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  • 09 Jun 2015 8:00 PM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    The King Gillette Company had a problem when they first introduced a truly disposable razor in the 1960s in that the disposable razors actually lasted as long (and in some cases longer) than more expensive razor types. A solution to this dilemma was to introduce a colored strip on the top of the blade casing as a means to signal when the blade required replacing. This allowed the company to increase consumption of the cheaper blades by encouraging replacement based on something other than the life of the blade itself.

    There are several ways to increase consumption in a product. One way is to introduce a mechanism that signals a need for replacement at a particular time (an example being the “service engine” light signaling a need for servicing based on a certain number of miles or kilometers driven). A product can also be designed to last a certain amount of uses or time before requiring replacement (an auto manufacturer received bad press in the 1980s when it was discovered that the manufacturer designed automobiles to last a certain number of years before requiring replacement). Designing for consumption may provide short-term benefits but makes the organization vulnerable to perceived poor quality and competitors who may introduce products which may have the same or lower quality standards but a higher designed consumption level.

    Designing for increased consumption also leaves an organization vulnerable to organizations that can use the tactic to either introduce a product with a longer life or advertise their products as higher quality. A manufacturer of printers made a conscious effort to increase consumption of their print cartridges by discontinuing older and larger cartridges and introducing smaller ones that printed fewer pages before requiring replacement. Their competitors responded in kind by advertising that their print cartridges actually lasted longer than theirs resulting in a poor perception by consumers that cost them loyal customers. In the case of the auto manufacturer that designed cars with a certain life expectance the organization earned the perception of having poor quality that allowed their competitors to take market share from them even though future models were shown to be of a higher quality.
    Image Credit: http://photopin.com/free-photos/razor

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

  • 19 May 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    I have recently began re-reading Abraham Maslow's seminal work on management Maslow on Management  (which I feel should be required reading for anyone aspiring to be a manager). One of my favorite parts is a section on self-esteem in the workforce in which he explains the effects of authoritarian management on employees. These effects on workplace morale is also summed up very eloquently by a friend and mentor of mine, Robert Dickman, in his video about the damaging effects of authoritarian management styles of team morale which is definitely worth viewing.

    Authoritarian management works by placing significant power in the hands of an authoritarian (usually a manager) who then wields his positional power to ensure that those assigned to him pursue actions that meet the organization’s goals. The problem with authoritarian management, Maslow notes, is that the employee will counteract this power imbalance by acting "with hostility and vandalism" at its worst but typically in very subversive ways. Employees do this, Maslow also notes, because authoritarian management robs the worker of dignity and self-esteem and as such creates an imbalance the employee attempts to counter. These actions are initially very subtle (such as only doing what is assigned to them or neglecting tasks that are less visible but which have a significant impact on team performance) but eventually begin to erode team performance such that the authoritarian begins to wield his or her power even more (and thereby feeding a vicious cycle in which team morale is destroyed and the team becomes dysfunctional). The authoritarian manager begins to view these passive yet subversive actions with confusion, anger, and then frustration as the manager begins to think that the team is so dysfunctional that they need even more direct management from them to do their jobs. In cases where the manager micro-manages the team the manager suddenly finds themselves taking on more and more of the important tasks their subordinates are assigned as subordinates begin to do less and less.

    This effect is especially damaging in teams requiring high collaboration such as engineering cross-functional teams where behavior within and between teams becomes competitive. Over time, as Robert Dickman succinctly notes, problems or opportunities seen by one team will stay hidden as each team is reluctant to bring up problems in a bid to avoid punishment. The team as a system will suddenly become suboptimized with tasks such as knowledge sharing minimized to only that which the team members are rewarded (or threatened) to do.

    An unfortunate by-product of poor management is that employees begin to become risk adverse, using company policies and procedures to protect their actions. This behavior results in employees doing things only "by the book" as they feel that taking what is perceived as a risk exposes them to either further harassment or abuse by the manager or (even worse) being laid off. These employee actions can even result in behaviors that degrade the organization as their loyalty to the organization begins to shift. It is hard for many managers to understand that employees do not have the same stake in the organization as the manager and as such the employees actions will be seen by the manager in a confusing light, especially when the employee's action run counter to the needs of the organization. It is key to understand that it is not the manager's perception of his own management style that matters but how employees view the manager; this is especially true in teams that develop a shared understanding of the manager and subsequently the organization that is negative and corrosive.
    Image credit: http://www.imcreator.com/free/business/mac

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

  • 19 May 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    May 2015 Pres. Release

    I’ll call this one, The Taming of the Skew.  Yes, it’s a parody of one of Shakespeare’s plays made famous by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

    Last week I had the distinct pleasure of working with The US Navy’s Senior Leadership Development Program (SLDP). I was providing training for civilian leaders working in the Navy’s system of warfighter support. These SLDP participants are good, intelligent managers who know the Navy’s needs and know how to support the women and men on the front lines protecting freedoms. These are managers who want more tools to support their work for their country.

    It was one of the better classes, I’ve had with the SLDP. This was a group who wanted to learn. They wanted to know how to better lead their organizations. The biggest gap for me; they were all IT.  I don’t speak IT.  I do however – with pride – speak engineering management.  The behavioral side of EM. 

    As I worked with them for three days of training, the message continued to be that one approach is not universal. Context may dictate whether to think in terms of Situational Leadership,  Ginnett’s Team Leadership Model, the concept of leader-follower-purpose or any one of the many tools we EM’ers have at our disposal.  The message was also, practice.  Keep trying.  If team effectiveness is needed, if work place effectiveness is needed, if motivation is required, practice until you get it right. Dynamic leaders of all ilk need to practice their craft to provide the systems and structures needed to get the work done.  In the end, it is all about people.  Don Tippett taught me that many years ago.  Thanks, Don.

    So today, home alone, I went to the shop behind the house to learn to use a skew (google it) on my lathe. Everyone says the skew is not something you learn, it is something you practice.  I’ve read the books.  I’ve watched the videos.  I’ve made a lot of splinters.  Today, I just went to the shop, put a piece of pine in the lathe and started making splinters. Then scrapings.  And finally, shavings.  I practiced until today, I made shavings. The woodturner’s nirvana is shavings.  I practiced and practiced until I finally hit the sweet spot of the skew. Beads, coves, and roughing. All by making shavings.  I also learned a little about sharpening the skew. Today I tamed the skew. For now.  Today and from now on, I have to practice.

    The skew, when used properly, minimizes the need for sandpaper.  Sandpaper is what you use to get rid of the rough edges. A smooth finish with the skew means less money for sandpaper and a quicker path to finishing.

    And then the epiphany.  EM has many tools of effectiveness and efficiency. EM is the mark of productivity tools for managing knowledge workers. Using our tools effectively is more than training.  It takes practice.  We sharpen our tools with research.  We use our tools in practice.  We improve ourselves as engineering managers when we listen, think and work with...our people. We improve with practice.

    Like doctors “practicing” medicine.  You and I, we practice engineering management.  Something we do. Something we share at the IAC. Tools that we can teach to others. Tools we learn to demonstrate by being part of ASEM. 

    What tools do you use in practicing engineering management?  What tools can you share at the 2015 ASEM IAC?

    What tools would you like to learn?  Chances are, in ASEM, someone is practicing what you need.

    Today, I tamed the skew.  Where can ASEM help you?
    Gene
    Image credit: http://woodwiz.org/Woodturning/woodturning.html

  • 28 Apr 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    By Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    April 2015 Pres. Release

    Every now and then I go back and look at my list of goals for life.  Call it a bucket list if you would like but I think I’m too young for that.  Bucket lists are for those with a short fuse.  I’ve always had a goal to live to the ripe old age of 120.  Okay, we don’t need that image.

    Some of my goals are lofty ambitions, some maybe are cellar dwellers. Still they are important.  To me.

    Still, the achievement of my goals, and yours too I suspect, require some work (there, I used my favorite four letter word), some methods and tools, some thought.  Sometimes our goals require support.  Maybe some infrastructure.  A system or two.  And definitely a plan of action.  All this represents a system for goal achievement.

    At ASEM World HQ, there is a lot of work going on right now to improve your Society’s infrastructure.  It was time.  It was time for new systems to support our growth not only in the US but across the globe.  When you see Geert Letens, Trish Simo Kush, Paul (Kauffmann), the other Paul (Componation) or Patrick Kush, ask them what is going on.  They and many others like Executive Directors Bill Daughton and Dave Wyrick, the UAH support staff as well as Angie Cornelius are doing some great things to make sure we are positioned with the right tools and methods and systems to support the needs of a growing ASEM.

    Growing ASEM?  Sounds like a good place for a growth goal.  I agree.  And, trust me the ASEM Executive Committee has been discussing goals. And value propositions.  And making sure we have the systems in place to support the needs of a growing society.

    I also think about a vision for ASEM.  I’d like to believe a vision is the predecessor to goals. And a vision sets the stage for strategy or strategies. 

    Ask me about a vision for ASEM and I’ll talk to you about a worldwide recognized voice for engineering management.  A 10,000 strong diverse membership known for cutting edge EM research and respected for developing evolving principles of application for practitioners.  I may speak about 100,000 ASEM certified AEM/PEM practitioners that are routinely called on to practice leadership, systems engineering and strategic management in solving the unsolvable with engineering.

    I may even talk about resolving global issues and local problems with engineering.

    But you didn’t ask.

    I’ll ask you, though.  What is your vision for ASEM? What systems and methods and infrastructure are needed?  What goals will make that vision real?  For you.  For me.  For ASEM.  For the brotherhood of mankind.

    I like goals.  Let’s make a goal to meet in Indy for the ASEM IAC. It’s the ASEM 250!

    Gene

    In other news...

    It’s time.  The best part of ASEM is the network.  Part of ASEM’s network is our awards program.  We want to recognize you.  We also want to recognize those members who are making contributions to ASEM.  Log onto our webpage (www.asem.org) and click on the awards link.  That will open up to a page to links to all of our society awards.  Find the one that you are interested and learn more about making your nomination.

    Also, President-elect Geert Letens is working with a committee to identify nominees for leadership positions within ASEM.  If you would like to serve as an elected officer, contact Geert (geert.letens@gmail.com) for more information.
    Image credit: http://www.imcreator.com/free/business/inschrijven-workshops

  • 14 Apr 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    The intent of this blog is to provide a small description of both of these thinking methods with the hope that it spawns curiosity in others to learn more about how these thinking styles work. These theories can be found in several of Russ Ackoff’s books such as Ackoff’s Best and Systems Thinking for Curious Managers as well as on YouTube.

    Conventional thinking can be separated into two different methods. Analysis is a reductionist method that involves studying an item by reducing it to its constituent parts and studying the behavior or properties of each part separately in an effort to aggregate an understanding of the whole. Synthesis is a systems-based method that involves understanding the role or function of the item within a containing system and studying how the interactions of the parts within it aid the item in fulfilling their role within the system.

    There are frequent arguments as to which of the two methods is most effective. In actuality, each method answers different types of questions. Analysis is best for answering “how to” questions; for instance, if an individual needs to understand how a car functions the individual can reduce a car to its various components to find the answer. Synthesis, on the other hand, provides us with answers to “why” questions. For example, if an individual needs to understand why a car has wheels and not tracks the individual can look at a car’s role within the greater system (in this example, to provide reliable transportation on land) to understand why a car design has wheels (and why tracks may be more suitable if the role of the car within the larger system changes).

    Understanding the role of an item within a system also aids in designing the enclosing system also (in this example, since the car is designed with rubber tires the containing roads system can be redesigned to take advantage of this fact). Synthesis is also a design-based methodology with several problem-solving and decision-making methods focusing on improving a system through an understanding of how each component interacts with others to perform the role of the system. Analysis and synthesis are complementary to each other and in some instances can be used at the same time (for instance, cognitive work analysis includes abstraction hierarchy which uses synthesis and abstraction decomposition which uses analysis). Analysis cannot yield understanding of a system yet synthesis cannot explain how parts within a system perform their role.
    Image Credit: http://www.clipartbest.com/clipart-KTneaapjc

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

  • 31 Mar 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    How much do you trust what your eyes tell you? Before you answer please take this quick test on selective attention. This video comes from the Visual Cognition Laboratory at the University of Illinois and Viscog Productions.

    A recent newsletter from a friend and colleague of mine, Gwendolyn Galsworth, at www.visualworkplace.com reminds me that much of what happens in an organization occurs out of plain sight yet is critical for its operation. Problems within an organization can occur when decision-makers fail to extend their solutions beyond what they see to interactions ‘hidden in plain sight’ that may hold more effective solutions. The main strength of workplace visuality is in modifying the flow of workplace tasks so that reliance on visual cognition is reduced which in turn reduces the potential for visual cognition errors such as selective attention.

    Most people do not see the gorilla in the video even though both videos had the same gorilla walking through it. Why is the gorilla not seen the first time? Because the mind filters what it sees by focusing solely on the white jerseys while ignoring everything else (and since the gorilla was the same color as the other people bouncing the basketball it was subsequently filtered out). When the video is watched the second time the mind removes the filter created by the need to count white jersey basketball player interactions.

    Two examples illustrate how selective attention can manifest itself in an engineering team. A major engineering company had an instance where a serious flaw outside the inspection criterion was constantly overlooked during inspection. The solution implemented by management was to increase inspection of the part in question by adding an inspector. Subsequent inspections increased the number of parts identified with the flaw caught but the total number of systems avoiding detection still remained high because although they were each assigned to inspect a certain thing the two inspectors did not see flaws missed by the other inspector. Engineers faced with a design flaw with a power supply in an avionics system focused solely on electrical solutions until a young mechanical engineer challenged the predominant thinking by considering it as a thermal issue. Subsequent testing resulted in identifying a way to improve cooling requiring significantly less redesign than any of the electrical solutions required.

    An individual, when faced with a problem in his immediate workplace, views the problem based on his or her perspective while ignoring any other solutions. Organizational roles in which inspection is used as the source of quality become suspect as relying solely on inspection increases the possibility that individuals responsible for inspection will overlook problems outside of their inspection criteria. This is especially true of "good" parts that may pass inspection yet may cause problems elsewhere in the design they are a part of.
    Image credit: http://www.imcreator.com/free/objects-items/buzz

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

  • 24 Mar 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    March 2015

    It was cool. Very cool. At the Alexander that is. Site of the 2015 ASEM IAC. The ASEM Board tried to meet there earlier but the country’s snow bound status made it difficult for several members to attend. Still it was cool. Not just the temperature. This is a concierge level hotel, with great spaces, great meeting rooms and a great location. Minutes from the heart of Indianapolis. Steps from great restaurants. Within eyesight of Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field, and a great museum (okay, I did pick up an Ansel Adams print there). It was cool. You should plan on joining us for the 2015 IAC, Driving Change: An Engineering Management Imperative. There is something else special about Indy...maybe I’ll think of it later.

    ASEM is pleased to have started an initial collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Engineer’s Engineering Management Division. This division is comprised of over 200 renowned Chinese engineers who are the leading thinkers in Chinese engineering management. They have over 200,000 EM students at the college level. Their flagship magazine, Frontiers of Engineering Management is a relative new publication that is published quarterly. The FEM has opportunities for authors to publish internationally. The FEM is also seeking reviewers and associate editors. This is a great added value for ASEM members to engage with EM specialists from across the globe. Several ASEM members have been invited to China for the Engineering Management International Summit Forum in Guangzhou China in May of this year. Part of this visit will include détente on furthering the relationships that are forming between ASEM and the CAE’s EMD.

    Here’s something for you. Be on the lookout for a special opportunity to get your own ASEM EMBoK.

    If you are interested in participating in any of the opportunities above, from China to Indy, please let me hear from you. I think that would be cool.

    Oh, that’s it. Indy has a quilt shop. Dearly Beloved likes that. She’ll be there in October.

    Gene

  • 10 Mar 2015 8:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    I was recently reminded of how actors acting in their best interest within a system can destroy a system in a blog by Seth Godin about the Newfoundland fishing industry in 1992. Fishermen optimizing their catch without regulation resulted in overfishing and the collapse of the northern cod species that has yet to recover in a systems phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons (incidentally, there was a brilliant paper and presentation at the ASEM International Annual Conference that explains this in detail). This example reminds us that when individual parts of a system are optimized without consideration of the other parts it can lead to destruction of the system.

    Can a system be optimized? I have posed this question to both system thinkers and those new to systems with varying answers. Systems are difficult to optimize because of two main factors: first, systems enter into a state of homeostasis in which all of the parts within the system interact with each other to reach equillibrium. The second is that feedback within a system can be delayed resulting in insufficient information to make accurate changes to a system. Effective regulation of a system therefore requires management from outside the system so that the effects of each part of the system can be understood and regulated as required once the system reaches its point of homeostasis.

    This thinking runs counter to conventional wisdom in which systems can be reduced to its individual parts and each part improved individually to improve the whole. We see this from business schools to organizations to sports teams, where emphasis is placed on maximizing each of the individual parts. This tactic leads to suboptimization, especially in complex systems (although it is true that very simple systems have the most potential for improvement by improving the parts these are the exception and not the norm as some interactions may not be observable or measureable).

    I concur that systems cannot be optimized in the traditional sense but can be optimized in a systemic sense by understanding the goal of the system and allowing the system to reach equilibrium. Waiting until the system has achieved equilibrium allows for accurate measurements within the system to understand variation between the parts. A system can be optimized (but not maximized) by understanding how each part within a system interacts with each other to perform the goal of the system and how changing the performance of the parts will affect the performance of the system as a whole. This optimization is short-lived however as environmental effects upon the system and interactions within the system constantly alter its performance. Any changes to a system must subsequently be followed by observation of the system once the system reaches equilibrium so that the long-term effects of the changes can be understood.

    This blog posting is a combination of some basic systems theory and my opinion. I am always open to learn more from others about how they view systems and how they can be optimized. I also hope that you got something valuable from this posting and that this blog encourages others to share their knowledge about with everyone.

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

  • 03 Mar 2015 7:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick (Ken) Sexe

    Perception is important to engineering design because it links an individual’s observations to patterns of thought formed by previous experiences. Perception influences behavior that subsequently can influence decisions. No design can overcome a poor customer perception no matter how perfect it may seem without an understanding of how customer perceptions influence acceptance of the product. An effective way to include customer perceptions into a design is to increase interactions between engineers and the end user. Increasing engineering exposure to customers, especially during testing, can provide valuable insights as to how the product meets their needs. Traditional organization structures unfortunately remove engineers from direct customer interactions customer by placing responsibility for customer interaction with other departments. Engineers are also traditionally trained to focus on specifications in design and not on abstract variables where perceptions affect design.

    Two examples illustrate how product design can influence customer perceptions. A Japanese bathroom appliance manufacturing company designed a toilet using one-fourth less water than previous toilets. Sales of the new toilet lagged as the customer perceived that the toilet was less hygienic because the water visually swirled less than traditional toilets. The engineers redesigned the toilet so that the water swirled at the same rate as the older toilets after which point sales of the toilet recovered. An American laundry soap manufacturer, when they first introduced washing powder to consumers, had very disappointing sales of the product and almost discontinued the product until they learned that consumers did not believe that it was effective because no suds formed compared to laundry soap. The company redesigned the product so that suds would appear at which point the product became highly successful.

    Some companies have found success in developing methods involving customers early in product design stages as a means to not only understand how the customer will perceive the value of their product but to also find new ways to apply core technologies to customer needs. A Japanese car manufacturer once had a six-month testing period in which customers would use the new vehicle while providing recommendations to engineers. A British company entering the Indian market selling bread spread for its intended use soon realized that Indians used their product as a food additive instead. Discovering this early in the market introduction allowed the company to change the product packaging and marketing to exploit this knowledge where it has found huge success in a market previously not considered.

    Many organizations unfortunately postpone consumer testing until the final design stages and in many cases during the manufacturing phase. Increasing the distance between engineering and end users combined with late consumer testing increases the possibility that negative perceptions of the product are either never identified or are identified later requiring a more costly redesign. Reducing the time between design and understanding consumer perceptions coupled with engineer training on how to interpret and apply these perceptions to a design has the potential to both increase product acceptance and reduce costly redesign as these perceptions become manifest.
    Image Credit: http://www.imcreator.com/free/bw-images/chilles-tendon

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

  • 24 Feb 2015 7:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    Systems thinking is critical to understanding how systems perform yet traditional methods of thinking often fail (or worse yet result in unintended consequences) when applied to systems. This is not intended to be a comprehensive article on systems but instead is intended to provide basic systems concepts that will hopefully provide insight for those unable to clearly understand systems. These concepts mainly derive from Russ Ackoff’s presentation to the InThinking Network on February 28, 2005 that is a valuable primer into the understanding of a system. The InThnking Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to systems thinking that has many useful resources for both novices and those expert in systems thinking.

    A system can be defined loosely as two or more components of which one or more are essential parts that interact with each other to achieve a shared goal. This definition has several important factors of which all systems rely upon. The first is that a system contains one or more essential parts of which if removed the system would be unable to achieve its goal. The second is that each part within a system interacts which each other to achieve the goal of the system. It is important to understand that no essential part can by itself perform the function of the system as a whole and that the system cannot perform its function within a larger system if an essential part is removed from the system.

    Essential parts have three factors that define them. Each essential part can affect the behavior or properties of the whole. Conversely, every subsystem within a larger system can affect the behavior or properties of the whole yet none of the subsystems can have an independent effect on the whole. This factor is important in that if the essential part is altered then the ability of the system to perform its function is impacted, possibly negatively. Therefore, it is possible to improve the performance of an essential part yet degrade the performance of the system.

    No essential part has an independent effect on the whole; each essential part instead interacts with other essential parts as a connecting set. An example of this would be the brain within the human body in that the brain is not able to think on its own but instead relies on its interactions with other subsystems within the body to perform. Nor can a subsystem perform the function, behavior, or properties of the larger system. An example of this is the human body in which no component or subsystem within the human body can live yet all of the components and subsystems interact to perform the overall function of the human body (life).

    The properties of essential parts provide several concepts important in understanding all systems. The first important concept is that the performance of a system relies on the interactions of the parts within it and not on the performance of the parts taken separately. This concept runs counter to conventional analytical thinking which attempts to gain an understanding of the whole by disassembling the parts. Analytical thinking fails to provide understanding of a system due to the fact that when a system is disassembled it no longer is able to perform it’s role; it is through a study of the interactions that true understanding of a system is gained. The second important concept is that by optimizing the parts one can inadvertently make the system worse. When parts are optimized without consideration of the interactions the ability of the other parts to interact and perform their own role relative to the function of the overall system changes. Russ Ackoff notes that you can take the best parts of all of the cars in the world and place them together and may will not even have a car; this is because each part is designed in relation to interactions with different systems and as such may not work when combined with other parts.

    It is my hope that this brief article provides some basic understanding to those who are unfamiliar with how systems work. In future submissions I may focus on other system elements and characteristics; please feel free to contact me if there are any questions you may have. I also hope that others within ASEM more knowledgeable in systems than I am expand upon these so that all members could learn from their expertise.
    Graphic Credit: http://www.stockvault.net/photo/116783/electronics-lab

    Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.


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