Friday, April 07, 2006

The other day I was responding to the ideas of Steve DeAngelis and as a parenthetical aside I listed the meta-principles that have globally systemic application in the age of Globalization. One of those principles was Modularity. Meta-principles, as I conceive the term, are rules that govern the system of systems that we call the world. We see applicability on all levels and domains. I will offer the caveat that I may be overly enthusiastic here - niche experts probably can point to exceptions that I am unaware of - but at a minumum the parameters of influence of those concepts I have designated "meta-principles" are exceptionally broad even when not universalistic. I'm personally more interested in human-scale, temporal events than in the non-human, theoretical, nano- or cosmological physical extremes.

The essence of modularity in a complex network system is getting to have your cake and eat it too. As effective, flexible and adaptive as scale free networks might be compared with traditional, hierarchical, 20th century systems or randomly distributed networks, modular ones are better- at least in terms of human networks. I can't speak for non-human systems ( go ask Dr. Von)

Therefore, I was delighted to discover today that in this post by strategic thinking guru Art Hutchinson had covered Modularity in some detail last August:

"To use another analogy, scenarios are also too often vertically integrated, e.g., in the way that the computer industry was until the mid/late 1980's, or the steel and automotive industries were in the early part of the 20th century. One either buys the final product from company A or one buys the final product from company B. One does not have the option of buying and assembling smaller components from a variety of more specialized suppliers. It is difficult to see how scenario A intersects or diverges from scenario B. They are simply different.

One drawback of this monolithic approach is that strategic discussions can become more binary than insightful. As we discussed last week, comparing scenarios can be a subjective and labor-intensive chore.

What is the antidote to all this? Modularity. Lego blocks. Tinker Toys. Mad Libs. The computer industry after the mid 1990's. The automotive industry of today. Jazz.

We approach scenarios with an assumption that a library of discrete but hypothetical future milestones (aka, 'events' or ''headlines') must be separate from a set of visions or 'endstates' for how the future might turn out. The endstates provide broad guidance to anchor 'big vision' thinking in several different directions but, (and this is key), without spelling out a particular way that any of those visions might be achieved. Modular. Putting endstates together with events is the scenario-building process. It is anything but monolithic. It may happen in multiple ways depending upon who's thinking about it and what new information is brought to the table, (e.g., real newspaper headlines as the emerge over time). But like jazz, there are certain patterns and commonalities of logic that start to emerge no matter who is building them. E.g., these events tend to precede these others; these are precursors to these, which are present in multiple scenarios, and these over here are forks in the road between two particular scenarios. These are interesting but largely irrelevant to two scenarios, critical to one, and moderately important but not essential to another.

The piece parts of modular scenarios may be assembled in different ways, but with clear points for comparison (in the form of the discrete events). Points of intersection and divergence between scenarios become much clearer. Reassembly becomes possible as new visions/endstates emerge, or as the relationships between scenarios morph and change. Monolithic scenarios can be useful at a single point in time, for thinking about a particular business problem. Modular scenarios are critical to thinking about modular business architecture and its open-ended possibilities. I.e., how might the value components, business units, and functions of an industry or an enterprise be recombined - acquired, divested, re-organized, re-aligned - to better fulfill a mission, be more efficient, etc.?"

Well said Art.

I like it when smart people save me blogging time.
The idea of modularity reminds me of Unix Philosophy

(i) Make each program do one thing well. To do a new job, build afresh rather than complicate old programs by adding new features.

(ii) Expect the output of every program to become the input to another, as yet unknown, program. Don't clutter output with extraneous information. Avoid stringently columnar or binary input formats. Don't insist on interactive input.

(iii) Design and build software, even operating systems, to be tried early, ideally within weeks. Don't hesitate to throw away the clumsy parts and rebuild them.

(iv) Use tools in preference to unskilled help to lighten a programming task, even if you have to detour to build the tools and expect to throw some of them out after you've finished using them.

Summarized as

Write programs that do one thing and do it well. Write programs to work together.

Unsurprisingly, another intepretation provides the following as the first law

Rule of Modularity: Write simple parts connected by clean interfaces.

Sorry to keep cutting and pasting out of the same word document, but it even ties into my "Drawing North America" post:

The only way to write complex software that won't fall on its face is to hold its global complexity down — to build it out of simple parts connected by well-defined interfaces, so that most problems are local and you can have some hope of upgrading a part without breaking the whole.

Interestingly, the 2nd and 3rd most widely spread operating systems (Linux and Mac OS X) are unixy. Unlike Soviet Windows.
Hey Mark,

All of this makes me think, in physical terms at least, of something that has always been dominant in areas of science. This interaction and interfacing of local versus global phenomena. one's perspective can differ radically depending if you look at the macro- or micro-. It is like looking at a smoothly flowing river (laminar flow) and then in one little section stick your finger in to cause local eddies and turbulence. Globalization may be happening all around a particular small area of the world, where internally there is great turbulence and chaos. How does the local affect the global, and how do the parts differ from the sum of the parts? That is going to drive 21st century science as well as 21st century social and political studies.

Nice posts!
Hey Von,

Glad you wrote - I want you to check out the Enterprise Resilience Management Blog ( scroll down for my post on it)as they are trying to develop computer software and management plans based on the principle of resilience to help corporations and government agencies deal with " swirls and eddies" in real time. I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.


Great examples, even for the computer semi-iliterates like myself ;o)

The Army's modularity plan though is coming under fire.






Hi Mark,

I have played off of the ideas of Tom and Steve at my site. Please stop by and check it out. Would love additional, constructive input.

Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /

follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!