Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies


Much of the best work is done by amateurs (1890) 0

Posted on April 02, 2015 by daviding

The origin of “much of the best work” is “done by amateurs” dates back to 1890 in photography.  At that time, glass photographic plates was the norm for large images, as compared to the Kodak box camera released in 1888 with flexible roll film returned to the company for processing and reloading.

Thoroughness

Much of the best work one sees is done by so-called amateurs. In fact, good work can only be done by amateurs in the true sense; i.e., those who love their work, and the secret is thoroughness. One must be thoroughly interested in the work—make a thorough study of the subject, and have nerve enough to keep the holder out of the camera unless the light is satisfactory and the composition thoroughly good. The “you press the button and we do the work” method is often effective, but for plates of any size more often a waste than a gain.

Very frequently we see picture makers who carefully read and observe the instructions sent by the makers with each box of plates, and the result is favorable. I envy them their pictures and the ability to stick to instructions, but I can’t do it myself. I confess to having little interest in a picture after the first batch of prints, or even after the negative has shown its quality—for the chemistry and other details of the subject exhaust most of my zeal.

It has been my pleasure to incite some hundreds of persons to try the various branches of photography, pure and simple, while I have done some work in every branch from wet-plate to photo-engraving, and the criticisms here made apply equally to myself.

I am a “hit or miss” portraitist, but am dead sure on some other branches said to be more difficult.

Most people fail in their efforts in some direction, as is quite natural. Those who stick to one class of photographs usually make a success.

I like to watch others work, and my experience is that failures are due to lack of thoroughness at some stage. [….]

J.W. MacMurray

Source:  MacMurray, J.W. 1890. “Thoroughness.” In The American Annual of Photography, edited by C.W. Canfield, 4:38–40. New York, NY, USA: The Scovill & Adams Company. https://archive.org/stream/americanannualof04newy#page/n83/mode/2up.

The 1890 author is fully identified as Major J.W. MacMurray, USA in the table of contents [p. v].   It is likely the same Major J.W. McMurray who was appointed as a Military Professor at the University of Missouri in 1872. The interest in photography might be associated with drawing in engineering in the U.S. Army at that time.

Military Science.

The instructions in Military Science, and the drill of the soldiers, which had been suspended in consequence of the retirement from service of the later professor, will be resumed under favorable circumstances, Major J. W. McMurray, of the First Regiment of Artillery, having been detailed by the President as Military Professor in the University.

Sustainable scale of an organization: A case study at IBM? 4

Posted on January 26, 2015 by daviding

How many employees can IBM sustain?  At Dec. 31, 2013, IBM reported 431,212 employees for the company and wholly-owned subsidiaries.  In February 2014, there were projections that 13,000 to 15,000 employees would be released within the year.  The estimate for 2015 of 26% further reductions calculates to leave about 300,000 IBMers worldwide.  This leads to three questions about the current situation (and potential other cases with similar circumstances).

  • 1. How many employees, worldwide, can a company sustainably afford?
  • 2. Where should global resources be geographically deployed?
  • 3. Can science guide us on sustainable ranges of scale for organizations?

The domain of business is a social science, so corporate decisions lead to paths where alternatives (i.e. the path not taken) can never be tested in reality.  Thus, much of the thinking below is speculative.

1. How many employees, worldwide, can a company sustainably afford?

Let’s look at history, published in annual reports.  IBM reported 412,113 employees at Dec. 31, 1989.  Under John Akers as CEO, the organization was trimmed down to 301,542 employees by the end of 1992.  Lou Gerstner joined as CEO in April 1993, and job actions were announced by July.

The employees to be cut, mostly from overseas operations, will be given incentives to leave, but just what the financial package will be has not been determined. The $8.9 billion charge includes funds to pay for 25,000 additional job cuts under an early retirement program announced this year that has drawn 50,000 participants — twice as many as expected — and for 35,000 job cuts over the next 18 months.  [….]

Of the $8.9 billion pretax charge for streamlining I.B.M., $2 billion is to pay for the additional 25,000 workers who took advantage of the company’s early-retirement program that began in 1993. Some $4 billion will go to pay for the 35,000 workers who will be trimmed over the next year to 18 months. The remaining $2.9 billion will go to retire surplus factories, equipment and office buildings [Lohr, 1993].

At the end of 1994, IBM reported a population of 219,839 employees.  With a successful recovery by March 2002 for the handover from Gerstner to Palmisano, IBM reported that its employee population had grown to 319,876.

Employees and revenue per

Figure 1: Employees (IBM and wholly-owned subsidiaries) [left axis], and Total geographic revenue per Employee (IBM and wholly-owned subsidiaries) [right axis], from IBM Annual Reports

From my experience in IBM Canada Plans & Controls in 1985-1987, I know that headcount in World Trade countries was justified on affordability.  The affordability was expressed as additional revenue per additional employee.  At the end of 1992, 301,542 employees were producing $214,077 per employee.  At the end of 2001, 319,876 employees were producing $245,095 per employee.  At the end of 2013, 431,213 employees were producing $226,803 per employee.  While this doesn’t necessarily look so bad, let’s recognize inflation, and adjust to constant dollars.

Revenue per employee, constant dollar

Figure 2:  Employees (IBM and wholly-owned subsidiaries) [left axis], and Total geographic revenue per Employee adjusted to U.S. CPI-U (1982-84=100).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a Consumer Price Index based on 1982-84.  At the end of 1992 when Lou Gerstner was soon to become CEO, 301,542 employees were producing 152,584 1982-dollars per employee.  At the end of 2001 when Sam Palmisano was about to become CEO, 319,876 employees were producing 138,396 1982-dollars per employee.  At the end of 2013 following two years with Ginny Rometty as CEO, 431,213 employees were producing 97,735 1982-dollars per employee.  On a constant dollar basis, this could be interpreted as a 30% drop in productivity by employees between 2001 and 2013.  In order to maintain productivity per employee, either the revenue should have continue to rise, or else the number of employees should drop.

Incubating Service Systems Thinking 1

Posted on August 26, 2014 by daviding

Evolving the Proposal to Collaborate on a Pattern Language for Service Systems from January, the initiative has now taken on a label of Service Systems Thinking.  The presentation at the 58th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences in Washington DC was recorded, so that interested parties have the option of watching or listening ideas that have developed over the past six months, and reading the slides at their leisure.  Here’s the abstract:

“Service systems thinking” is proffered as a label for an emerging body of work that: (i) builds on social systems thinking (i.e. socio-psychological, socio-technical and socio-ecological systems perspectives) to advance a transdisciplinary appreciation of service systems science, management, engineering and design; (ii) explores opportunities to enrich Alexanderian patterns and categorized pattern catalogs into a generative pattern language; and (iii) collaborates on new platforms, moving from inductive-consensual wiki pages to a multiple-perspectives (federated) wiki.

The session was conducted in two parts, each of about 90 minutes.  The first part had a soft start playing some videos on the Smallest Federated Wiki by Ward Cunningham, since participants were coming back from lunch in another building.  The presentation alternated between projected slides, and live content on the federated wiki at http://fed.coevolving.com/view/welcome-visitors/view/service-systems-thinking.  The agenda covered:

  • 1. Service Systems Thinking, In Brief
    • 1.1 An intentional representation
    • 1.2 An object-process representation
  • 2. Conversations for Orientation
    • 2.1 Systems thinking
    • 2.2 SSMED (Service Science, Management, Engineering and Design
    • 2.3 Generative Pattern Language
    • 2.4 Multiple Perspectives Open Collaboration

Part 1 Audio [20140730_1453_ISSS_Ing_ServiceSystemsThinking_128Kbps.mp3]
(85MB, 1h32m25s)
Part 1 Video (1h32m26s) nHD qHD
HD
H.264 MP4 [640×360
238Kbps m4v
] (243MB)
[960×540
716Kbps m4v
] (846MB)
[1280×720
2028Kbps m4v
] (1.4GB)
[1280×720
3341Kbps m4v
] (2.4GB)
WebM [640×360
135Kbps webm
] (176MB)
[960×540
289Kbps webm
] (282MB)
[1280×720
0688Kbps webm
] (557MB)

In the second part after the break, the agenda covered:

  • 3. Conversations for Possibilties
    • 3.1 [Multiple Perspectives Open Collaboration]: We could have federated authored content on open source platforms
    • 3.2 [Generative Pattern Language]: We could be reoriented for unfolding wholeness, layering systems of centers and/with creating interactive value
    • 3.3 [SSMED]: We could have trans-disciplinary cooperation on service systems improvement
    • 3.4 [Systems thinking]: We could have service systems evolving from the systems thinking tradition

Scenarios and Design: Instigating Change, Methods Framing, Scenario-Buffered Design 0

Posted on August 18, 2014 by daviding

At the Oxford Futures Forum 2014, hosted by the Saïd Business School, I was invited to be a participant in a generative dialogue.  Each of the invitees was requested to submit a 250-word abstract and an image four months ahead of the event.  In two days, we had three group discussion meetings, where individuals were free to go to other groups (or form new groups) according to the ideas emerging from the dialogue.

This event runs on the Chatham House Rule:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Further, in a generative dialogue, ideas flow and merge as participant learn from each other, so representations related to people outside of the involved group don’t get a full appreciation for the unfolding learning.  Having been a participant in a series of prior IFSR Conversations that similarly focus on generative dialogue, any describing of the experience turns out somewhat inadequate.  The most that can be related to others are “proceedings”, where some of the ideas in progress are captured.  As a participant in Oxford Futures Forum, I was involved in three rounds of conversations, which can be roughly framed as:

  • design and scenarios to instigate change (as an introductory clustering to start the first round);
  • methods framing (as the emergent theme from the first round to go into a second round); and
  • scenario-buffered design (as the label that was presented as the conclusion of the third round).

Based on the abstract I had contributed some months earlier, the conference organizers initially slotted me into the “Design and Scenarios to Instigate Change” group.  A few of us had brief contact on a teleconference a few weeks before arriving at the event, and then in the pub on the night of arrival.  When the full group finally met face-to-face, we still didn’t really know each other.  As a way of getting involved with others, we were asked to present the abstract of another person from the group.  From those foundations, we started a loose discussion making sense of some common themes.  The organizers helpfully provided a note taking volunteer, Saba Riaz, to record some of this preliminary dialogue — a challenging flow to track, as the round 1 groups tried to make sense of  the ideas of others, as well as ourselves!  The proceedings (final report) included the following synopsis:

Round 1: Design and scenarios to instigate change

Systems generating systems — architectural design theory by Christopher Alexander (1968) 1

Posted on April 10, 2014 by daviding

The systems thinking roots from architect Christopher Alexander aren’t completely obvious in his work on pattern language.  A republished version of an 1968 article resurfaces some clarification on a perspective on systems thinking originating from practices in architecture.  This article introduced ways in which systems thinking could be most directly applied to built environments.  The cross-appropriation of pattern languages across a variety of domain types — object-oriented programmers were the earliest motivating adopters — could be enlightened by revisiting the foundations.  Alexander concisely presented 4 points, and then provided detailed reasoning for each:

1. There are two ideas hidden in the word system: the idea of a system as a whole and the idea of a generating system.

2. A system as a whole is not an object but a way of looking at an object. It focuses on some holistic property which can only be understood as a product of interaction among parts.

3. A generating system is not a view of a single thing. It is a kit of parts, with rules  about the way these parts may be combined.

4. Almost every ‘system as a whole’ is generated by a ‘generating system’. If we wish to make things which function as ‘wholes’ we shall have to invent generating systems to create them.  [Alexander 2011, p. 59; Alexander 1968, p. 605]

In a properly functioning building, the building and the people in it together form a whole: a social, human whole. The building systems which have so far been created do not in this sense generate wholes at all.  [Alexander 2011, p. 58; Alexander 1968, p. 605]

Let’s leave analytical explications of the original 1968 text as secondary, to first appreciate the idea of “systems generating systems” through sensemaking done some decades after 1968, and in the broader context of Alexander’s other writings and interviews.


Molly Wright Steenson, as part of her 2014 dissertation, has a 66-page digest of Alexander’s work between 1962 and 1968.  Her deep reading was reflected in a 2009 recorded presentation on “Loving and Hating Christopher Alexander“.  Generally speaking, interaction designers love Christopher Alexander’s approach, while architects hate Christopher Alexander’s approach.

SVA Dot Dot Dot Lectures: Molly Wright Steenson from MFA Interaction Design.

Amongst the lovers and haters of Christopher Alexander is a predisposition towards interaction compatible with systems thinking.  For built environments, architecture can be described through a language of patterns, where those patterns may or may not be generative.  In her 2014 dissertation, Steenson fleshes out Alexander’s 1968 “Systems Generating Systems” with the broader context of the 1979 The Timeless Way of Building, and 1983 publication by Stephen Grabow of interviews with Alexander.

Generating Systems

Alexander describes pattern languages as “generative,” referring to the quality of multiplicity, of a system that operates both as a whole and as a set of rules.  A system, like a language, works on multiple levels.  The system presents itself on the surface, he writes, when “we are confronted with an object which displays some kind of behaviour which can only be understood as a product of interaction among parts within the object.  We call this kind of behaviour, holistic behaviour.”262 It also incorporates the rule set for the manipulation of the elements that it composes. This dualistic system is analogous to the functions of the pattern language. Just as a generating system is a kit of parts, “Each pattern is a rule which describes what you have to do to generate the entity which it defines.”263 [Steenson 2014, pp. 90-91]

262Christopher Alexander, “Systems Generating Systems,” AD 38(1968): 606.
263Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building, 182.

Mediating spaces, rich research spaces and GIGA-mapping 0

Posted on March 08, 2014 by daviding

The thinking behind GIGA-mapping, as a technique from designers, echoes some research into (computer-supported) collaborative work from a decade ago.  In “GIGA-Mapping: Visualisation for Complexity and Systems Thinking in Design“, Birger Sevaldson wrote in 2011:

GIGA-maps are the central device in the Rich Research Space which includes social spaces, media spaces and physical spaces.

This reminds me a lot about the design of mediating spaces coming from Ian Simmonds and myself in 2002:

We propose a framework for designers of business organizations and designers of information systems that portrays three forms of “space” that mediate social interactions: physical space, social space and informatic space. The framework aids organizational designers and information technology designers to understand some of the complexities of enabling knowledge work, by contrasting the properties of the spaces and their interactions:

  • Social interaction enabled by physical spaces is the focus of architects of buildings and urban planners, managers locating individuals and team who work together, and conference organizers who plan events to encourage networking.
  • Social interaction enabled by social spaces is the focus of organizational designers who develop supporting social structures such as centers of excellence or practitioner support networks.
  • Social interaction enabled by informatic spaces is the focus of knowledge architects and process analysts, who administer and moderate groupware and workflow applications.

In addition,

  • Informatic spaces hosted in physical spaces are the focus of Information Technology architects, who ensure appropriate geographical coverage, performance, availability and security through appropriate computer hardware and software (e.g. servers, access points and networks).

Since the ways in which knowledge work can be carried out vary from person to person across a community, and innovations are naturally introduced over time, an enabling infrastructure should be capable of adaptation to those changed needs. We draw on research in general systems theory, architectural theory, and social theory to inform our practices in advising on business design, and methods and tools for information modeling.

Across disciplines, our starting points were definitely different.  However, the trends driving this direction would appear to be complementary, as described by the Rich Design Research Space in Sevaldson (2008):

The Rich Research Space is a “tool” or a meta-tool for research-by-design.  [….]   The Rich Research Space is here regarded as a complex and manifold tool that will
enable an inclusive and complex research process.



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