For the full course see: https://goo.gl/S3Q8XD
Follow along with the course eBook: https://goo.gl/ZZqUzY
In this section we discuss the process of evolution as a key dynamic within complex engineered systems and central to the design of sustainable technologies as they manage to internalise change and stay evolving over time.
Produced by: http://complexitylabs.io
Complex systems are inherently dynamic systems meaning they are continuously changing over time, biological systems are a good example of this, the only time they are not engaged in some process of development is when they cease to exist. This is in strong contrast to linear systems that inherently gravitate towards some equilibrium state where they will remain static unless perturbed by some external force.
Linear systems theory is the back bone to modern science and engineering that has created our industrial economies, within this paradigm technologies are designed to operate at some kind of normal static equilibrium, within a well known and predefined environment. Their life cycle is a linear one where the system is created, put into its operating environment where it is designed to function within some normal set of parameters, at a stable and static equilibrium. It is, importantly, designed to resist change and to maintain operations within these parameters for as long as possible, before being disposed of.
This model works well for simple linear systems like bridges where when we clamp our girders together we want our bolts to stay there, we don’t want them to answer back, to change or grow in anyway.
But in complex systems we are not dealing with bolts, we are dealing with components that have some degree of autonomy and capacity for adaptation, people, businesses, stock prices, web applications, smart phones, these thing have their own internal logic through which they adapt to changes within their local environment. Sometimes this logic is very simple, such as some financial algorithm that will automatically sell or buy a stock at a certain price, or sometime it is very complex
such as why a person buys a particular item of fashion over another.
The net result though is that the system can change and is not determined to follow a linear life cycle from cradle to grave, it can learn, grow and adapt in response to internal and external condition in order to renew itself, that is to become more or less sustainable and thus alter its life cycle.
That is all quite abstract so lets take some examples. Most businesses don’t last very long, less than a few decades, there are many reasons why this might be, but one model to capture the underline dynamics of how a business evolves is call the explore and exploit algorithm.
In it’s early years a business may explore many different product or services, being able to pivot, remain flexible and diversified, but as the business developed there will be a few product that prove most lucrative and the business may likely scale them up becoming centred around them and developing a more formal structured management system as they leverage economics of scale. The result of exploiting a few lucrative products will be that the company will become more profitable but it has also self organised into a more critical state, some small change in the market that moves against the business’s core product might destroy the enterprise.
Now lets take an example of a business that has designed an alternative course of development for itself. Google has since inception generated over 90% of its revenue from its one core service of web search, so why then dose it develop and maintain a whole suit of product that generate relatively little revenue. One theory is that Google knows that in a rapidly evolving market it needs to be where the next great thing is going to happen, whether it is in social media or video sharing, by creating this diversity, by continuing to invest resources gained from exploiting its core service into exploring and generate variety it is able to better evolve and ensure its sustainability.
Because markets change, because the climates changes because everything changes to design sustainable systems is to design systems that build change and evolution into their structure. To better understand this process of evolution lets break it down to see how it works. There are just a hand full of key components, we need be able creation of some variety, allow for adaptation and perform selection to see which of the elements are the most adapt to the particular environment.