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1 July 2011

Applications of Complex Systems to Operational Design

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Author: Alex Ryan

Abstract: Simon distinguished between the declarative logic of the natural sciences, concerned with how things are, and the normative logic of design, which is concerned with how things ought to be [Simon 1996]. According to Simon, everyone who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones is engaged in designing. Where traditionally design was associated with giving form to tangible artifacts, this broader conception recognizes that design also applies to more abstract entities. Services, interfaces, networks, projects, and even discourses are legitimate subjects for design [Krippendorff 2006]. The topic of this paper is the design of the operations of an organization, which compared to traditional design concerns in architecture and industrial design, are fundamentally fluid, dynamic, and open systems. Consequently, complex systems theory contains important insights for operational design. This paper uses examples from military operations to illustrate complex systems applications to operational design. We show how an appreciation of complex systems has been captured in U.S. Army doctrine on design, leading to the most significant change in the Army operations process in over a generation. We then identify further opportunities to build on this success within the Army. The implications are quite general, and apply to the design of business and interagency operations.

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