The Impact of Instability on Complex Social and Technical Systems
Author(s)Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Joel; Rebentisch, Eric
Instability is a pervasive phenomenon that has deep implications for virtually all complex social and technical systems. In engineering, the identification and mitigation of various types of technical instabilities is a well developed practice. This is a key focus, for example, of engineers concerned about the prevention of potentially destabilizing vibration in the frame of an aircraft or the mitigation of sources of technical instability in the operation of a nuclear reactor. However, the nature of instability in complex social and technical systems is relatively unstudied and not well understood. This is unfortunate because instability can have profound effects on the performance of those systems as well as their ability to improve their performance over time. In this paper, we present a conceptual framework for understanding instability in sociotechnical systems. To illustrate what we mean by instability in the context of complex engineering systems, we will draw on data from the aerospace industry. In particular, we use two data sets, to trace the impacts of various sources of instability. One data set centers on instability and its impact on aerospace programs, while the other centers on instability and its impact on aerospace production and design facilities.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering Systems Division
ESD Working Papers;ESD-WP-2003-01.21-ESD Internal Symposium