The Lines We Draw Around Systems

An internal combustion engine is a system. It requires air, fuel, electrical impulses, exhaust outlet, and a finite number of interconnected parts. We can't draw an imaginary boundary around an engine unless the fuel tank lay inside it.

An engine by itself is just a novelty. It's useless unless linked up with some other system that needs movement. Like a lawnmower blade. Or a train locomotive. Or factory machinery. Or an automobile transmission.

(THOUGHT: Transmission. That word fits so perfectly. It transmits from one (1) thing to another.)

When we drop that engine into a Ferrari, we expand the system. It now includes the whole car.

When the driver gets behind the wheel, we expand the system. Some, including myself, will say it becomes complex at this point. The human element brings unpredictability into the Car + Driver system.

When the driver pulls out onto the closed test track, we expand the system to include roadway conditions and weather.

When we use the car to bring us…

Wicked Problems: Complexity is Here to Stay

This is a guest post by Humberto Mariotti. And not exactly a single essay, but rather a series of three (3) distinct but related posts he made to LinkedIn over the last few weeks. I reached out to Humberto for his permission to integrate them here. He graciously consented. -LH

Wicked problems are difficult or impossible to solve, as most of their elements are the same of all complex systems: uncertainty, diversity, multiciplicity, interconnectedness and incompleteness. Their solutions are never final: the more solutions, the more problems. Hence the concept of "quasi-solutions", created by the American social scientist Eugene Schwartz.
In our culture, the "Stem" education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) prevails over the humanities. Aristotle identified three points extendable to education: Logos (logic), Ethos (ethics) and Pathos (emotion). Logos predominates in our "Stem" approach. Ethos and Pathos prevail in the humanities. However, w…

"Nothing to See Here!"

Teach officers to say "hi" and explain why when on a big scene and people are asking what's going on. Build understanding. - @tbl_leadershipNot just on a big scene. Two (2) squad cars in a quiet part of town can bring out a lot of curious onlookers. 
How do we balance explaining what's going on and calming worry with respecting privacy of those involved?

Imagine being a cop on a domestic disturbance, or suicidal person call, or a sensitive family issue. Then neighbors ask (or demand) to know what's going on.


How a cop answers that question makes all the difference.

People are nosy, but they generally just want to know:
are their neighbors (who they care about) OK or safe?is there a threat or danger to the neighborhood/community?As a young cop, I was TERRIBLE at answering these sorts of curious questions while on scene of a sensitive call.

I've learned how to better answer, "Officer, is everything OK? What's going on?"
"It's a private fa…

Presentation Hack: Giving a Briefing

With as much as I talk about emotional storytelling, it might come as a surprise that I'm about to discuss giving a rather sterile summary. 

There are lots of situations in which a person has to give a briefor briefing. It can be oral -- as in a presentation on a stage, around a conference table, or via telephone call. It can be written -- as in an executive summary of a white paper, a book or restaurant review, an email or text, or a criminal intelligence bulletin. And similar to written, it can be visual -- as in an infographic, chart, or slide deck. But I'm not even so sure that making these divisions is of any moving along...

I think back on briefings I've received and given over the years as a police officer:
Roll calls as a uniformed beat cop...& as a watch commander;Training exercises as a student responder...& as a scenario coordinator & designer;Late night telephone calls to my boss...& from my subordinates;Planned tactical operations, like…

RED Teaming: We Cannot Control The BLUE Team

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. - Mike Tyson, professional boxerI've been assigned to help plan what's officially called a Full Scale Exercise.  Or as I like to call it: Red Teaming. 
Imagine a simulated public safety emergency with: 
eight (8) to ten (10) police departments;eight (8) to ten (10) fire / emergency medical (EMS) departments;dispatch / 911 center;& multiple hospitals.  The BLUEteam is comprised of those who "respond" to the emergency. It's the cops, firefighters, paramedics, 911 operators, public works employees, nurses, emergency management, & other government officials. 
The RED team is comprised of role-players who operate at the direction of scenario controllers. They're the victims, witnesses, criminal/terrorist offenders, & innocent by-standers. 
Even though I've personally trained many of the BLUE team members who will be participating in this particular exercise, I simply cannot be sure how they will r…

Failure to Adapt

Two (2) popular metaphors or heuristics in adaptability are: flexibility and ability to change course.
"Those who are adaptable may or may not adapt. The whole premise is based on prejudice. From whose point of view do we decide who is and is not adaptable and compared to what? It is in the eye of the observer..." -- Peter Bednar A prerequisite to being adaptable is having awareness. People who are described as being adaptable or adaptive must have a sense of what's going on around them.

But it's not good enough to just be observant. You must actually be able to understand the contextual significance (or insignificance!) of what you observe. How does it confirm? How does it impact this or that? How might this influence something down the road? Am I on the right course to maintain my purpose or goal? What adjustments should I make?

And those adjustments are usually described in terms of flexing. Or shifting. Or absorbing. Or maneuvering. Or changing. Or growing. Or e…

Presentation Hack: The Allure of "Exposure"

The conference speaking circuit is an interesting environment. 

Different industries handle conference planning quite differently, as does each individual prospective speaker/presenter. Personally, I've been involved in both the backend planning of these training events & also as an invited speaker at others'.

One (1) of the things that interests me most is the selection process of speakers and presenters. Some organizations openly accept proposals from prospective speakers. Other organizations are very particular in their exclusive hand-picked invitations to speak at their event. I've heard other organizations solicit their memberships for nominations of speakers - a somewhat democratic process that puts on the crowd favorites. At the capitalistic end, vendors can pay to have a time slot...which brings me to my main focus here...

Because this blogpost is actually about another of those things that interests me in conference presenting: Compensation
Do speakers get paid…

OODA: Hidden Adversaries

WARNING: Boyd-speak ahead.

True students of John Boyd's OODA are familiar with Orientation Asymmetry. The concept of Orientation Asymmetry covers mismatches between what a person/team/element/organization perceives or believes....and what actually exists. 

Of course the catch is that no one can truly be perfectly matched with "reality"(...if such a thing as "reality" even exists in the first place!) 

Chad Cote had one (1) of the best slide decks on Orientation Asymmetry. He's since deleted all his Boyd resources from public space. I was fortunate enough to screen capture one (1) of my faves:

I've continued to return (mentally) to this visual aid to help me better understand the separation between different people's perceptions/beliefs; not necessarily from reality...but from each other's. 

In modern discussions of John Boyd's work, there continues to be a central theme of competition, combat, or winning over an adversary. This is especially tru…

Open- vs Closed-Loopedness: On Tightness & Leakiness of Systems

It's been refreshing to hear more and more folks talking about Linear versus Non-Linear thinking. But at times, I wonder if they are confusing this with Closed- versus Open-Loop thinking.

I certainly see relationships between the Linear/Non-Linear and Closed-/Open-Loop descriptors. But I do not see them as interchangeable. Instead of playing the role as kool-aid drinking Word Police (where one's definitions and category labels matter and others' do not!), I will attempt to explain how *I* see them. Maybe you'll agree. If you disagree, just don't hit me over the head with your dictionary!

In a September 2015 blog The Routine Traffic Stop: Why There Is Such a Thing and Why Cops Should Embrace the Term, I included a section on environments, italicized here:
Understanding EnvironmentsStick with me for some scientific and systems-thinking terms. There are several sorts of environments we need to discuss:
Linear: Events unfold in a step-by-step manner. Imagine a checklist…

How I Got My Start In Systems & Complexity Thinking

I must have been about six (6) years old. My dad stuffed me into the clothes washing machine.

No, no. Not in the way you're probably imagining. 

It was broken, and my dad was fixing it. Except his hands wouldn't fit where he needed them. So into the belly of the beast I went.

During the process, my dad explained to me how the washing machine worked: motors; water hoses; valves; dirty water discharge. He took something rather complicated for a kindergartner and translated it into language and concepts that I understood. 

In retrospect, that moment was my introduction to systems thinking. 

Growing up, I never saw a repairman in our home. My dad fixed everything - from power tools, to busted lamps, to kitchen appliances, to bathroom plumbing fixtures, to cars. My dad was a cop, but he certainly had (& still has!) some killer skills in his workshop. Alongside my brothers, I grew my confidence around woodworker's and machinist's tools.

When I was fifteen (15) years old, my …