Archive for November, 2010

What Limits a System’s Performance & What we might do?

November 29, 2010

 As a child I loved watching the trailing vortices of beautiful white plumes in the wake of commercial aircrafts flying majestically in the sky. I watched them as long as I could till the plumes gradually dissolved their presence into the blue sky.

Such vortices are strong, long and lingering. But, what might be the effect of such beautiful vortices on the system’s behaviour?

By the way, what system are we talking about?

The aircraft is a part of a much bigger system than we might immediately notice. The bigger system consists of the airport, the number of planes ready to take off or land, number of runways, air traffic control, signals, lights etc. These elements are well within our control or almost. However, some of the elements like atmospheric temperature, humidity, visibility are not within our control at all. 

We can easily understand that all these elements are interdependent on each other and produce a range of possible interactions between them. This we call as the "essence" of a system. The presence of this essence produces a range of behavior of a system that emerges in somewhat unpredictable or random manner. We call such possible and uncertain range or types of behavior (since we can't precisely predict) the 'emergence' of the system. Because of the 'essence' the 'emergence' takes place.

Obviously the essence and the emergence of a system effectively determines the behavior of the system and places an upper limit on a system’s performance.

Let us see how that might happen in the case of vortices generated by the interaction of an aircraft's movement and the wind?

These vortices stretch for miles across the sky trailing behind a large aircraft and endanger the planes that follow it or go across it by inducing drastic rolling moments, which might lead to the failure of the aircraft that follows or crosses the path of these vortices. Thus persistence and length of such vortices would govern the frequency of take off and landing of other planes in an airport. So, the 'essence' and the 'emergence' of the system determine the airport capacity and the limits of the system’s functioning and performance.

Now, if we want to improve the productivity of the airport in terms of number of take offs and landings we immediately recognize the inherent ‘imperfection’ in the given system. Recognition of such inherent imperfection (in terms of the objecive we would like to achieve) would automatically lead us to innovate or design solutions to either eliminate the ‘imperfections’ or avoid them in case imperfections can't be eliminated totally or monitor them if we have no other way but to live with them.

Such solutions might take the form of a concentrated research work to alleviate these swirling wakes or shorten the length of the wake or we might think of building or using alternative runways instead of relying on one or we might think of increasing the air traffic corridors etc.  In fact, most major airports in the world have now increased the number of runways and the air traffic corridors to improve system performance.

That might be all well for running commercial aircrafts. But what might we do to save aircrafts from accidents during an air show?

During such airshows aircrafts would be forced to fly parallel to each other to avoid the dangerous trap of vortices (as shown in the photograph).Perhaps we need very skilled and experience pilots to perform such feats.


The steps that we followed were::

1. Observe the system as a whole (what are the elements that make the total system)

2. Understand the range of possible 'essence' (number of possible interactions happening over time)

3. Understand the set of related 'emergences' or behavior of the system (in relation to the essence)

4. Understand the present objective function or purpose of the system as of now and in the future.(since objective function/purpose changes over time)

5. Identify the inherent 'imperfection(s)' that limits the system to achieve the present objective.

6. Find or design solutions to eliminate the imperfectons or avoid the imperfection if the imperfection can be partially eliminated or monitor the imperfection if it is not possible to eliminate imperfection(s) at all.(all imperfections can't be solved and might have to be lived with, but we may do that in a better way rather than give up).

7. Observe changes in the system over time (in terms of essence, emergence and objectives)

8. Set new objectives and goals to harness uncertainty for productive use.

9. Respond with new solutions and check performance and/or behavior of the system over time.


What Limits a System’s Performance & Doing Something about it!

November 29, 2010


November 27, 2010
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By Sitendu De

Social Learning from Toyota to E2.0 #in #designthinking

November 27, 2010

Toyota engineers emphasize that learning how to use the know how database does not make a good engineer. This is not to say that engineering database is not useful for learning. Databases are primarily born out of experience of other engineers who found that exceeding certain limits might cause a problem.

Databases are tools to provide guidelines and ensure that the engineer or the designer does not forget the key points. It certainly helps training young engineers and designers but fails to create a great engineer. A database can only provide the limits on possible design solutions. It helps an engineer to know when not to exceed a limit or keep something at some minimum. It certainly does not make him creative.

At times, there is a need to exceed limits or change the structure to make the system as a whole function better. This obviously calls for better design thinking that would involve learning by doing through prototyping, extra testing and field studies. If this proves OK then the previous level of social or organizational learning jumps to a new level. This is something like a quantum jump that is reflected through changed fractals within the entire organization.

If the organization stagnates at any particular level of learning, say by sticking to the database, then everyone learns the same thing and we would see the corresponding fractals of that learning in everything the organization does or produces. With a quantum leap in learning the fractals within the organization change immediately reflecting new learning.

But how would that possibly happen?Possibly we may learn about this from Toyota.

Real engineering would remain a creative activity that would involve innovative thinking to solve problems or provide the desired functions to the customer while treating database constraints as standards.

Toyota places great emphasis on developing know-how over time by doing the work under the guidance of a mentor because it is the only way to develop the real creative power of the engineer. Over the years Toyota has developed such mentors within the rank and file of their organization.

But this poses a problem.

Most organizations are filled up with doers and thinkers but not mentors or the wise ones as I call them. And with performance review systems in place (one of the 5 deadly organizational sins of Dr. Deming) it becomes still harder to develop mentors, teamwork and retain people who would be willing to learn over time.

So, what might be a new path of learning for most organizations since it is vital to developing and sustaining competitive edge?

To my mind E 2.0 has the potential to provide the new framework for social learning in organizations under natural work conditions. People would learn from each other. People would learn from the mistakes made by others. People would become aware of the customer problems and take steps to correct their thinking. The organization as a whole becomes aware, active and thinking.

E2.0 offers other advantages as well. It can seamlessly connect customers, outside experts, suppliers, trainers, mentors and every department of the organization into a cohesive whole all working towards a common purpose.

How to do that would be a creative design process in its own right.

Slowing Dragon & Crouching Tiger #in

November 25, 2010

Presently the story of the dragon and the tiger captivates the minds of people across the globe. This is where all the action is. And this is where most of the money in the world economy would probably come from. The dragon and the tiger are both busy to recapture 50 to 60% of the world economy as they once enjoyed till the beginning of 17th century.

There are various economic viewpoints about this story. There are good number of predictions about who would overtake whom and when that might happen. The environment is rife with speculation of all sorts. The projected trend graphs of GDP growth of the two countries provide one of the several examples of such intellectual debates and optimistic predictions.

But I look at this story from a completely different perspective. The interesting and gradually unfolding story is a story of thinking and demographics.

We have generally believed having a large population is an untenable proposition from economic and sustainability viewpoints. However, for the two most populous countries in the world high population proved to be a boon rather than a bane in times of crisis. As the graphs show both the dragon and the tiger survived the worst ever world economic crisis quite well and did much better than any other country keeping the growth rates ticking well above 5% while China actually clocked more than 9%, which is admirable by any standard. Both weathered previous economic storms like the Asian crisis. What helped them overcome such crisis time and again? Surely large population of both countries created a huge internal market for them to survive well without depending too much on exports. What helped them more was the existence of healthy agricultural economy contributing a large share to the national economy.

The present and the projected growth rate is good enough for both countries to keep doubling their economy every 7 years or so. If that be so, given China’s present economic superiority, India cannot overtake Chinese economy in the near future until something radical occurs, which is quite unlikely. I for one can’t see any hidden trump card up India’s sleeve.

One more thing is clear. Both the dragon and the tiger have decided to peg their growth to around 9% and keep it in a steady state situation. This is definitely a wise move considering overheating and collapse of the economy initiated by double digit growth rates. Economic experts seem to be unduly worried about slowing down of the Chinese economy. But China seems to harbor a completely different thinking about this.

What is interesting is the way the two countries want to take the well being of their people forward.

China is showing less and less interest in rapid industrialization which was their mantra from about 1978. They have had enough of it which has made them immensely cash rich nation. Now suddenly they no longer want to have it or rather slow down the process. This is a conscious decision. The decision comes at a time when they have almost cornered the major mineral resources across the globe. Sensing that they don’t need to accelerate too much, they are busy stopping polluting industrial plants and manually intensive labor oriented industries. They have been preparing for this moment for quite some time. Having developed their industrial base and the living standard of the urban people to an enviable position they are now turning their attention to the uplift of the vast rural population to improve their standard of living. In short after achieving a huge cash surplus, they now aim at balanced growth that calls for slowing down their economy to provide the time and resources to take up the job at hand in a planned manner. On the other hand they are also aiming to become the world’s foremost design center. The intent had been made clear by their huge investment in the ‘design thinking’ studies, the first country to do so at a national level. Strong political control at the center helps them do this better and rather easily. For the last three decades they have been busy copying anything from anywhere. This has now provided them the critical and necessary social skills to innovate and manufacture original economic artifacts that can rake in tons of money through intellectual efforts. Innovation and raising the national standard of living are their recent buzz words.

The Indian side of the great story is quite different. India is probably relying on something else. It is still relying on the old fashioned capitalistic approach of eternal cycle of higher production and higher consumption through rapid industrialization without realizing the fact that it needs time to develop an industrial climate that calls for careful thinking and planning at a national level. This is missing. What is happening at a national scale might be aptly described as staunch belief in ‘trickle down economy’. Keep making factories, somehow push out goods and the economy would flourish. But the results are not very encouraging. Fair to say India was a slow starter compared to China. They started this race at least ten years behind China. As on today the economic benefits have reached only the top 10% of the population from a previous level of 3% (as on 1990). This top 10% enjoy a standard of living comparable to that of the US. For the balance 90% poverty appears to be the destiny. There does not seem to be a firm plan in place to improve the lives of 90% of the population. This is a matter of serious concern. The growth rate, though impressive, does not appear to be inclusive. Innovation is taking a beating. This is probably a result of too much fragmentation within the country. Fragmentation and federal government impede innovation, which is not the case with China with no fragmentation backed up by strong central leadership. For India as of now, innovation does not appear to be the growth strategy though the economic importance of design is been slowly appreciated and recognized in small ways. Indian growth is heavily dependent on outsourced jobs which might dry up in no time. The development story so far in India is lop sided without any clear thinking on the part of the leaders and politicians. It is ‘go as you like’ for most. Go out and do something is the watchword. It is probably relying to much on spontaneity and serendipity of market dynamics, which as we have all experienced is not too reliable after all.

The picture

Creative Design Business

November 23, 2010

In the picture the colorful bangles wrapped up in the nondescript plastic bag were no ordinary bangles.

This Puja (the biggest festival in Bengal) they were simply winners, winning all their way into the hearts of beautiful Bengali girls and ladies.

What made them winners? It was the Designers’ unique business strategy.

A) Design features:

1. Completely sustainable — no glass, no metals used. Made of renewable material — cotton.
2. Reliable — would not break or crack like the traditional glass bangles.
3. Comfort — soft to the touch. Does not make odd noises.
4. Variety — more colorful than other bangles with infinite variation of color patterns.
5. Flexibility — wriggles past and fits most wrists – one size fits all.  
6. Affordable — dirt cheap — only Rs 10/- (20 cents per piece)

B) Distribution & Positioning

1. Sold by pavement vendors just outside the rich markets and malls.
2. Sold by many vendors. Each vendor carries a limited stock of material.
3. When exhausted they refer other vendors — their friends
4. 50% credit allowed.
5. Brought into the market just on the eve of Puja
6. By the end of Puja the offering vanished (exclusivity and scarcity).

C) Advertisement

1. Word of mouth
2. Positioning in richer areas of the city.

D) Business

1. The sales of these bangles by each vendor was brisk.
2. In a matter of 10 days each vendor sold a minimum of Rs 50,000 ($ 1000)
3. Total vendors in the business in each area were around 10
4. Sales in each area = Rs 5,00, 000/- ($ 10,000)
5. Sold at 5 places. So total sales in 10 days = Rs 25,00, 000/- ($ 50,000)

E) Profitability

1. Profit per bangle = 70%
2. Total profit = Rs 17,50,000/- ($35,000)
3. Number of persons involved in the business = 10 (all designers)
4. Profit per head = Rs 17,50,00 ($ 3500)
5. In business it is profitability and not turnover that counts.

In India, this money is enough to comfortably run a family of 4 for a year.

And all that money coming in ten days flat. All cash. No taxes, I suppose.

Hats off to the designers

Hats off to creativity.

Creative people can create opportunities and earn money in many unusual ways.

They don’t depend on jobs.

Who says there is a dearth of opportunity and jobs in India?

You just got to think about it creatively.

RapidInnovator —  ‘Harnessing Uncertainties to Create Possibilities’
Reliability Management Consultant Pvt. Ltd.



November 23, 2010

Not One: Not Two

November 22, 2010
Sun & its light

Ocean & its waves

Singer & his song

Writer & his story

Artist & his art

Dancer & her dance

Poet & her poem

Engineer & his designs

Bearing & its lubrication

Gas flow & its duct wall

Motor & its bearings

Rotor & its bearings

Bus bar & its joints

Bus bar & its capacitance

Leader & his followers

Organization & its employees

Working & its learning

Production & its demand

Productivity & its inventory

Earnings & its expense

Problems & its constraints

Context & its context

Management & its effectiveness

Mentor & his mentees

Cow & its meadow

Mother & her child

Father & his family

Husband & his wife

Beautiful lady & her beautiful necklace

Lover & his love

How do we separate one from the other?

Whom do we appreciate?

What do we change or improve to get what?

Study of Patterns – 2

November 16, 2010

Study of Patterns is central to whatever we think and do.

The interdependent state of Nature is reflected through the various patterns she continually creates them as per context.

Leonardo da Vinci was a keen student of Nature. Instead of trying to dominate nature, as we have been trying for ages, Leonardo’s intent was to learn from her as much as possible. He was struck by the beauty he saw in the complexity of natural forms, patterns, and processes. He was intently aware that nature’s ingenuity was far superior to human design.

And this is what he had to declare about her:

“Though human ingenuity in various inventions uses different instruments for the same end, it will never discover an invention more beautiful, easier, or more economical than nature’s, because in her inventions nothing is wanting and nothing is superfluous.”

This inspires me to observe systems at work, think deeply and design and execute effectively.

However, the idea of understanding and learning starts with discovering the underlying principles at work. In order to do that we must find the invisible relationships that exist between different elements. Seeing through relationships creates the necessary ‘wholistic’ understanding for us to become wiser and probably enlightened thinkers, designers, executives, salesmen, leaders and workers. .

How do we do that? What is beautiful in her expressions are her myriad patterns. It is through the study of patterns that we come to discover the innumerable relationships that exist between different elements. This is perhaps the first and the most crucial step towards understanding and learning anything.

Fortunately, Nature expresses herself in three simple forms. She dances (oscillates). She shares energy (dissipation). She dies (wear and tear process).

She expresses herself when any system is either in dynamic equilibrium or when a system is taken away from equilibrium — the only two possible living states for any system.

The slides above represent one of the many patterns that we get to observe. It does not matter whether we observe such patterns in engineering or elsewhere. It is still Nature at her best exhibiting her wildest, creative expressions.

The fan handles hot air, say around 200 to 250 degree Celsius. However, owing to frequent maintenance actions on the fan  the lagging (insulation cover) on the fan ducts was removed.

Heat pictures (Infra-red Thermal Images) were taken on various parts of the duct. The different colors tell us about the temperature of the gas at various locations in the duct.

As we can see the heat pictures create lovely colorful patterns all around the duct. We can also see that the gas is swirling. Technically, we can call this a turbulence. We also observe that at the bolted jointed zone the temperature of the gas is the least (represented by the bluish color).

OK. We get the idea.

Now the questions that arise are the following:

a) Why is the air exhibiting ‘turbulence’?

b) What is the relationship between the lagging and the turbulence?

c) Why is the air cooler at the jointed portion of the duct?

d) What would be the effect of the turbulence on the fan system? Would there be any other effects?

e) What is the learning we glean from this? How can the purpose of any system be understood?

f) How could we transform the turbulence into more streamlined flow? What is the principle that we might follow?

g) Where else we might apply this principle to improve our lives?

Hope you enjoy the questions.

How to Learn like Leonardo?

November 14, 2010

Learning, a life long activity, is the responsibility of the learner. It does not lie in how much we read because that might soon be forgotten. It does not lie in how much we hear. It lies in the ability to interconnect observations and ideas from different disciplines to create an understanding that makes us wiser, illuminated and enlightened. Fortunately, this ability to interconnect resides in all.

Amplify’d from

Systemic Thinker

was what we would call, in today’s scientific parlance, a systemic thinker.
Understanding a phenomenon, for him, meant connecting it with other phenomena
through a similarity of patterns. When he studied the proportions of the human
body, he compared them to the proportions of buildings in Renaissance
architecture; his investigations of muscles and bones led him to study and draw
gears and levers, thus interlinking animal physiology and engineering; patterns
of turbulence in water led him to observe similar patterns in the flow of air;
and from there he went on to explore the nature of sound, the theory of music,
and the design of musical instruments.

exceptional ability to interconnect observations and ideas from different
disciplines lies at the very heart of Leonardo’s approach to learning and
research, and this is something that is very much needed today, as the problems
of our world become ever more interconnected and can only be understood and
solved if we learn how to think systemically — in terms of relationships,
patterns, and context.

Leonardo’s manuscripts gathered dust in ancient European libraries, Galileo was
celebrated as the “father of modern science.” One cannot help but
wonder how Western scientific thought might have developed had Leonardo’s
notebooks been known and widely studied soon after his death.