Effective Process Characterization 

A Systems Approach to Discovery of Causal Mechanisms 

I like stories about life, history and culture, why people think the way they do, and how they arrived at the way they reason. I have been lucky to live and work in many parts of the world for the last 70 years.  At the age of ten, my family moved to a place that was still raw from a world war. When my grandmother died in her 100thyear, the letters I wrote to her more than half a century before were returned by a cousin, written on onion skin paper, the envelopes marked Par Avion Mit Luftpost, by a curious boy trying to understand what he saw, but was beyond his vision.  

That was the beginning of my fascination and curiosity of the world of humanity, followed shortly thereafter by how stuff works.  At some point, they merged.  Not only did I write letters to my grandmother about man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, but I took things apart to see how they worked.  I recall the excitement I felt when I built an electric motor which ran the first time I hooked it up to a battery.  At 16, I changed out the engine in my 1959 Plymouth.  Later, when I replaced the leaf springs with those from a junk yard, I dropped the axel, barely missing my head.  I liked to make things work that I could see.

Does curiosity as to how stuff works help one understand the way of the world? Of life?  Is it really one in the same?  Is curiosity limited to a field or domain?  Many of those who claim to live in the world of the arts relegate those of us who work in the science of things as narrow in our thinking.  Perhaps it is our own fault.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that there is no difference between pure and applied science, whether art or science, as all was for the benefit of mankind and the pursuit of good. That might not be the way it worked out, but ideals are just that. Just as art evolves to tell a better story, so does science.  

Science is our way of telling the story of the truth about the behavior of what we can, or should, see.  Science has a pure language of principles.  It needs no translation into another world of confusing relativism, to be argued by philosophers and writers.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved these arguments with foggy ends, but the late nights of smoke-filled rooms, full ash trays, cheap beer and whiskey are many decades in the past, replaced by white boards and coffee while the sun shines.

Science needs a structure without a straight-jacket so a beautiful story can be told in a simple way.  For thousands of years, trial and error was the basis for discovery. Given that there must be a groundwork to communicate and capture new knowledge, trial and error gets lost.  Trial and error is not a story that long holds interest, disposed like the empty bottles and ash trays from the night before.

The basic method of inquiry over 2000 years was a reflection on the most effective way to seek insight and understanding and gain new knowledge that can be effectively captured in universal principles by observing behavior, and can be applied to explain and predict.  The idea of universal principles and constraints is to avoid starting from zero with each investigation. [1]

This cannot be just passed off as The Scientific Method with credit given to Roger Bacon for having classified Aristotle’s ideas.  I claim there is no “THE” in The Scientific Method, which, by definition, is limited to THE way, or roadmap. There is no THE way and no one can claim it as such….no one!

How can one person be attributed with The Scientific Method 600 years before Galileo dropped two balls from the Tower of Pisa, drew a conclusion, then, curiously, asked a far more powerful question;

What is Happening[2] as the balls are falling? 

Galileo built a ramp, down which to roll a ball, thus increasing the time for gravity to influence travel, using bells spaced to ring at equal intervals of time as the ball struck.  Did Bacon do much more than pontificate? Galileo did not quite discover the First Principle of falling bodies.  It was Newton, but the story of discovery stands; you should emulate his behavior and genius. And the world  changed. It still changes today.  Be part of it.

Instead of The Scientific Method, let us  think in terms of The Method of Science as the way we learn, and come to know what we know.  Perhaps we would be better served by a broader statement, the method depending on the answer you are seeking and the most efficient way to get it. For technical problem solving, there is no more efficient way than the way we go about it. And we are getting better each day.

Doing science and solving problems requires imagination and creativity, prior knowledge and perseverance. It requires flexibility constrained by First Principles, and how a product or process can be manipulated to reveal its physical nature, just as a ball rolling down a ramp with bells ringing and a string to measure.

That means that given universal First Principles and constraints, technical problem solving never starts from zero.  

For years, we have helped clients solve tough technical problems they struggled with for weeks or months.  Often, we figure it out in days.  

Are we special? Or is what we do special? I promise you, it is the latter. But it isn’t so special, or at least it need not be.  It is founded on principles that were pushed aside by those seeking an easier, softer way, a way that is flawed. 

Many fell into the trap of thinking relative comparisons were enough, examining differences between parts without the guide of proper datum schemes, looking at products and probabilistic distributions of output, claiming physical processes clearly driven by First Principles as random, a function of chance.  The truth, the story, does not lie in mere data. The truth is there for those who can, as DaVinci said, see.  

What differentiates what we do from others who claim to be professional problem solvers?  It is simple.  First Principles are the primary guide to seeing. DaVinci said that if you cannot draw, that you have failed to see. We want to show you how we see and want to tell you the story of how we came to see.

Now, relax a moment while I tell a bit of a story.

I like to read good stories.  I like to tell stories.  I learn better and faster if I can do it with a story. I want you to read my stories and I want to know if you read them.[3]

I was in California over Thanksgiving with my family.  Shouts went up as cornhole players tossed a bean bag through the hole.  Kids rode bikes down a hill and jumped a ramp.  The bonfire was set to be lighted once the sun approached the hills and the air cooled.  I played a few songs on the guitar, knowing full well I was cheated out of a life as a famous rock musician.

My brother Bob, like me, is a bit of a story teller.  We were outside on the porch overlooking gold country, where the high mountains turn to rolling hills of the Western slope of the Sierra. Bob was teaching a few kids to use an abacus. I watched.

Like me, Bob has lived the better part of his life wandering the world, living in places where the people are not like him. He has learned to teach in stories, and can patiently hold the interest of children.  I was fascinated by what I saw and learned. 

These kids grew up with iPads and phones.  They think they can use it as a calculator to add numbers.  They get the answer, but know nothing of the language or power of numbers.  In just a few moments, Bob taught the simplicity of this ancient counting device, a device based on the principles of numbers, all of which is lost when touching the keyboard of a calculator. 

Bob demonstrated the power of the abacus, although ancient, to curious children, who may well lose that curiosity to a modern machine they can touch but does not let them see.

“A genius prospers, not by deconstructing intricate complexities, but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.”  Andy Benoit

Simplicity is the story of The New Science of Fixing Things.

In September, under the sponsorship of Crossover Solutions, David and I hosted a two-day Symposium in Livonia, Michigan. The response was excellent, however we need to do even more. 

I think I can summarize as follows:

  1. By the time our clients get to work with us, they are well down the path as problem solvers not grounded and constrained in First Principles and Functional Decomposition of Machine Behavior. 
  2. What TNSFT does is clever, but we need to do a better job of showing you and make it even more simple.
  3. Seeing is a skill that can be taught.  

That was all we needed.  We were teaching what we discovered and how we discovered it. We were also focusing a bit too much on the more complex examples (really exciting…to us) but before you had a good chance to practice and apply the fundamentals to your own projects.

We will  help you see your way to being a better problem solver.  On December 15 at 9AM EST, we will host a one-hour TEAMS meeting to introduce you to our new workshop:

Effective Process Characterization; 

A Systems Approach to Discovery of Causal Mechanisms 

We are asking for an hour to introduce you to the project based workshop that can advance your problem solving skills to a new level.

Send an email to john.allen@xosol.com to reserve a spot.

Be well.


[1] Sadly, much of this is lost in the world of professional problem solving today.   Not you?  If you start with a fishbone diagram or any form of brainstorming then you need our help.

[2] If you have followed us, you know the power of this question.  Three Good Questions and One that is Not so Good

[3] I write two blogs. One is very personal. As I grow older, my personal and professional life have merged into one. If you actually read this footnote, message me and I will send the link to the personal blog.  I am at the age where what was personal no longer matters.  It is just life.