Evolution and Design in Human Systems: the implications for NEC Professor Karen Carr Centre for Human Systems May 2007 Human Systems One of Mankind’s first tools was used as a weapon – for hunting, self defence and attack. The stone axe was the beginning of an intimate and inter-dependent relationship between people and their tools. Through this relationship, people became more aggressive, more adventurous, more organised, more civilised. They were able to think in new ways, capture and share ideas, thoughts, and learning. Their tools became more specialised, more sophisticated, and more widespread. Using them, people were able to magnify their own capacities to communicate, travel, fight, cultivate, cooperate, manage. The tools, the people and clever ways of combining them both still describes the human condition today. Technology, People and Process are at the heart of contemporary Human Systems, whether medical, educational, financial, political or military. In the military domain, these three components are also referred to as Physical, Moral and Conceptual. Developing Human Systems Over history, the way people design their tools has itself developed into a sophisticated system - or rather, a number of sophisticated systems. Tools for designing and people with specialised talents are put together in clever ways: systematic processes to deal with multiple aspects of the design. Design systems have allowed people to design larger entities: larger tools, larger organisations and larger management activities. There is an increasing understanding that interdependencies exist between Technology, People and Process and their Contexts. Even if a design is focussed on one small part of this inter-dependent system, the ability to take into account interdependencies allows for more effective design. But to be able to design more effective Human Systems on a grand scale is what our increasingly complex and interconnected society needs. We have seen how design errors can have widespread and expensive consequences (for example, the London Stock Exchange Information System, abandoned in 1993, after a cost £75m; also the Air Traffic Control system delivered at Swanick in 2001 with a £180m cost overrun and 3 years late). But perhaps it is not possible or even desirable to design everything in a controlled way? Perhaps we should let some things design themselves by unleashing them into society and letting the existing forces that use them knock them into shape through trial and error? After all, there are examples of new technologies that have emerged and developed in unexpected ways, technologies that were never designed in a topdown, controlled fashion. They developed in a bottom-up, evolutionary way. (The internet is often held up as a shining example of this approach). Certainly evolution has its place. Natural evolution provides us with the supreme example of this kind of development. What can it teach us? Comparing Evolution and Design As a means of improving system design, natural evolution is a slow and expensive. And it can only provide solutions for the present, unable as it is to look to the future. Random variations occur in natural systems, some of which, by chance, confer an advantage in the existing conditions. The system that has that advantage is more successful than the systems that do not have it. This process of natural selection has no intelligence. It is simply a function of existence that better solutions do better. In man-made systems, it is also true that better solutions do better. But whereas in natural selection, doing better means surviving, in man-made systems “doing better” can mean many things. It can mean commercial success, gaining status, winning races, being widely used, reaching outer space, and not least, military advantage. In natural selection, the critical success factors that confer advantage occur though random chance. In man-made systems, people can work out critical success factors for the environment they are interested in, and design the systems accordingly. Thus people can avoid the wastage of the random scattergun of natural selection. People can even consider a future environment, and work towards future success. Design has the potential be more efficient and effective than evolution. Design for Exploiting Technology No matter how good the science and engineering is, it is the design that can influence how people use a technology. A good designer understands that design is a language for communication with people who come into contact with the technology. The overt design of a system speaks to people’s emotions, rationality, motivation, selfimage, understanding, pre-conceptions, self-expression, and so much more. It is true that people can work around poor design, and can rely on training to help them make use of a technology or service – but this is at a cost. People are less effective when they have to devote energy and thought to making a system work. This consumes valuable human capability that could be devoted to the task in hand, to doing what humans do best: being creative, making judgements and decisions, negotiating, building relationships. Technology should be in harmony with the way a person thinks, behaves and performs a task, and not provide an additional workload. The Design should work the way people work. Of course, this is not a simple matter. People are not all the same. And through the generations since the Stone Age, people change what they do and what they want to do when they adopt technology. Technology shapes what people are, both as a society and as individuals. The way people live, what they value, and their social relationships are all affected by communications technology, transport technology, domestic appliances, and all the rest. People and technology are intimately interrelated. They define each other. Critical Success Factors and their Environments Critical success factors are at work both in evolution and in designed systems – the difference is in how they come about: by chance or by design. Similarly, both in evolution and in design, what works in one environment may not work in another. A designer must really understand the environment in which the design is to succeed. If the design aims to achieve commercial success, there will be a set of critical success factors, each of which may exist in different environments. There will be business strategy, finance, marketing, as well as customer perceptions, emotions and needs. If a design aims to achieve military benefit by leveraging a superior technology, one critical success factor will be the relationship between the people and the technology in the military Human System. Another critical success factor may be the perceptions that the military Human System elicits in adversaries, partners or beneficiaries. We can all give examples of technologies failing in favour of other technologies which were less good by some, or some people’s, criteria. (Betamax, Apple Newton, Hotol, etc). This happens when the critical success factors designed into a system are not the right ones for the environment it needs to succeed in. Unexpected and unplanned success can and do also occur in man-made systems. The way in which mobile phone texting became widespread is an example of this. So, even though people can use intelligence to design systems, this does not always mean that the system will have the advantage sought. In the complex and dynamic social, political, cultural, technical, commercial environment that people live in, identifying the critical success factor is not always easy. Critical Success Factors for Network Enabled Capability Network Enabled Capability, or NEC, can change the way military operations are carried out. It can change the way people think, feel, and behave. It can do all the things a tool can do. But in order to shape this tool effectively we need to understand the environments that will determine its success. Ultimately NEC is about information and communication and these are extensions of people’s ability to coordinate and cause actions. NEC design needs to tap into advantageous ways of coordinating, collaborating, sharing, effecting. It must also be seen to do this and make people feel they have an advantage. It must give them scope for ingenuity, new rules, new ways of thinking and doing. It may be that, as with phone texting, we stumble across a critical success factor, rather than plan it. But we need to be on the alert to recognise and exploit it. To do this we must looking in the right environment. Introducing information systems without a clear design, environment and set of critical success factors is risky if you cannot afford the luxury of evolution. If you need to gain benefits quickly and efficiently, you need to minimise the trial and error. It is all too easy to introduce a poorly designed information system into a Human System, allow people to work around the design flaws and leave it at that. This inefficiency then becomes embedded in the Human System, shaping further developments in People, Process and Technology. This may not matter too much in some systems if they are in non-critical. But if you are trying to develop highly effective capability, for example to leverage military advantage, this becomes an important failure. People are adapting their ways of thinking and behaving around an unnecessary problem, rather than in favour of the important tasks. Design as a Discipline In developing NEC (or its successor concept), should we be focussed on the network or on the capability being networked? And is the capability being networked a military system or is it a more generic human activity applied to military operations? In other words, what should determine its critical success factors? Will we recognise success? Will we recognise failure? The semantics are important because they make us look for different critical success factors. Systems engineering and architectural frameworks may help us in our development of a design system for NEC. But perhaps most importantly, we need to give Design itself a leading role. Design is a discipline and a profession that is highly developed in non-military sectors. It places a strong emphasis on a design’s relationship with people and the way they think and feel. In defence-related design, this does not seem to be considered as important. Human Factors Integration is certainly recognised as a part of Systems Engineering, and increasingly so. This helps ensure that systems allow people to perform their tasks efficiently and effectively. This does not address the broader Design issues that affect the development of people (emotions, selfimage, motivation, etc) in response to the design. And yet people are still people, whether they are in a military Human System, or in an educational Human System, or in a shopping Human System. There is always a Chief Engineer to be found in defence system development , but there is not always a Chief Designer. Designers should participate from the very beginning of development, bringing their creativity and analysis into an understanding of how a design can work in context, and with the people who will themselves be part of the design, or will be affected by the design. We need the help of Designers to discover the critical success factors for NEC. Professor Karen Carr is Head of the Centre for Human Systems at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.