Systems 101

Written by
Written by

Deolu Akinyemi

Red Alert: “Even though Diamond Cash Club site is still up, it is feared that they are already gone with the wind, information reaching me is mixed and uncertain, but I advice all who still sign up to this program to do so with care, as all who cycled for payment in the last month are yet to be paid, and except by a stroke of miracle, are unlikely to be paid. Please remember I warned about the likelihood of events like this towards the close of the year. Guess the bells are ringing earlier than anticipated. It might end up being malicious information, but there is no harm in being aware… beware!”

If you knew me 10yrs ago in OAU ife, you probably knew me as someone who takes tutorial classes on Chemical Engineering Themodynamic Systems -CHE 201. I started lecturing the course on the year that I myself took the course. My average tutorial class size was 300 students – my classmates from different faculties. It was apparent from those times, that many people do not understand the concept of systems. I’m not sure if the real gift I had was understanding the course or being able to help others understand it, not only did I score 96% in the course, a large population of my tutorial classmates either scored A’s or their most alarming A on that course.

Before I bore you with the details of the Chemical Engineering course, let me quickly draw your attention to what I really want to write about today – Systems. Many people don’t understand systems, maybe because they have never been schooled in this line, maybe because it’s a bit abstract, or maybe people are just refusing to apply themselves. Or could it be that most people just don’t have natural talents for systems design or interpretation? Can it be linked to the same old problem of why we cannot all see a three dimensional drawing on a two dimensional surface? Whatever it is, I’ve seen people move from zero to hero, so pay attention, and you might just learn a thing or two.

Systems

A system, in lay terms, is a combination of processes, tools and resources that are put together to create a predefined output out of predetermined and varied inputs. Every system has varied input, a combination of processes, tools and resources and output. There are closed systems and open systems.

In order to understand this definition properly, let’s take a look at one of the systems we all have-A digestive system. There are different kinds of food that can serve as input into the digestive system; systems are least selective at the input interface. The food one it gets into the system, now goes through a series of processes – mastication, peristalsis, e.t.c. A lot of enzymes are involved at the different stages, and what is valuable in the food is converted to a determined output and forms input for another system, while what is not useful is also churned out as output.

In order to understand any topic, I’m of the opinion that the first thing we need to do is rid that topic of its complexities. Don’t get unnecessarily technical; try to understand things from first principles. Ask yourself, this concept was developed by another human being, what was he/she thinking about? If you can think like this, you are well on your way to building a brand new system. I’ll use an example of the project we are currently working on – NNC as the basis for illustration.

Input

One of the greatest worries by people who do not understand the workings of a system is trying to be over selective in defining the input. The point of input is not the place to be most selective. Your input parameters must be flexible enough to accept all the possible variables. In an example of a farming system that Jesus described, a man went to plant wheat, but while he slept the enemy came and sowed weed. The servants were bothered that the system had just started and already there were weed. The master gave them a lesson in one of the fundamental topics in systems. Let them grow together. There is a stage for separation, that stage is least at the interface with input. When you cast your net into the seas is not when you separate croakers from tilapia, there is time for that. The authenticity of your system is in its ability to extract out the desired output. When defining input parameters, be flexible, your system will be tested by different types of input. This is why in the input interface to the digestive system is the teeth, it can take almost anything on, and whatever it can’t take on, shouldn’t go into that system.

In NNC

We are not discriminatory on who and who should join. We see it as a platform to create change. There is no wrong crowd, no wrong motivation, and no wrong person. Everybody is welcome on the merit of who they are. Anybody that joins for whatever reason, joins by accepting to be bound by the ideals of the club.

The System

The system is usually a combination of smaller systems and processes. The purpose of the system is to ensure that the output that is delivered is the one that was desired. Systems are set up having the output in mind. A system fails when it lacks the ability to achieve what it set out to achieve. Every good system has a series of control centres where things can be tweaked when things are going wrong, to ensure that the desired objective is achieved. In Engineering the process of building a system requires a lot of mathematical modelling. There are times you take out a particular process, feed it with different ranges of input and test to see that it brings out the output that you desired. The output of one mini system or process is the input for another. This calls for a lot of checking and rechecking because one little error in an earlier system will require a lot creativity and ingenuity to rectify before the final output. In Non engineering disciplines, creating a robust system requires a lot of thinking, a lot of scenario building, a lot of direction on motion. While the end does not justify the means on a value equation, it does on a systems equation. The system only needs to stay true to values.

There are some elements that are common in most systems. In no particular order, some of them are below.

1. Storage – every good system has some mechanism for storage. Somewhere things are kept to be acted upon. Not all of the input is ready for process, so there is usually a waiting area.
2. Separation – every good system has a separation process. 20 boys will not be in the same class for 20yrs.
3. Self correction – every good system has a feedback loop or mechanism that helps set the system back on track. This usually feeds back the variance between the desired output and the current output back into the system in such a way that the desired output will be achieved. (I really hope you understand that without any engineering background)
4. Simulation – every good system requires the development of a simulation tool. How will you be sure of your output, except you are able to test things out? In the sciences this is easy, but we social people have to be creative in developing our own simulations. “Help me read this article and tell me what you think” this is some type of simulation.
5. Control – (I really wish I could make them 5 S’s) every good system can be controlled. If you develop a system you have no power to control, you might be in trouble before you know it. You need to put controls in place. Think about all the possibilities and the worst that can happen, and take care of them in your design. Put controls in place however to ensure that the output is a no miss.

In NNC

It’s a robust system. We actually are using one stone to kill 5 birds and still keeping the stone alive. It’s a system of breakthrough thinking elements, and if you look through all the key system elements above they are there. One of the first disagreements we had was about to simulate or not, and thankfully all of us have learnt and are still learning how important that is. We have also given a lot of power to the managers; this is because in order to achieve desired outputs, someone needs to be accountable for the controls.

Output

This is what it is all about? Every element in the system serves to achieve this. Outputs are usually the products of visionary desires. “I have a dream…” What came after that was the output that the life and systems around the life of Martin Luther King Jr. sought to achieve. “Freedom” – The dying words of William Wallace in the struggle for the independence of Scotland. That was their desired output. The end of apartheid was the system surrounding the life of Mandela. The desire for noble outputs is what imprints the name of a mortal on the sands of time. It’s not a male child that will make your name last, it’s the brain child of a noble output.

In NNC

Our desired output is a New Nigeria. A value driven Nigeria. A Nigeria that the world looks at with respect, a Nigeria where the nationals believe in their Nation and see it as a land of limitless opportunities. A Nigeria that is the most desired place to dwell in on earth. A New Nigeria where the nationals look out for each other and scout for opportunities to add value. A Nigeria where we are poised to live the Nigerian Dream.

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