[G04] Complex systems

Module: Strategic reasoning

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Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction.

- Albert Einstein

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Many problems involve complex systems or processes. We might be asked to explain how they work, or perhaps acquire a better understanding of them so that we know how they can be improved. In this module we discuss analytical methods that help us understanding complex systems and processes.

The basic and simple idea behind is simply to understand the function and behavior of a complex object in terms of its components and their interaction.

§1. Analysing a complex input-output process

In the commercial or industiral environment, process analysis is a basic part of quality management and strategic development. Here, a process is seen as a procedure composing of many steps which convert one or more inputs into one or more outputs. In a factory production line, the inputs might be raw materials or electronic components, and the output might be a particular product such as a computer.

To carry out a process analysis, we identify the different parts of the process, and draw a diagram showing how one part of the process leads to another part of the process. To begin the analysis, we might divide the whole process into its major parts, and then we can carry out further analysis on the larger parts and show how they are composed for different activities and tasks. This process of decomposition allows us to see how the process is organized :

One way to draw a systematic diagram of a complex process is to use flowcharts. You can refer to these notes to find out more about flowcharts.

§2. Analysing a complex system

The same decomposition method can be used in understanding a complex system. For example, a computer is composed of different part, including memory, processor, display, and interface components such as keyboard and mouse. To understand how a computer works, we identify the functions of different components, and see how they interact with each other.

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