Rüdiger Lutz:

Soft System Design for a thriving environment of change

Change is the focus of the soft systems approach in designing and preparing the world for its future. Normally we consider design as the change agent and instrument of change, producing a new element or entire system in a specific environment. But when the context becomes the object of the design procedure, we experience a figure/ground shift in time-dynamics. The relationship of plan and result has to be seen in a more complex pattern. Every plan is a result of design and every result is producing new plans for implementation - the entire endeavour goes hyperbole and it's hard to make clear distinction in this interference-scheme we are participating in.

If an issue becomes a problem, we already asked a question which determines the possible outcome of the Design. "If technology is the answer, what was the question?" illustrates this intrinsic dilemma of the Systems designer.
The foresight of problems to come is for example the task of technology assessment (TA): Technologies, which were developed to answer clear questions, become themselves the problem, like nuclear power, cars and traffic systems, bio-technologies show. So we design from problem to problem and never reach the top, like Sisyphus never conquers the mountain.
This is true for every system, be it technological, social or psychological. Like the heavy addict is stumbling from addiction to another, from workaholic to nicoholic, from obesity to bulimia, from apathy to ecstasy. The depressive maniac is the psycho-model of schizophrenia, which is not possible at one time, but in episodes. To design for schizophrenia is sheer hypocrisy, but nonetheless realistic and necessary in these times of roller coaster-qualities facing on crisis after another.

Risk-management and crisis-intervention are keywords for approaching this quality of rapid change and problem-explosions in real-time dimensions. In today's instant communication environment, information is exchanged at the speed of light and material results manifest soon after an idea is spread, much faster than ever in history. That means also, that new problem emerge earlier and multiply immediately. Ho fast is too fast? This new questions arises in the participating designer/user community. Are there limits to speed? Yes, when everything happens at once and is interchangeable. The consumer becomes the prosumer (A. Toffler) of his world. Corporate trend-scouts are stalking the unknown teenager and the avant-guarde is running behind the working class people (reproproll).

The interference-pattern of design accelerates to the point, where the structure is invisible to the passive observers and only tuning into the wave of ongoing flow can help to grasp the implicate order of things and situations. Soft system design is therefore extremely careful, when making interventions in this momentum of change, every step can be "another brick in the wall" of ignorance and arrogance to the existing system. "Task forces" as high priority problem-solving units are therefore often counterproductive and harmful. They were developed in hierarchical structures for hierarchical systems in a hierarchical manner - too slow, too rigid, too final and too fixated on direct output.

Soft systems design avoids the one-shot-approach and proliferates the multifold of access-possibilities to the system. There is never only one way to solve or neutralize a problem situation. The one-dimensionality of linear top-down procedures lack the sensibility for the "grandeur" of the larger system. Fast, best solutions often generate more entropy than they process, "where there is much light, there is much shadow". Ouroborus is biting its tail and the wasteland is exponentially exploding into unlimited end

less spirals of doom. Evolution makes mistakes all the time and learns from every failed experiment - man-made evolution is perfect by intension and termination: Failures are fatal and the designer is fired. That works up to quantitative and hierarchic limits. Cities cannot extend endlessly and the Peter principle shows the incompetence of the reigning leadership. So before everybody has achieved the level of absolute incompetence and gets kicked over the top (the normal career of the overachieving manager) the system ha to be innovated and made effective by transcending its hierarchical structure.

Hierarchies are for hierarchites and termites, like systems are for system people. Take your chance.



- This page is part of "Annettes Philosophenstübchen" 2005 - http://www.thur.de/philo/gast/ruediger/lutz5.htm -