made up of pieces and parts, of people and groups, of entities and things. Systems evolve over time, they change, they transform. They can grow and become more complicated and complex.

That is what people shy away from. People would rather have simple and be able to feel in control. But once a system gets beyond the point of simple and easy to understand, it often becomes complicated.

Understanding complicated requires trained and experienced experts, a smart individual, a specialist.

Specialization has been the hallmark of economic growth for over 100 years.

It also resulted in functional separation, in solos, in hierarchical command and control.

In another Montgomery article “Systemic Organization Management for the Age of Complexity” it is pointed out that even in the early 1950’s W. Edwards Deming promoted a network model for organizations:

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In a related TED talk video, Corrado De Gasperis, noted three mental models Deming suggests as reasons for resistance to this idea:

Conflict 1: Organizational Design

Conflict 2: Measurement System

Conflict 3: Notions of Control

The conflicts can be overcome, but people have to want to change.


We’ve Always Done It This Way?

The U.S. and the world rode command and control, perfected by WWII military, for several more decades. It is what and how schools taught and how businesses managed.

It was what we knew. It was the way it was always done.

After the Vietnam War, the military was forced to change to something better.

The modern military methodology moved away from top down towards distributed decision making and cooperative tactics.

Per wikipedia: “concepts and methods have assumed more complex forms of the 19th- and early-20th-century antecedents, largely due to the widespread use of highly advanced information technology, and combatants must modernize constantly to preserve their battle worthiness.“; Network-centric warfare is a military doctrine or theory of war pioneered by the United States Department of Defense in the 1990s. It seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled, in part, by information technology, into a competitive advantage through the robust computer networking of well informed geographically dispersed forces.

In other words, a System-Design-Network Thinking approach.

Civilian organizations have been slow to catch up. One reason they are now is that System-Design-Network Thinking is what is needed in a complex world.

System-Design-Network Thinking involves setting strategic goals and objectives that explain ‘Why’ which enables seperate parts of a system to coordinate. But change it hard. People are not strategic, nor complex, by nature.

The difficulty is letting go of what we feel is understanding and control. Relying on other parts of the whole is uncomfortable.

Over time I’ve realized that I view knowledge and experience in a similar way. Specialization of knowledge is a hallmark of domain expertise. Advanced degrees and certification are most often focused on narrower and narrower world views.

As systems are getting better at finding answers every day, the more imoortant skill becomes asking the right questons.

Classify and Relate

My brain tends to see ‘things’ in 3D and to turn over problems with potential answers from what I’ve seen before. This is not unique, but it seems to be generally uncommon.

The idea of classification leads from tagging to vocabularies and glossaries. A more precise definition is taxonomies which then lead toward ontologies.

One of my favorite definitions of ontology is from Kurt Cagle who cites a somewhat tongue in cheek definition, “an ontology was a specification of a conceptualization”. He also said Ultimately, we need to start qualifying ambiguity.

Similarl to me, Kurt has been on a journey that led him to understanding, appreciation and designing with Semantic Web and Linked Data technologies.

All of this demands an understanding of meaning, especially the meaning of ‘concept’. My definition of concepts is:

A concept is an abstraction or generalization of an experience. They are mental representations of real world entities, i.e. symbolic entities;
A conceptual model is a perspective of reality that tries to establish meaning, with symbols and names and interrelationships

I have always been intellectually curious, sometimes at my own expense. I draw parallels and analogies (often annoyingly) between domains or fields. To an extent I am an anti-specialist. I see and seek value in multiple views… even loosely related or divergent views.

I have grown to view the whole AND the parts. I look at things from different perspectives and easily navigate up and down layers of abstraction.

This is the reason I draw on and exploit the similarities from different knowledge domains. This is why I am attracted to disciples like Systems, Network, Enterprise, and Business architecture.

This is why I develop and apply Strategy and System-Design-Network-Thinking to Product Management, Software Development, IT and Business Alignment and Digital Transformation.