abstract art and systems thinking

Archive for the ‘systems thinking’ Category

Working on the system

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In my day-job, it is my last day of full time employment at a company where I have worked for over 30 years (in its various incarnations). The end of an era, or was it an eon?

As well as having the pleasure of working with some wonderful people, it was also a great place for learning from the work. I learned how to work on the system, rather than just working in it.

It is a sad fact that employees all over the globe spend their time and ingenuity getting around the system, or “playing the system”, mostly because employers don’t give them the opportunity to get involved in improving it.

According to W.Edwards Deming “it is the job of management to work on the system, to improve it, with the help of those who work in it”.

Why so-called performance related pay doesn’t work

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The behaviour of each of these shapes/colours is determined by the system in which they operate.

step 3 (conclusion)

Don’t you think that the pinks are especially high performing? Don’t they deserve special recognition? Yes, let’s give them a good bonus this year and a higher salary increase than the others. They deserve it.

Performance related pay doesn’t work because organizational behaviour is a result of the system (the responsibility of management). Paying people differently for what is a result of the system is always unfair. It also leads to concentrating on individual performance rather than on improving the system.

W. Edwards Deming has shown that in any organization 94% of opportunities for improvement come from the system and only 6% from individuals within it.

Metamodernism, Oscillation and the Beer Game

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In Luke Turner‘s Metamodernist Manifesto he says “oscillation is the natural order of things” and he, along with Robin van den Akker, Nadine Feßler and Timotheus Vermeulen, sees this oscillation ( “between a modern desire for sens and a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, between a modern sincerity and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy and empathy and apathy and unity and plurality and purity and corruption and naïveté and knowingness; between control and commons and craftsmanship and conceptualism and pragmatism and utopianism”) as an indication of the emergence of a new cultural dominant – metamodernism.

I feel sure that I am mixing metaphors as I attempt to question the naturalness of oscillation by referring to a business simulation known as the Beer Game, invented, I believe, at M.I.T by Jay Forrester and referenced by Peter Senge in the opening chapter of his book The Fifth Discipline.

Four ‘players’ take up the positions of Factory, Distributor, Wholesaler and Retailer, making up a production and distribution system, the product being crates of beer, represented by coins or counters, that make their way from the factory, to the other sectors and ending up as sales to external customers.

There are some system conditions: no communication takes place between the sectors other than the placing of orders and the receiving of product (silence), and there are delays in production and  transportation as well as in processing the orders. Orders are made by external customers and they are re-acted by each sector concluding with the factory that places orders with its own workforce. The decision-making required by each sector, at the end of each week, is how many crates of beer to order from their supplier upstream.

The activity spans a simulated year, at the beginning the system is stable, customers are ordering 4 crates of beer per week and each sector has 12 crates of beer in their respective inventories. Each sector aims to minimise costs by keeping inventory down at the same time as preventing backlog.

In conducting this simulation (as I have done with groups over 100 times in the last two years) we always find that when external customer orders are stable, the system becomes unstable, with sometimes wild oscillation, (as well as amplification: the oscillation pattern becoming more pronounced the further upstream you go).  A flat line could represent the orders from customers whereas this graph shows the oscillating pattern of orders placed within the system.

Getting back to the Metamodernist Manifesto, if we were to think of orders from customers as the external environment or  ‘nature’, we might conclude that oscillation is an artificial experience. It is not the ‘natural oder of things’ so much as the invented and exaggerated response to external stimuli. We do it to ourselves (that’s what really hurts, apologies Radiohead).

Then again, we could say that it is ‘natural’ in the sense that it is the repeated and predictable response: it seems to come naturally to us.

Maybe what I am saying is that although oscillation may indeed be ‘the natural order of things’, the natural order of things is not itself natural. Whilst the territory is flat, our maps oscillilate wildly.

David Harvey on the Communist Hypothesis today

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Interesting article at Rheomode: David Harvey on the Communist Hypothesis today suggesting that contemporary attempts to revive the communist hypothesis favour horizontally networked as opposed to hierarchically commanded systems, and that this represents a convergence of Marxist and anarchist traditions harking back to the collaborative situation between them in the 1860s.

Slavoj Zizek concludes his book First as Tragedy,then as Farce with a chapter entitled The Communist Hypothesis, in which he argues that the revolutionary process is about repeating the beginning again and again, and that, rejecting any sense of continuity with what the Left meant over the last two centuries, everything should be re-thought, beginning from the beginning that Badiou calls “the communist hypothesis”.

Written by Andy Parkinson

July 18, 2011 at 7:08 am

OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect (via itsallonething)

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I keep connecting to others connecting with Gregory Bateson and the pattern which connects. The pattern which connects is itself a pattern, a meta pattern, a pattern of patterns.

It was my teacher,colleague and friend Judith Lowe, who first introduced me to the writing of Gregory Bateson and, if I remember rightly, she suggested that we read it as if it were poetry and let it wash over us, at first, as a way into it. Well, it does have that kind of poetic appeal. Although, strictly speaking, it is science writing it has this amazing aesthetic dimension. I think the film that is embedded in this reblog as well as the writing in the blog itself (just click on ‘read more’), brings out something of his poetic style. The film is a trailer for a one- hour film by Nora Bateson.

OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect Gregory Bateson tells us that we ought always look for the “pattern which connects.” I first stumbled upon Gregory Bateson while a college student and working at a local book distributorship. Our customers were college and university libraries, and one of them had purchased a beautiful hardbound copy of Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity.  I stood the … Read More

via itsallonething

Here’s a different blog with a slideshow that also reveals the aesthetic style. In relation to content, Bateson insisted that the question “what connects?”  was an aesthetic question. ( I have used this slideshow before, quite recently but it’s so good that I thought it deserves another look ….or two.)

Bateson slideshow at the Rhizome Network

What is a system?

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A system definition taken from Redesigning Society by Russell Ackoff and Sheldon Rovin

A system is a whole that has one or more defining functions and consists of two or more essential parts that satisfy three conditions

1) the system cannot do without the part to perform its defining function

2) no essential part can affect the system independently,

how it affects the system as a whole depends on its interaction with at least one other essential part of the system

3) no subsystem of a system has an independent effect on the whole

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

The Blog as system: a little Statistical Process Control

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Here’s a run chart showing the visits to my blog in May (I know, it would be nice to have more visits).

It shows at a glance just how much variation there is in the system visits per day to my site: although the average (mean) number of visits per day for May was 58, the highest number of visits was 144, and the least was 17.

Plotting the data in a control chart or capability chart (invented by Walter Shewhart and used by W. Edwards Deming) shows that the system is out of statistical control, in that there is special cause variation on day 29,

and the run of twelve days below the mean may also suggest special causes of variation (a run of six or more might be an indication of a special cause).

With special causes it could be meaningful to ask “what happened, specifically?”

Answers: 1) On day 29, I used a poll for the first time, and as it was researching a suggestion made by my son (that some people need help to see optical effects), both my sons were happy to encourage their Facebook friends to visit my site and complete the poll. As a result I got more visitors than usual that day. 2) On days 10 to 21, I may have been less active than usual in looking at other blogs as I was away for some of those days.

All the other data points show common cause variation: the variation that can be expected by the normal behaviour of the system. The chart shows that I could expect to get anywhere between 0 visits (the Lower Control Limit, LCL) and 112 visits (the Upper Control Limit, UCL) on any one day. To be surprised by data points within these limits, to get concerned for example at the 17 visits, would be foolish. To improve performance when the system shows common cause variation one must focus on the common causes rather than on individual data points. I could ask myself “what happens predictably every day, that causes this variation?” I would answer that I post something including a visual image, and that I take a few minutes to look at other blogs, mostly by tag surfing. To get more visits I would have to change this system.

Written by Andy Parkinson

June 9, 2011 at 7:10 am