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The purpose of this web site is to help us all improve how we learn together – to join-up our thinking to get the outcomes we each desire.

It  is about engineering joined-up thinking.  We call it engineering synergy.

By engineering we mean creating desired outcomes – ingenious problem solving. We want to include not just qualified engineers but all who are interested in these topics.

By synergy we mean working together – achieving more than we can on our own. Creating emergent properties where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Our icon of a Serlio floor shows how mutually supporting smaller beams can cover larger spans.

So why is this site different?  We think because it is based on our axioms of systems thinking. They address impelling purpose, appropriate layers, complex interdependency, ubiquity of change and evolutionary learning. Read more about the axioms and their corollaries as well as our seven principles of fitness for purpose, duty of care, integration, sufficiency of structure and content, control and evidence by clicking here. Outcomes from interacting with others through the site could include:-

  • finding someone with whom to collaborate
  • identifying a research topic
  • testing out ideas
  • sharing examples of success and failure through personal experience, case studies, books, blogs, papers and articles

We hope you find the site interesting, informative and useful.

David Blockley & Patrick Godfrey

Engineering


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Engineering used in its widest sense is turning an idea into a reality – change making – creating and using tools to accomplish a task or fulfill a purpose. An engineer is not just someone-who-deals-with-engines. Based on the Latin root ingeniarius, old French engignier and middle English engyneour, an engineer is someone who is ingenious in solving practical problems.

Once tools were simple common sense – we can easily see how a hammer, plough and even the water wheel, windmill and bicycle work. The internal combustion engine is perhaps more mysterious unless one takes a specific interest. Modern gadgets such as computers, mobile cell phones and the internet are opaque to all but specialists.

Engineering is not only about the way something works and functions – it is also affective – it changes the nature of human relationships.  On this website we propose to look very briefly at the role of engineering in satisfying various human needs from the infrastructure of buildings, bridges,  water supply and dealing with waste, supplying energy and managing rivers and coastlines. We cover the engineering of wellbeing, communications, chemicals and pharmaceuticals as well as defence and war.

All is not well on Planet Earth. We have become so good at making changes and improving our lives that most climate scientists say we are close to triggering multiple tipping points – thresholds for abrupt and irreversible changes to the climate causing extreme weather events. If they are right (and the science is the best we have) we face considerable uncertainty ahead.

But challenges also create opportunities if we learn to recognise them – but we’ll need to change our change making. A purpose of this website is to help create a new perspective of what engineering is, what it has done for us in the past and what it can and cannot do for us in the future. In short engineering synergy through the sharing of ideas and a better understanding of complex systems.

The adage ‘Save the Planet’ has to be the most misleading ever. The planet will be fine – what is under threat is our collective future wellbeing. We have to come to terms with some newly emerging ideas.

First, in the 21st century, we are beginning to realise that the world is a much more uncertain and complex place than we thought it was.

Second we are discovering that we actually know with less certainty what we thought we knew. If you need proof then just think of all the events that have not turned out as we expect despite all of the efforts of our best ‘experts’. Surprises such as 9/11, the banking crisis of 2008, climate change and the rise of populism in 2016.

Third, to handle this new understanding of the nature of complexity many people are saying that we need to improve how we learn how to learn together.

Fourth, to do that then we have collectively to understand better what we are doing when we are making changes. More than ever before in human history we need to value practical wisdom.

Synergy

Synergy feature photo of Falcons de Vilafranca in Barcelona by Pere Lopez 2007 CC-BY-SA-3.0 Creative Commons

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Synergy occurs when parts combine to produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Words such as holism, synergy and systems are often used so loosely that they are in danger of becoming discredited and devoid of meaning. However here we believe the words have precise and useful interpretations from which we can all benefit – that is our intention.

Many people associate synergy with holism – to mean thinking in terms of wholes and relationships. This they contrast with the splitting down or reducing a system into its parts and looking at each part in isolation. In our view that is insufficient because we need to combine holism (big picture thinking) and reductionism (thinking about specifics) which is common in science. To do this we use the idea of a holon. A holon is both a whole and a part at the same time.

If we do this a system naturally divides into layers of holons in a multi-levelled hierarchy. The holons have emergent properties. These are attributes that apply at only one or more layers as a result of interactions between holons at lower levels that do not exhibit these attributes.

Emergent properties  are more common than many people realise. For example the pressure of a gas is the result of the buzzing around of gas molecules at a lower level of description. The human ability to walk and talk emerges from the co-operation our many subsystems. You are a holon.

Your personality, your particular skills and competencies emerge from the co-operation of the parts — they are emergent properties which apply at the level of description of you — as a whole.

However, you are also a part. As the poet John Donne said, ‘No man is an Island’ (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624, Meditation XVII). You can- not live without interaction with your fellow human beings. First of all you are part of your family holon, whether as son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother or any relation. The family has emergent properties. Perhaps you are part of a ‘happy’ family or an ‘intelligent’ family or a ‘wealthy’ family. You are also a part of many other holons. You are part of the company for whom you work. You are part of a group or team within that work. Of particular interest in construction is that you may be part of a project team with people from other companies. All of these groups have emergent properties such as ‘team spirit’, ‘successful’, ‘dynamic’ or ‘team in trouble’, these properties emerge from the interactions (the chemistry) between the people in the group. Of course, at even higher levels we are all part of the city we live in and that city is part of the country we live in and we are all part of the human race. It is a useful exercise to think of emergent properties at each of these levels. Examples are that we speak of a ‘beautiful’ city, of a ‘peaceful’ country and of the ‘aggressive nature’ of the human race. We can encourage useful emergent properties such as good team spirit by helping processes to be co-operative.

 

 

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