Understand the rules of the system

In the last blog we discussed determining the type of system that you are dealing with when approaching a decision, problem or situation. If you understand the type of system that you are dealing with you can readily apply some rules of thumb to how that system operates. This provides some general ideas on how these types of systems operate and how to input interventions to try and change the behaviour of such systems. 

In this discussion we will look at the next step in the process of using first principles to help in decision making of novel situations. 

Determine the rules governing the system. 

What do we mean by this? Well as discussed in part one of this series establishing the type of system, ordered or unordered is a start, but there are then rules that govern the type of ordered or unordered system that you are working with. For example if the system is a physical system, that is that it occupies physical space, then it is going to follow the physical laws. So whether it is an unordered complex system such as a human, or an ordered system such as a chair, the fact that it occupies physical space means that the laws of physics will act upon that system. Now this may seem obvious, but its important to use as a basic principle. The reason for this, is that it allows you to have information about the behaviour of this system, irrespective of whether you have worked with such a system before or not. 

This type of analysis of the rules that govern such systems can be continued until you have an understanding of the major drivers of the behaviour of the system that you are dealing with. On the surface you may think that are all the same, but this is not the case, for instance, identifying a complex unordered system that does not occupy physical space provides a very different set of rules. Part one of this series would allow us to determine that an economy or societal system would be considered complex adaptive systems. They have non-linear responses, and they can adapt to stressors (negatively, neutrally and positively). They are clearly unordered systems. But in this case, biological or physical laws do not provide much information about such systems behaviour. In this case the features and behaviours are much more likely to be driven by psychological rules or influences. 

Determining such rules is also typically much easier to identify in ordered systems. For instance a computer as complicated as it may be, will always follow its coding (its rules) to carry out the way that it behaves. Because it is also a physical object, the rules of physics will still apply to its behaviour. 

Getting back to the space that we work in, that is healthcare, biological systems are a key area of influence that will govern the behaviour of the humans that we are working with. Understanding that we are working with a complex adaptive system is our first step and the second is for us to highlight that they will follow the rules of biology.  To do this we want to identify the specific features of the system that we are dealing with. These may include the responses, age, maturity and degradation of the biological system in front of us. Our understanding of these features will be important to understand and influence the individual person that we are working with. Our job is to assess these features in order to establish where these behaviours have been impacted and how that is leading to a behaviour that is unhealthy for that system in its ability to function in its environment. 

From our discussions on establishing first principles thinking we have identified the following.

Principle 1: Determine what type of system you are dealing with.

Principle 2: Understand the rules and features of the individual system that you are dealing with.