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Human Understanding of Complexity

by zscott

Zane Scott, Vitech Vice President of Professional Services

In the medieval Western world, the universe was widely believed to operate on the basis of the design and subsequent will of its Creator. Its operation was observed and recorded, but the cause and effect of those observations was thought to be the work of a Divine Mover, God.

According to Ptolemy, the principle authority at the time on the movement and arrangement of the heavens, the celestial bodies traveled in spheres which emanated concentrically around the earth. These spheres rotated according to Divine prescription, making a heavenly sound as they moved in relation to each other – the “music of the spheres.”

But then along came Copernicus (and others like Kepler and Galileo) who posited that the rotation of heavenly bodies – in particular the planets – could be explained through the use of formulae which represented physical laws. Moreover, their observations challenged the notion that the earth was the center of the universe and placed the orbits of the planets around the sun instead. Further work led to the discovery of forces (like gravity) that operated on the planets causing them to travel their courses in predictable ways. More...

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Categories: Misc


Limiting Our Thinking: The Challenge of Defining the Opportunity Horizon for Systems Engineering

by zscott

By Zane Scott, Vitech Vice President of Professional Services

Some disciplines are “invented” or, more accurately, “evolve” as ways of solving specific, difficult problems. Principles and techniques are developed to cope with the knotty aspects of such problems. This was the path that led to systems engineering. First discussed by Bell Labs, systems engineering arose across several decades primarily in the aerospace and defense industry as a response to the problems of developing complicated and complex systems such as sophisticated airplanes, ships, and rockets.

Instead of treating these highly technical and intricate projects as a collection of independently developed parts cobbled together into a whole, systems engineering stressed the concept of developing the system together in ways that promoted the performance of the whole. It was in these contexts that the concepts and methods of systems engineering first began to take shape and be refined into the processes that we recognize today as systems engineering practice.

Although there have been some notable attempts to draw the concepts of systems engineering together into the community of systems disciplines (see particularly The Systems Engineering Body of Knowledge (SEBoK) Part 2: Foundations of Systems Engineering, and Sillito, 2012,  Integrating Systems Science, Systems Thinking, and Systems Engineering: Understanding the Differences and Exploiting the Synergies, INCOSE IS 2012, there still exists a division and even a resistance to seeing systems engineering as a “sister” discipline among siblings sharing concepts and frameworks for thinking about problems.  More...


Categories: Misc


Where to Leverage Simplicity (and Where Not To)

by dlong

Complexity Image, by Alisa Farr for Letter27. farrimages.com

By David Long, Vitech President

Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.

- Albert Einstein

In virtually any discipline, pursuit, or profession, there is a consistent desire to learn, advance, and to simplify. For systems engineering, it is no different. The breadth of systems engineering is vast, holistic in perspective and spans the entire lifecycle. It is often framed generically to ease its application to the challenge at hand – whether that be a next generation aircraft, a deep space mission, an automobile, a medical device, or a healthcare enterprise. But even this generic framing and description adds perceived complexity as we speak in abstract language with abstract context.

As complexity continues to grow – in the challenges we face; in the products, services, and enterprises that we engineer; in the environments in which we operate and in which we deploy our systems – there is a renewed push for simplification and simplicity in systems engineering. “We cannot solve complexity with complexity” is the mantra. After all, we need to accelerate the application and increase the breadth of understanding, and simplicity aids both. 

But not all simplicity is helpful. Sometimes, in our pursuit of simplicity, we lose key concepts and ideas, damaging the application of systems engineering rather than easing and accelerating it. Simplification of any given topic or any given method can be done poorly with a loss in fidelity, but there are some areas where we should pursue simplicity and some that are bound for trouble.

As we advance the practice of systems engineering, where should we pursue simplicity?  More...

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Categories: MBSE | Misc

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