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I’ve renamed my blog to ‘in search of optimality’ from ‘in search of excellence’.
My recent reconnection with systems modelling reminded me that many, many years ago I wrote a report ‘In search of optimality: a systems technologist goes east’ (Extracts summarised in Mellalieu, 1985). The report detailed the interesting learnings I had identified based on my six months post-doctoral study tour based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Lancaster University, sponsored by the New Zealand State Services Commission (NZSSC) and NZ Department opf Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). In both locations, I wasted hosted by the departments of operational research. My external examiner for my PhD was also from Lancaster, and I also met Peter Checkland, of soft systems fame.
The title of my report is an allusion to Peters and Waterman’s book ‘In search of excellence’. Their book had been published whilst I was in America. I read the book with great excitement,noting their examples of business excellence around me in the many places I visited.
I had completed my PhD in which I made extensive use of applied optimisation theory. So the title of my report ‘In search of optimality’ came naturally. It now seems natural that my web-site should thus be renamed.
So what is optimality? Optimality occurs when you find the best available values of some objective function given a defined domain (Wikipedia, optimisation).I’ll explain….
During my PhD, my search was for the best way to reconfigure the domain of the New Zealand dairy industry to maximise long-term economic performance. My objective function incorporated:
The problem was ‘constrained’ by factors including: factory capacities, tanker capacities, product demand, and the quantity of milk produced by farms. These factors varied on a month-by-month basis. Furthermore, there were significant seasonal and long-term variations to be considered. Mellalieu & Hall (1983)
More generally, my search engaged me in formulating the problem in mathematical terms: as a mathematical model. Once formulated as a mathematical model, mathematical algorithms can be brought to bear to find the optimal solution. In school, for example, we learn to use differential calculus to find optimal points on curved spaces. Example: A stone is thrown upwards from the surface of the moon with gravity g/6 with speed v at an angle a. What is the maximum (optimal) height that the stone reaches. What distance, d from the thrower does the stone land? Knowing that the stone travels in a parabolic curve, we can solve this problem using calculus. (For a complicated (!!!) answer to this question, see: Parabola Separation Queries and their Application to Stone Throwing, Otfried Cheong1, Hazel Everett2, Hyo-Sil Kim1 , Sylvain Lazard2, & Ren´e Schott)
More generally, there are a host of procedures that one might choose, depending on the nature of the mathematical formulation used to represent the problem under investigation. Some procedures use calculus. Others use cleverly-conceived algorithms such as Danzig’s linear programming (LP). Many procedures can be executed with pencil and paper - such as those involving the principles of calculus. However, most real-world problems require computers to manage the data sets and execute the algorithms required to identify optimality.
Part of the challenge in optimisation studies (a branch of operations research) is to identify what factors (or variables) should be incorporated into the model. How far into the future should one consider? Beyond readily-measured financial costs and market prices, how does one quantify factors such as the impact of ‘environmental footprint’? This latter problem is one of ‘multi-objective optimisation’.
Is excellence is a subset of optimality? Or are they a different names for the same concept?
If you are not searching for optimality, then what are you doing?
A good explanation of the stone throwing problem is illustrated by the physics of the medieval/Chinese trebuchet machine. The physics, of course, is also relevant to catapaults, ballistas, guns, and rockets.
Physics of the Trebuchet. (2010, October 23). library.thinkquest.org. Retrieved October 23, 2010, from http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/00627/phy.html
Mellalieu, P. J. (1985). Some New Directions in Systems Modeling Practice. New Jealand Journal of Technology, 1(4), 223-238.
po 1. An idea that moves thinking forward to a new place from where new ideas or solutions may be found. The term was created by Edward de Bono as part of a lateral thinking technique to suggest forward movement, that is, making a statement then exploring where it leads. Po is an extraction from words such as hypothesis, suppose, possible and poetry, all of which indicate forward movement and contain the syllable “po.” Po can be taken to refer to any of the following: provoking operation, provocative operation or provocation operation. (Wikipedia)
po 2. In ancient Polynesian and the Maori, the word “po” refers to the original chaotic state of formlessness, from which evolution occurred. Edward de Bono argues that this context as well applies to his definition of the term. (Wikipedia)
pocollage A portmanteau of po, collage, and bricolage that refers to the result of a creation of a (digital) work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available. Specifically, a pocollage is a bricolage or collage created by a pogical being.
pofessor Po+professor. A teacher who is distinguished through their exceptional application of pogic in their curriculum design, teaching, research, and pofessional practice.
pogic Po+logic. The chaordic application of symbolic and mathematical techniques to determine the forms of a valid deductive argument augmented by occasional, irritating, and/or provokative leaps of creativity, intution, uncommon sense, and lateral thinking. Apple Dictionary, 2010 augmented by Mellalieu 2010. First used to describe the thought processes of Mellalieu, P. by Jenkins, P. et al. 1974+/-1. q.v. po (provocative operation), de Bono, 1967; chaordis (Dee Hock)
poglossary Words and concepts created, defined, or reinvented by a pogical (q.v.) being.
pogusalia Thoughts, philosophies, fancies, and whims of a pogical being.
Pogus Cyberneticus, Professor Alter ego for P. Mellalieu, PhD, MPubPol, DipIwiEnvMgt, BTech(hons) in his more pofessorial moments.
chaordis A portmanteau that refers to a system of governance that blends characteristics of chaos and order. The term was coined by Dee Hock the founder and former CEO of the VISA credit card association.
The mix of chaos and order is often described as a harmonious coexistence displaying characteristics of both, with neither chaotic nor ordered behavior dominating. Some hold that nature is largely organized in such a manner; in particular, living organisms and the evolutionary process by which they arose are often described as chaordic in nature. The chaordic principles have also been used as guidelines for creating human organizations — business, nonprofit, government and hybrids — that would be neither centralized nor anarchical networks. (Wikipedia)
bricolage is a term used in several disciplines, among them the visual arts and literature, to refer to the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process. The term is borrowed from the French word bricolage, from the verb bricoler, the core meaning in French being, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)”. A person who engages in bricolage is a bricoleur. (Wikipedia)