Wednesday May 20, 2009

The Edge of Technology and Systems Thinking

Last year, competitive strategy guru and Harvard business school professor Michael Porter wrote about "Why America Needs an Economic Strategy." In this brief note for BusinessWeek, Porter emphasizes the importance of infrastructure, logistics and educational upgrades in the U.S. economic system, as key success factors.

These infrastructure upgrades will demand new IT technologies deployed throughout, including upgrades related to people logistics and transportation.

These upgrades, including upgrades that will affect the way we live and work in our urban and suburban environments and those that will make public transportation much more attractive alternatives, will also have a direct impact on other ecological problems we face, including the dangerous changes such as the ones that are now affecting the ice caps. See for example, the report in The Independent, "Exclusive: Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer."

System-level thinking teaches us that various domains of our activity and concern are in fact very well-connected and tied up in complex dynamics. 

Tragedies occur when systems and their dynamics are not properly understood.

Relying on hasty moves, fire-fighting and denying the interplay of of dynamics and time has led to many mispercieved problems and "solutions" that only aggravate problems or create new ones.

Careful attention, deep study and addressing the root causes of these global and systemic problems may deliver a better future path to recovery.

In order to do all this, one needs to have a good understanding of complex systems and their dyamics. This is subtle art and requires a comprehensive understanding of various system components and how they interact, including a mental model for these interactions.

I'm afraid I have to bring the news that not everyone has had the experience or has accumulated the knowledge for that kind of integrative thinking.  This is why we should set aside our bias against those who refuse to be dragged into firefights. These are people who pause to pay proper attention to problems and discover real solutions. This pause doesn't imply slow thinking, rather a paced mode of thinking. These people should be cherished rather than isolated, refused and blocked from hierarchical decision systems that emphasize perpetual firefights. (Studies have shown that "firefight" mode of thinking and acting is much more prevalent in U.S. business and government institutions when compare to Japan or other countries where root solutions are the focus. So, we may need a general cultural change to lay greater value to system thinking and problem-solving that addresses root causes.)

In general, systems thinking will get us to where we want to be. In general, symptomatic and firefight solutions may solve the problem momentarily but will only get us farther from where we want to head. 

Saturday Feb 03, 2007

IPCC

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by WMO and UNEP to "assess scientific, technical and socio- economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation." The fourth assessment of the IPCC will be released under Climate Change 2007. You can also consult IPCC's February 2, 2007 Paris conference webcast for a preview.

These assessment reports do not come out haphazardly. The third assessment was called Climate Change 2001. So, 6 years of further work and data has gone into the new assessment.

David Adam of The Guardian reports from Paris, summarizing some of the highlights of the recent report releases by IPCC's Working Group I, focused on "Physical Science Basis" of climate change. 

Average temperatures could increase by as much as 6.4C by the end of the century if emissions continue to rise, with a rise of 4C most likely, according to the final report of an expert panel set up by the UN to study the problem. The forecast is higher than previous estimates, because scientists have discovered that Earth's land and oceans are becoming less able to absorb carbon dioxide.

You can also listen to Guardian's interview with its reporter, Mr. Adam.

The working group has made available The IPCC Working Group I Fourth Assessment Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM). Page 15 of the report contains green house gas concentration measures based on examination of ice-core going back to 10,000 years.

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