Dan Hill — Dark Matter

Trojan Horses & Nordic Models

On the difficulty of problem framing - defining and finding your way into a problem of systems…

“A growing sensitivity to the waves of repercussions that ripple through such systemic networks and to the value consequences of those repercussions has generated the recent re-examination of received values and the recent search for national goals. There seems to be a growing realization that a weak strut in the professional’s support system lies at the juncture where goal-formulation, problem-definition and equity issues meet.” (Rittel and Webber)
If problem-definition was a problem then, it certainly is almost 40 years later. Reading Rittel and Webber, it is sobering to reflect upon how little has changed, or improved, despite them writing such a clear and ultimately influential paper. These problems still need addressing in new ways.
“it has become less apparent where problem centers lie, and less apparent where and how we should intervene even if we do happen to know what aims we seek … By now we are all beginning to realize that one of the most intractable problems is that of defining problems … and of locating problems.” (Rittel & Weber)

On the complexity of webs and inter-dependent systems…

“Just as we never consider the ground beneath our feet until we trip, these glimpses into the complex webs of inter-dependencies upon which modern life relies only come when part of that web fails. When the failure is corrected, the drama fades and all returns to normal. However, it is that normal which is most extraordinary of all. Our daily lives are dependent upon the coherence of thousands of direct interactions, which are themselves dependent upon trillions more interactions between things, businesses, institutions and individuals across the world.“ (Korowicz 2011)
Their failure is not only felt locally but globally, due to this interdependent web of connections woven…
Failure of dependency is perhaps felt most clearly locally, even if the cause of failure is displaced within this global system.

On system design…

There is an irony to such systems being so strong that they can construct the contemporary world and yet so brittle that they break within hours. This can, in part, be conceived of as a design problem.

On virtual & physical system redundancy…

It is a far more resilient system, through reducing the risk associated with interdependency. Yet ironically, it is an approach to systems that has been ‘designed out’ of many contemporary cities.
Interdependency is felt in failure to deal with matter, rather than meta.

On failure and the need for learning loops…

There is good failure and bad failure. The former is failure that enables a system to learn and grow more resilient, more adept. The latter is exhibited within a non-learning system. Are these non-learning systems due to their fundamentally out-of-control characteristics, systems whose complexity has grown beyond our comprehension and capability?

On the folly of separating strategy from execution…

Everything around us is the result of a choice, a design decision in effect. So when we see failure, we can only assume a breakdown between policy, the intended design, and delivery, the outcome.
“The idea that we have to choose between a mediocre, well-executed strategy and a brilliant, poorly executed one is deeply flawed — a narrow, unhelpful concept replete with unintended negative consequences.” (Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, HBR)
We can’t possibly hope to uncover the right solution, without first understanding what the problem actually is.
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