Observing Complexity

To me, observing real life systems is something like this:

A real life System comprises of a meaningful set of objects, diverse in form, state and function but inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks enclosed by variable space, operating far from its equilibrium conditions not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘bifurcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behaviour of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how it has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, thus triggering creative human responses to manage, maintain and enhance the system conditions, function and purpose and create superior systems of the future for the benefit of the society at large.

Such a representation of an observation looks quite involved. Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler way. Most real life systems behave in a complex manner creating multitude of problems of performance and failures. But how do we get rid of complexity and uncertainty as exhibited by systems? We may do so by deeply observing the complex behaviour of the system to improve our perception to gain insights about the essence of the system; find out the underlying ‘imperfection’ that causes the apparent complexity and uncertainty and then find ways to improve the existing system or create new system and maintain them in the simplest possible manner. We do this by applying the principles of chaos, reliability and design. Surprisingly, the same process might be used to troubleshoot and solve problems we face on a daily basis. If done, we are no longer dominated or dictated by the ‘special whims’ of the system.

The crux of the matter is how we observe reality and understand it so as to make meaningful choices as responses to life and living.

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Creative Technique of Joachim Schmid

photoThis is a creation of Joachim Schmid — Photogentic Draft #15, 1991

Problem solving and creativity go hand in hand. So it helps a problem solver to continually hone his creative skills.

Though there are many ways to hone one’s creativity we may always learn a new method to do so from Joachim Schmid.  He creates new images from ‘technically wrong’ images.

This is what he did to create this fine work of art. In this case, he came across a box of negatives, cut in half so they could not be used. Just like putting jigsaw puzzle pieces together – he positioned the different images in odd combinations that created a surprising new image with profound fluidity.

Potential for creative work can just be found anywhere. With this technique we learn how to put together seemingly unrelated images, ideas, thoughts to create a surprisingly new image, idea or thought.

You can see the potential anywhere.

Role of Critical Thinking in Solving Complex Problems

Within the next five years the ability to solve complex problems would be the number one skill people would be desperately looking for.

However, development of this skill rests on three fundamental pillars, which are:

  1. Critical Thinking 
  2. Creativity 
  3. Seeing” things differently

In this post, we focus on the skill of critical thinking. To do so, we draw inspiration from ten examples of critical thinking and critical thinkers that changed our world and our world views.

“Being bold enough to let your mind go where good arguments take you, even if it’s to places that make you feel uncomfortable, may lead you to discoveries about the world and yourself.”

(Critical Thinking: The Art of Argument, by George W. Rainbolt and Sandra L. Dwyer)

Read more

Creativity in Solving Complex Problems

The other day, at the end of my seminar on “Solving Complex Engineering Problems” a delegate asked me as to whether the entire process of solving complex problems can be automated in some way by means of a software instead of relying on human creativity.

Such a response wasn’t unexpected. In the corporate world the word “creativity” is often looked at with suspicion. They would rather prefer structured and standard approaches like “brainstorming” at 10.00 am sharp or team work or collaborative effort, which in my opinion do little to help anyone solve complex problems or even address complex problems correctly.

That might be the single most important reason why “complex problems” remain unresolved for years affecting profitability and long term sustenance of an organization. Failing to resolve complex problems for years often earns such problems the sobriquet of “wicked problems”, which means that such problems are too tough for “any expert” to come to grips with.

What they sadly miss out is the role of creativity in solving complex problems, which no automation or technology can ever replicate. They miss this because most organizations systemically smother or mercilessly boot out any remnant of creativity in their people since they think that it is always easier to control and manage a regimented workforce devoid of even elementary traces of creativity.

So, is managing creativity and creative people a messy affair? On the surface it seems so. This is simply because we generally have a vague idea of what drives, inspires and really sustains creativity?

Creativity is not about wearing hair long or wearing weird clothes, singing strange tunes, coming to office late and being rude to bosses for no apparent reasons. These things hardly make anyone creative or help anyone become a more creative person.

Actually, things like “being attentive and aware”, “sensitive”, “passionate”, “concerned”, “committed” and above all “inventive” just might be the necessary ingredients to drive, inspire and sustain creativity.

Why?

Though there are many ways of describing and defining creativity what I like best is – “creativity is the expression of one’s understanding and expression of oneself” – deeper the understanding better the expression of creativity.

When we look at creativity in this manner it is obvious that we are all creative though the expression and its fidelity might vary to a great extent. Clearly, some are simply better than others.

Further, if creativity may be thought about as a process, then the inputs and the clarity of understanding of ourselves are more valuable elements of the system than the outputs that the process anyway consistently churns out (remember the uncountable hours we spent in organization meeting, discussing and brainstorming to solve complex problems).

In these days of economic depressions, organizations can really do themselves a huge favor if only they pay more attention to facilitating such inputs to people rather than get overtly worried about control and management by conformity.

The Secret of Everything.

image
The heart of all issues

This I think is the secret of solving or resolving any issue or creating anything worthwhile in the world, however difficult or hard that might appear to be.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a problem or issue of physics or a problem of engineering or a management problem or a personal problem.

So, taking time and patience to learn and master “connectedness” is worth spending a lifetime upon.

One can’t force it to happen. But when it happens consider it as a extremely rate and valuable gift, worth more than its weight in gold.

When one plays with this gift with perseverance it turns into the rarest of rare talent available to the world.

Possibly, we will never have a “Theory of Everything” but we certainly have a “Secret of Everything.”

So why wait to master that secret?

A baffling problem

Last week I was invited to engage with a baffling problem. It left engineers and managers of the power plant baffled for the last four months.

Instead of writing the technical details of the problem, which might not be of much interest to non-technical people I would instead write about my approach to solving baffling problems along with the principles involved. This is because we often wrongly interpret problems as technical, non technical, financial, social, etc. Essentially all problems are problems of the human mind. Invariably they always originate and live in the human mind. However, problems, as a rule, are always solved or resolved through enlightened (understanding, wisdom) consciousness.

The process, which I intend to highlight below, may be used to successfully solve both personal and professional problems or quickly adapt when a baffling problem (or a black swan) strikes.

The seven steps of the integrated process are as follows:

1. Look at the event as perceived in the present and the events that went before it.

Principles:
a) See all, sit still, breathe deep, care for the ill.
b) When drinking water think of its source.

2. Examine the responses of human beings to a problem. Spot the responses that emanated from stored memories (usually collective).

Principles:
a) Buddha is a toilet stick.
b) The gateway is found only after a long search and the long search is a spiral going inward.

3. Check implementation of the responses for assumptions, acceptance of imperfections, ignorance of facts and avoidance of details.

Principles:
a) See the whole universe in a glass of wine.
b) Can you see the cloud in the book?

4. Scan the various perspectives people have about a problem, i.e. how individuals feel about the problem. Identify the blind spots.

Principles:
a) No question; no answer
b) Cut the grass; pull the roots. 
c) Pine cones look at different directions but do they?

5. Listen intently to what they say and what they don’t say about the issue.

Principles:
a) Noise of the unsayable, unspeakable and unsaid is music.
b) Go up the mountain to meet the sage, know that it is you, come down to mix with the lakes and rivers.
c) A ruler and a worthy person who don’t connect, a musician and a listener who don’t find each other, or two potential friends who never meet; all lose.

6. Gain deep insight about the problem.

Principles:
a) Don’t catch the snake by its tail.                          
b) Birds are not afraid of directions.
c) Question, test and use every sense you have and believe that dawn would come.
d) Imaginary lines between stars guide us to new harbors.

7. Form understanding of the problem. Formulate viable solutions for minimal intervention. Exchange the understanding in the simplest possible terms as logically as possible to change collective consciousness. Leave it there.                                         

Principles:
a) No question; no answer.
b) Spirit is wrapped in reason and reason is wrapped in spirit.
c) One raindrop creates thousand ripples.
d) Don’t wish for spring; spring gives life to wish.

Chances are that baffling problems would no longer appear baffling and would soon be solved/resolved by people.

Feynman — on Connectedness

On this day in 1988 we lost Richard Feynman — the great explainer.

He saw the interconnectedness of all things more clearly than most.

Here is what he sees in a glass of wine:

A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he said that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look in glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let us give one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

Seeing anything in this manner is incidentally the fundamental secret of:

1. Enlightened Learning

2. Enlightened Problem solving

3. Enlightened Living

Did I miss anything?

Science and Art of Problem Solving

Science and art are the head and tail of the same coin when it comes to solving real life problems.

With science, we search for similarities of things that appear different. We focus on linearities and direct connections between causes and effects.

With art, we search for differences among things that are apparently similar. We focus on non-linearities and intricate connections between causes and effects.

To solve real life problems we need to be skilled in both science and art. This is because situation governing every problem is unique. That is why most real life problems are complex in nature.

Seen realistically, solving real problems puts science and art together again. Actually, they were never born apart.

Taken together; they lead us to truth.

Something more on Science and Art:
http://www.artic.edu/aic/education/sciarttech/2a1.html

4 Way of Dealing with Problems

The four standard methods of dealing with any problem are the following:

1. Absolve

2. Resolve

3. Solve

4. Dissolve

Absolve

This appears to be the most common way of dealing with problems. It simply means to almost deny existence of a problem. We feel the problem but we are not ready to accept it as one. Instead, as it happens, we wish that it simply vanishes or goes away. This is the default mode, a very natural response to problems. We do that on a personal level. We do that on an organizational level. If it weren’t so, all organizations would be great places to work and all homes would have been heavens. A reasonable metaphor would be: ostrich putting its head in the sand, wishing the danger to fly off on its own.

Resolve

With this mode of dealing with a problem we simply copy some available solution. It might be one of the famous ‘best practices’ another organization or person is following. It might spring from some experience of someone who dealt with a similar problem before. Most often than not it turns out to be a wrong experience. Or it might be a very simple common sense approach to deal with a problem. Use of simple problem solving techniques like ‘why-why’ are generally used for this purpose. With this mode of operation we are aiming for a ‘good enough’ solution. We are not interested in the best possible way of treating a problem. It is something like most consultants do regularly in various organizations. A good metaphor might be: Having a headache? Take this pill. It would disappear in no time.

Solve

To solve a problem means to stop a problem from recurring or resurfacing. It would involve change or partial correction of behavior. It might be a change of behavior of a part of a machine, a particular behavior of a person or a method or a process. But it is never connected to the change of organizational behavior or change of organizational climate or environment or transformation of an individual. An appropriate metaphor might be: in winter wear woolens.

Dissolve

To dissolve a problem one has to redesign. We can redesign a machine so that its total behavior and its outputs change forever. It is something like transformation. Like, a person changing completely so that existing problems are never experienced again. It is a long-term change involving complete elimination of all the problems in the system. For an organization it means complete overhaul of its strategy, outlook, mindset and practices. A right metaphor in this case might be: give a man a fish, you would solve his problem of hunger for a day; but teach him to fish you have dissolved his problem of hunger for life.

 

NEME that can’t be exactly Named.

Whether it is problem solving or designing or building a business model or taking a decision or for that matter anything practical — four important abilities come together.

a) Notice or discern the ‘differences’ and ‘changes’. (N)

b) Engage with the interdependent constraints in a given context (E)

c) Mull about the dynamic interactions (M). What we think about a situation is not important since it is an opinion at most. It is what the dynamic situation (always creative by itself) wants to do or express.

d) Exchange value through re-design of some sort to change or adapt to existing conditions or assist emerging conditions to emerge the way they desire. (E)

So for any dynamic phenomenon it is a NEME that we exchange. Much depends on whether we Notice or not; Engage or not; Mull or not; Exchange or not. That would help determine both our personal and social character, influenced by our consciousness, which would ultimately determine the fate of an individual, family, community, society, nation and the world as a whole.

Therefore, in Nemetics, NEME stands for many things, such as…

a) A non-linear creative process of coming to an understanding of a phenomenon

b) 4 fundamental abilities that help us survive better

c) Creation of value

d) An exchange of some value, a quanta of energy, a natural resistance that creates newness or a constraint that helps things to flow,

e) It can be applied to physical objects and phenomenon, people, social interactions and a host of other things.

f) Expression of character that determines fate of the individual and that of the collective.

What exactly is NEME then?

Fair to say that NEME can’t be exactly named.