Of Black Boxes and Complex Systems

I am currently re-reading John Lienhard’s The Engines of Our Ingenuity and I came across this nugget that I think we can apply to IT.

We must teach students that someone else’s subject matter is not a black box, that those boxes can and must be opened.  What one fool can do, another fool can also do, and any student is smart enough to open any other student’s black box.  That in turn brings us back to the matter of systems.  Once we realize that we cannot deal with part of a system in isolation, it becomes very clear that encasing knowledge in boxes is one of the most destructive things we do. [page 171]

I find that last sentence to be very powerful.  While Lienhard is talking about educating engineering students in this passage, I feel that this can be applied to IT organizations.  If we allow ourselves to become too compartmentalized, then we are less efficient at trouble shooting and will provide less satisfactory service to our constituents.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I understand that there  is a place (and even need) for a separation of duties and a system of checks and balances.  The problem arises when we start guarding information and building silos around our disciplines. When we do this, we make both ourselves and those around us less effective.

Edit : For more from John Lienhard visit www.uh.edu/engines

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