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Might #problemsolving be our civilization’s root cause of the #collapse to come?

Problem solving, RCA (root cause analysis), continuous improvement, Lean management, all in order to study the problem, and find a fix for it… sounds the best way to progress, right? Hell, we even have ISO norms like ISO 9001 for it! Plan your actions, Do an experiment, Check the results, and Adjust upon deviations found. In itself, that PDCA or Shewart/Deming improvement circle doesn’t sound bad. Indeed, evolution thrives on it:

  • Plan is what’s your genetic material and your sociological background tells you to do (through language when it comes to humans)
  • Do is well, living
  • Check is when feedback is felt (more on this later)
  • Adjust is when learning occurs and living creatures adapt to the change

So, what’s wrong with it? Well, I think the wrong happens under the radar, but first in the Check step (indeed, PDCA starts at Check… I’ve read about that some years ago but can’t find the reference, sorry). It’s a systemic issue, and one that wouldn’t occur if we accepted to move to second order cybernetics / systems thinking.

In the 1st order cybernetics or systems thinking (or cybernetics), there’s an observer, and an observed, and no link, no influence (except for the decided) between them.

In 2nd order cybernetics, the observer considers the self to be part of the system and its perspective / world view / weltanschauung about it having an influence on the “observed”.

When you’re still in the 1st order of thinking, it’s all the most easy to fall in the trap of thinking the observed is “wrong” (with respect to what you would like it to be) and “fix” it by some intervention. Indeed, that brought civilization to where it is today with all our science and technology, arts, philosophy, etc. But it also brought with it environmental exhaustion, pollution and peak everything (eg. peak minerals)…

In 2nd order cybernetics, one recognizes that one’s own (preconceived) perspective on anything shapes the perception of that very thing it is observing. As a consequence, perceiving a problem in an observed might be more revealing on a “problem” in the mind of the observer than in reality. Indeed, Nature doesn’t have problems. Nature *is* and evolves on its own. It’s the perception of a problem and the desire to fix it that tampers with the natural cycles of nature and most often than not creates more unintended consequences (though at a later time), for which a new cycle of “problem solving” will need to be done.

So, the 1st order way of doing the Check is searching for an external (to self) source of the problem, consequently followed by an external search of a solution, or “fix” to that very (external) problem, at its perceived (external) root cause.

Indeed, in 2nd order cybernetics, one would ponder how is it that we are seeing a problem in the first place… and then stop doing what’s causing it. The Check thus turns its inspection toward self and becomes introspection. Consequently, the Adjust begins to see a different way of behaving, in such a way that it doesn’t trigger negative feedbacks.

Does it have something to do with deficit-based change versus strength-based change? Not necessarily. One can decide to seek the positive, what worked (like previous acts on the observed rather than on oneself) because it did have apparent beneficial effects, but without considering that it might have future unintended consequences.

Permaculture, for instance, is, IMHO, both a strength-based approach to change AND an intrinsic way of changing (do we need to design a new word for it? Does one already exist? Please tell me in the comments). Permaculture seeks to stop detrimental living practices (housing, agriculture, health, economy, etc.) and instead, change its practitioners’ behaviors to be more in line with what Nature does already, or to step by step (PDCA!) approach Nature’s way of doing things.

What is #Management #Cybernetics? 22 laws by Barry Clemson (#stwg #systemsthinking)

November 22nd, 2012 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , , ,
Just saw this and thought I would reference it so it’s not lost… Barry, please get your book back on the shelves for a decent price! 🙂

1. System Holism Principle: A system has holistic properties possessed by none of its parts. Each of the system parts has properties not possessed by the system as a whole.

2. Darkness Principle: no system can be known completely.

3. Eighty-Twenty Principle: In any large, complex system, eighty percent of the output will be produced by only twenty percent of the system.

4. Complementarity Law: Any two different perspectives (or models) about a system will reveal truths about that system that are neither entirely independent nor entirely compatible.

5. Hierarchy Principle: Complex natural phenomena are organized in hierarchies with each level made up of several integral systems.

6. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem: All consistent axiomatic foundations of number theory include undecidable propositions.

7. Entropy – the Second Law of Thermodynamics: In any closed system the differences in energy can only stay the same or decrease over time; or, in any closed system the amount of order (or organization) can never increase and must eventually decrease.

8. Redundancy of Information Theorem: Errors in information transmission can be protected against (to any level of confidence required) by increasing the redundancy in the messages.

9. Redundancy of Resources Principle: Maintenance of stability under conditions of disturbance requires redundancy of critical resources.

10. Redundancy of Potential Command Principle: In any complex decision network, the potential to act effectively is conferred by an adequate concatenation of information.

11. Relaxation time Principle: System stability is possible only if the system’s relaxation time is shorter than the mean time between disturbances.

12. Circular Causality Principle One: Given positive feedback (i.e., a two-part system in which each stimulates any initial change in the other), radically different end states are possible from the same initial conditions.

13. Circular Causality Principle Two: Given negative feedback (i.e., a two-part system in which each part tends to offset any change in the other), the equiibrial state is invariant over a wide range of initial conditions.

14. Feedback dominance theorem: For high gain amplifiers, the feedback dominates the output over wide variations in input.

15. Homeostasis Principle: A system survives only so long as all essential variables are maintained within their physiological limits.

16. Steady State Principle: If a system is in a state of equilibrium (a steady state), then all sub-systems must be in equilibrium. If all sub-systems are in a state of equilibrium, then the system must be in equilibrium.

17. Requisite Variety Law: The control achievable by a given regulatory sub-system over a given system is limited by 1) the variety of the regulator, and 2) the channel capacity between the regulator and the system.

18. Conant-Ashby theorem: Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system.

19. Self-Organizing Systems Principle: Complex systems organize themselves; the characteristic structural and behavioral patterns in a complex system are primarily a result of the interactions among the system parts.

20. Basins of Stability Principle: Complex systems have basins of stability separated by thresholds of instability. A system “parked” on a ridge will “roll downhill”.

21. Viability Principle: Viability is a function of the balance maintained along two dimensions: 1) autonomy of sub-systems versus integration of the system as a whole, and 2) stability versus adaptation.

22. Recursive System Theorem: If a viable system contains a viable system, then the organizational structure must be recursive; or, in a recursive organizational structure, any viable system contains, and is contained in, a viable system.

via What is Management Cybernetics? | Barry Clemson.

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