Tuesday, October 14, 2008

[Long Range Thinking] Problems where cause and effect are far apart

From 'Solving Tough Problems', by Adam Kahane:

... problems are tough because they are complex, and there are three types of complexity: dynamic, generative, and social.

A problem has a low dynamic complexity if cause and effect are close together in space and time.

In a car engine, for example, a cause produce effects that are nearby, immediate, and obvious; and so, why an engine doesn't run can usually be understood and solved by testing and fixing one piece at a time.

By contrast, a problem has high dynamic complexity if cause and effect are far apart in space and time. For example, the economic decisions in New York affect the price of gold in Johannesburg, and apartheid-era educational policies affect present-day black employment prospects. Such problems - management theorist Russell Ackoff calls them " messes" - can only be understood systemically, taking account of the interrelationships among the pieces and the functioning of the system as a whole.
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