Systems Thinking: The “Softer Side” of Complex Systems Engineering
Last modified: April 25, 2006
From a traditional thinking perspective, the best way to understand and/or solve complex problems was to break the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. In part, systems engineering practitioners equate this approach to Traditional Systems Engineering (TSE). However, research and advances in TSE are looking to address systems engineering from a global perspective in contrast to breaking systems into smaller parts. Complex systems have shown that the system as a whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. This paradigm shift is giving way to what is becoming known as “enterprise systems engineering”, “mega-systems engineering”, and/or “Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)”, just to name a few.
(Fontana & Ballati, 1999) suggest that approaching such mind-boggling systems will require the integration of multiple perspectives from physics, chemistry, biology, computer science; social science, economics, cognitive science, and mathematics. As the nature of a particular class of systems becomes better understood, the degree and complexity to which this mixture will vary is probably an understatement.
This “softer side” of systems engineering is often not taken into consideration on large-scale systems engineering projects. The skills set required to address these areas and the thinking processes that go along with them are often downplayed when putting together systems engineering teams. This presentation will take a look at some to the often overlooked, but equally important, aspects of systems engineering to include: critical thinking, pattern formation and recognition, social network analysis, identification of and planning for emergence and emergent behavior.
Reference: Fontana, W. & Ballati, S. (1999). Complexity: Why the Sudden Fuss? Complexity, 4(3), 14-16.