Recall a failure in your life and your reactions to it
Which one to choose? So many failures…
OK, so I’ll use something recent, something that I would term a failure, but is more a partial failure: my inability to get my first assignment in on time.
I felt immensely disappointed that I wasn’t able to find enough time to go through the block activities and that I needed a further two weeks to get it done. I’m also rather worried about the workload. I have two modules running concurrently and I’m having to cut corners on both courses in order to meet the mandated time-scales. There are only so many hours in the day and I’m finding this quite difficult to organise, but I’m still enjoying the learning experience overall.
My missed goal made me quite stressed, and this gave me some physical symptoms. Nothing serious, but I’d rather I didn’t feel so stressed about it. Some stress is good for you but I had a bit too much for a while there, and I’m anticipating some very busy periods coming up in June (when I have my M257 exam) and in September/October when my project needs to be submitted.
I did take on board some systems concepts in order to work through this problem. I had to reflect on what I wanted out of the course and modify my expectations as a result. I’d really wanted to get through all the activities and provide a strong assignment but this wasn’t possible, so I resolved to do what I could and eventually submitted a less than perfect but acceptable paper. This is something that my tutor covered in our recent tutorial – if we don’t have time to do everything we want to do then we have to reduce the output quality of our work. It’s a good pragmatic solution. I want to do better but I can only spend so many hours a week going over the material.
TMA02, I suspect, will also be less than perfect as a result. Only two weeks or so to go before I have to hand that in, and I’m only on activity 2!
What is your position regarding Information Systems?
This activity seems to be getting me to declare my perspective on Information Systems before we head into analysis the rest of the block. Well, I work with Information Systems for a living, so I guess I’m an active stakeholder in such things. I test software and this software is generally part of a larger system.
My current role is testing an application which is used to carry out complex tasks for a large NGO. It’s a government-sponsored contract and the Information System my company has created for the NGO is quite complex, involving about a dozen or so third-party applications (Oracle, .NET, that sort of thing) and a large server farm. There are terrabytes of information involved and complex financial rules. It’s a mess (in the systems thinking sense), although parts of it are well understood by various system stakeholders even though very few people can view it as a whole.
I am very comfortable working with computers and I think I have a good affinity in the general IT area. I’m weaker at certain specifics (I wouldn’t say I’m an IT expert) but I’m a geek and I like geeky things. Information Systems are constructs that I know a bit about and something that I’d like to know a lot better.
The course notes mention a whole range of IS disasters that have affected various large companies (British Gas, Scottish Power etc) and I am not at all surprised that these things happened. Maybe those planning these large ISs failed to think holistically or gave hopelessly optimistic cost/time estimations? Whatever happened, I am looking forward to learning more about ISs is general and systems thinking concepts relating to them specifically.
Well, I’ve submitted TMA01 but I’m really not happy with it. It was too short, rushed and missing quite a bit of useful content. The reasons for this inadequacy are multifarious, but I would have really liked to have had a good crack at it rather than the rushed mess that eventually emerged.
It was also two weeks late and I need to hand in TMA02 on the 11th April. This gives me 2 and a half weeks to get through an enormous amount of work. This isn’t going to happen at all, so I’m going to have to scale back my approach to the next block. I’m going to spend a week or so going through as many activities as I can before taking the more practical approach of working towards finding the relevant material that I need to answer the questions.
This isn’t really what I want to do and will give me a much reduced coverage of the course materials. It’s also a shame because Block 2 is based on an area in which I have a lot of personal interest – Information Systems. Unfortunately, I cannot really extend the next assignment because I also have one to hand in for M257 in May and I’ll need quite a bit of time to get that one ready too.
Too much work and too little time to do it in. I shall do what is necessary and practicable.
Block 1 was also skimmed over quite a bit in the end. There’s some really interesting concepts in there and I’ll have to go back over that (and all the other blocks 2) once the first five assignments are in and I’m working towards my project. I don’t know what my project will be yet but I’ll be choosing something of interest to myself and hopefully nothing too complex. I do need enough complexity to demonstrate I understand the course concepts but I need to avoid something that I can’t possible approach sensibly in the ten weeks I’ll have to do it.
Onwards with Block 2, then.
Connecting with a history in your own context.
At the beginning of this part of the block, I invited you to consider one of your own role(s) and situation(s) that could be kept in mind as you worked through the part. With this in mind, are you able to think of a practice that is carried out unquestioningly? Are you able to engage in any elementary archaeology to uncover some of the history of this practice?
One easy thing I can think of is the practice of washing your hands after going for a pee. I imagine that most of us think that this is a good thing. I certainly do. I certainly don’t want to be accidentally inserting certain fluids into my mouth, or passing them onto other people. There are germs involved.
I do wonder, though, that we might be creating weakened immune systems as a result of this practice. Are we too obsessed with cleaning everything that our bodies aren’t exposed as frequently to immune system-boosting bacteria?
I don’t really have time to “engage in any elementary archaeology” with this, but it’s certainly become something that you’re told to do from an early age. It’s to stop the spread of infection, I get that, and I’m still going to wash my hands after using the toilet like I always have done.
When you talk about experience what do you mean?
Describe what was, for you, a new experience.
Experiences are circumstances that I’ve been through that I’ve remembered. They shape my perspectives and, eventually, my worldview. They are things that I may remember in the future during new experiences, and these prior experiences may shape how I act in the new ones.
I was in the RAF for 12 years and part of that time was spent with a tactical unit in Kuwait. I wasn’t running around in the desert or anything (thankfully!) but I did get to maintain the communications systems at the main airbase there. I’d seen the bombing of Iraq on the television – like everyone else – but had no direct experience of war until I got to Kuwait.
I only got to see some of the aftermath in Kuwait. The airbase had several reinforced concrete aircraft shelters and each of these had been bombed by the allies during the first gulf war. The concrete in these things was several meters thick and these bombs had somehow penetrated all the way through, no doubt destroying everything underneath. I’ve stood on top of one of these shelters and looked down the massive hole left by these bombs. The amount of energy released in these impacts must have been utterly immense.
You really don’t get an idea of how much damage can be done by modern weapons until you’ve seen it yourself. The television makes it look terrifying but you get a feel for how terrible when you can touch the results.
There were other war relics visible in the squash courts. These were used for executions by the Iraqis and the bullet holes were still there. The pragmatism of the British military meant that there was a special “let” rule so that balls ricocheting out of one of these holes would be replayed.
I’m not entirely sure where this one is going but here we go. The right column will be filled in later.
*Update* – after reading further down the course materials here is the right column material too. I’ve used definitions more suited to systems thinking that the generic meanings of the verbs. (updated 14/3/2012)
How I understand these activities now
How my understanding has/has not changed
||To start understanding or be aware of the existence of something
||Understanding my own perspectives and worldview, so that I can take these into account when experiencing something
||To look back at something and try and see if there are errors are ways of improvement
||Action learning – experience, thinking, decision action and back to experience again (and so forth). Iterate to find emergent properties
||To be thankful or be understanding of something
||Maybe related to the first one – knowing where I’ve come from and considering the history or traditions of situations in order to use systems practice to best effect
||To tell apart
||Understanding the difference between things, maybe between systemic and systematic thinking
||To take an idea and think about doing something with it
||Don’t know about this one
List the two contrasting ideas from Table 1 (page 66) that you find most challenging to, or supportive of, your current worldview. Explain why.
The table in the question lists “some contrasting features between the traditional Western conception of the disembodied person with that of an embodied person”. I’m not entirely convinced that the course notes have really explained what this means but I’m going to have a stab at a pair of contrasting ideas.
Western conception: The world has a unique category structure independent of the minds, bodies or brains of human beings (i.e. an objective world).
Embodied person: Our conceptual system is grounded in, neurally makes use of, and is crucially shaped by our perceptual and motor systems.
I do think that the world can be objectively understood – through science. It is science that defines how we understand reality, so perhaps this is what the traditional Western idea is stating. However, I also think that the embodied persion idea is also correct, in that as individuals we understand everything that goes on around us by our own perception. Our brains interpret everything that we see, hear and taste and the way we understand these signals is shaped by our prior experiences.
Looking at the list on the rest of the table I am more likely to agree with the “embodied person” side rather than the traditional western. This is probably due to my prior learning on T214
This activity requires me to look at a very large diagram showing some of the many building blocks of systems thinking. I’m not going to reproduce it here (my blog isn’t big enough to show it with any clarity, but I do need to search for some practices that I have never heard of or don’t know the definition.
So, here comes a list of stuff I don’t know. I have no idea if I’m going to revisit this but I guess this will be a good place to store some links to stuff that I might find useful later on. I’m going to try and not use Wikipedia for all these.
- General Systems Theory. You’d think I’d know something about this already but it must have slipped my memory when doing T214
- Critical Systems by Jackson, Ulrich and Flood
- Applied Systems Studies by Checkland. I’m not entirely sure what this is from the little oval in the diagram but it seems to relate to soft systems methodologies. I shall be covering these quite a bit in the course.
- Systems Agriculture by Spedding & Bawden. Something else I have no idea about, but my current client is working in agriculture and I might read this at some point.
- OR Management Science by Ackoff. I don’t know what they mean by this either but I have at least heard of Russell Ackoff.
- Management Cybernetics by Stafford Beer. This is related to the viable systems model that is covered later in T306
- Second-order Cybernetics. I’ve actually found a proper academic link for this. It talks about semiotics in the abstract and I have no idea what this is either.
- Biology of cognition by Varela. I think this is probably about attempting to understand how we understand things. I don’t understand this.
- Experimental Epistemology. This somehow leads into second-order cybernetics. I really hope I don’t have to actually know this stuff.
- Information Theory by Shannon, Weaver. The mother of all models, apparently
There have been some extremely clever people thinking about this stuff for a very long time. I do hope some of it rubs off.
Write down your own initial impressions to the metaphor of the systems practitioner as juggler.
What juggler? Oh, this one:
I’m going to be seeing a lot of this juggler, I can tell. My initial impressions of this are that the metaphor sounds pretty reasonable on the face of it. It is difficult to manage anything complex and it does sometimes feel that I’m a pretty poor juggler trying to keep lots of extremely uneven objects in the air all at the same time.
The B ball has been covered by T214 already and I think I have a reasonable grasp on what is expected of systems practitioners. The E ball is the bit I find hard – the engaging with the real world bit. I’m not entirely sure what the C ball is trying to tell me. I have a vague idea but I’m keeping a space in my brain free for that information. I am hopeless at managing anything, so I suspect that this is the bit I shall be finding most difficult.