Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Self Correcting Systems

There are many paths, 
    but some are more efficient than others.

I see huge benefits to setting up or supporting self correcting systems vs micromanaging self destructive systems. That may sound obvious, but I think many inefficiencies in modern life stem from continually supporting essentially destructive systems without realizing that a better option might be available; that is, investments that change the nature of the system so that it automatically corrects itself in the future. As a first step, here's a simplified picture of these two types of systems:

I am attempting to show the trend of two systems over time. In my example, the ideal functioning of the system is in the center, along the Time (or horizontal) axis. In the day to day functioning of the system, noise or external events can bump a data point away from ideal. As time continues to increase, the datapoint, the result of the system, would follow one of the trendlines shown. Once the ideal functioning of a divergent system is perturbed, the trend of that system will follow the trend lines of the divergent chart, leading ever away from ideal. If a point on the convergent system is perturbed from it's ideal, over time, the convergent system will trend back toward ideal, re-establishing the balance point with minimal external effort required.

There is a useful 'path to victory' in both systems (along the Time axis), but divergent systems are high maintenance, while convergent systems are self-correcting. Divergent systems require authoritarian oversight and constant micromanaging to make sure they continue to function properly; and there is a constant danger of over-correction. 'Fishtaling' is a constant threat when correcting divergent systems since what was supposed to be a correction can instead cause the system to spiral out of control in the opposite direction. Only tiny deviations can set off a chain reaction that can cause a response that moves far away from ideal. But once you setup a convergent system, further maintenance is minimal. The convergent system 'fights' external inputs that seek to push it off course. Sounds like a good idea to me!

For some real world examples: you could think of driving your car in reverse as a divergent system. It can be done in a pinch, but extreme care must be taken with every course correction to ensure the car does not veer wildly out of control. A much more stable system is driving your car forward. Once you set your course, physics supports holding the car in that line.

You could say fission (used by modern day nuclear reactors) is a divergent system, but fusion (a process of the Sun) is a convergent system. Constant energy must be expended to prevent fission reactions from running amok and causing destruction in a cascade runaway. With fusion, energy must be expended to maintain the reaction; if the energy input stops, the reaction ceases. Automatic fail safe.

When I go on walks or am doing chores, I think it's a useful thought exercise to wonder about the various factors or issues effecting my day to day life and try to see whether they fit into more of a self-correcting (convergent) system, or whether they are more destructive (divergent) systems.

Last year, I realized the very functioning of our bodies might be tied to this concept. I began to consider whether we are born with convergent, self correcting bodies, analogous to a convergent system. It's common to see references of children's remarkable ability to heal quickly, and equal jabs about the opposite effect as we age. Is that really natural? What if over time, our bodies become compromised as a result of mistaken advice or otherwise improper maintenance and in essence, move gradually from a Self Correcting system to a Self Destructive system?

For an added perspective: Imagine the area inside the system graphs above represent minimum structural integrity - aka: staying alive. If you run off the graph, game over. Now it's true a large enough external trauma could bump you outside the limits of either graph. But if a trauma is survivable, or during the day to day jostling of regular living, I'd say the odds are significantly improved for long term optimal functioning in the self correcting system. (Depending on the severity of a particular trauma or recovery timeline, some intervention might still be recommended even with a self-correcting system, but it's likely to be far less intensive and far less risky.)

It suspect most modern medical approaches follow a divergent, self destructive view the body. It suggests that our bodies are prone to failure and requires constant, expensive, interventions to maintain health. This intervention often leads to side-effects, which are accepted as normal collateral damage. (Now in cases of acute trauma, I am all for emergency intervention, but most health costs and most dire statistics are from the chronic conditions.) What if our time and energy, our effort and our dollars are instead be spent not not on constant interventions, but on re-establishing our natural self correcting mechanisms? Modern medicine does not often emphasize this as an option, but since reducing medical costs and increasing longevity are some of the most sought after solutions in our modern life, I think this approach worth a test. My Health blog posts cover more specifics about my latest health strategies.

It's also useful to consider how the different divergent and convergent systems fit into financial strategies. Instead of accumulating increasing monthly debt bills and then trying to win the lottery (divergent system), a better strategy might be to setup a more convergent system such as: to reduce or eliminate fixed expenses and set up systems of income (passive income, for instance). I would certainly love a windfall anytime, but for planning purposes, striving to setup systems of income seems a far more stable and long term lucrative approach than hunting for single treasures.

Summing It Up
There are many surprising and 'hidden in plain sight' examples of divergent systems through varied aspects of modern life. Just wanted to share some ideas to hopefully inspire creativity towards more efficient long-term solutions. I'd say trying to hold the ideal line in a divergent, or self destructive system should be a final resort in an emergency, or as temporary stop gap. But on a day to day basis, instead of spending energy chasing after 'fires' and worrying about micromanaging the individual effects of random noise or unexpected external events, whenever possible, I find much larger financial, energy, and time wins by recognizing opportunities to support or create self sustaining systems. 


Blog Post by Laura A Knauth

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