Thank you, Herbert Simon

  • BLOG
  • July 29th, 2019

As part of my ongoing learning here at Mu Sigma, I came across a file that held a number of articles on design thinking, and therefore not

surprisingly, a number of references to famed scientist, Herbert Simon.

Simon’s work went well beyond treating design as a formal way of thinking, to helping shape modern views on artificial intelligence, problem solving, complex systems, and organizational dynamics.

As I sifted through these notes, I was struck by how his principles are more relevant than ever. So we wanted to give credit where credit is due, and recognize how Herbert Simon shaped today’s Mu Sigma. (Coincidentally, today is the birthday of Allen Newell, a key colleague of Simon.)

Lesson 1: Take an iterative approach. Today’s pace of change creates muddy problems (ill-defined to use Simon’s terminology,) placing a premium on problem definition, and a recognition that problem definition will change greatly over the course of exploration. This is why Mu Sigma emphasizes very tight feedback loops in our work, and why we iterate on a problem’s definition even in the later stages of solving it.

Lesson 2: Obsess over design and representation. Simon and associate, Allen Newell, defined a problem space as an initial state, a goal state, the operators needed to bridge the two, and constraints. You’ll see very similar constructs in our muPDNA application (PDNA stands for Problem DNA.) We’ve used this common language, based on Simon’s thinking, on each of the thousands of business problems we’ve solved with clients.

Lesson 3: Seek a goldilocks state between deductive and inductive logic. Simon taught us not to follow a one-size-fits-all approach, whether top-down deductive or bottoms-up inductive. Instead, he advocated for abductive logic as a means of harmonizing ‘gut feel’ with complex analytics, or the art with the science. In our planning artifact known as muOBI (OBI stands for outcomes, behaviors, and insights) we seek an abductive zone in helping clients chart a course toward realizing measurable outcomes, but also across a spectrum of transformative impact.

Mu Sigma’s muOBI artifact

Thank you, Herbert Simon, for giving us such wonderful raw material to work with in creating a new approach to analytical problem solving.