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Systems explained: Diagramming

Updated Wednesday, 18th May 2005

Visualising problems can make them vanish - why not try diagramming?

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Can clever use of diagramming draw out the answers you need?

Part One
"You don't know what you think until you've tried it out."

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What influences the introduction of new technology into a workplace?

Lecturer
All right.  What influences the way new technology is introduced into the workplace, any ideas?  Gentleman at the front.

Student
The staff involved.

Lecturer
Staff involved, yes.  (writing on flipchart)
Do you need to be a bit more specific about that, any particular kinds of staff do you have in mind?  Lady at the back in the middle.

Student
Administrative staff.

Lecturer
Administrative.  (writing)
Any others?  Gentleman at the front here.

Student
The people who are actually going to use the system.

Lecturer
People who are going to use the system.  Would you say that that is just an elaboration of the idea of involved, or is it a separate idea?

Student
They might be the, one could talk in terms of the designers of the system.

Lecturer
Thank you.  (writing)
So we need the designers, and I assume users, that you had in mind.

Student
Yes.

Lecturer
Yeah.  So those are all kinds of staff involved.  So I’ll draw a circle around them, they're one group, and these are specific types.  So perhaps I’ll draw small circles round them just so that we realise that they're separate.  Yep, any more ideas?  Gentleman in the middle.

Student
The speed at which the company can afford to install all the new technology.

Lecturer
The speed at which the company can afford, so shall we call that company’s ability to respond, something like that, because it’s quite a long sentence, right.  (writing)
Company’s ability to respond.  Yes…

(fades out)

Student
When I first started doing diagrams in the course, I found I was trying to see what the end product was supposed to look like, and then build it around that way.  Whereas doing it this way you're just throwing it down in little pieces of information here and there, and then linking them together and that’s how you get it in the end.  It’s been very useful.

Lecturer
Yes.  And there’s a good reason for that, which is that you don’t know what you think until you’ve tried it out.  You may think you know what you think, but actually what you’ve got is a few random ideas and they may be coherent but chances are they're not.  And what you're doing in this process is refining and clarifying your ideas, bringing in some new ones, discovering some ones you had before aren’t very good.  You're starting a process of filtering, in other words, and I think the most important thing about them in a way is that you don’t get it right first time.  It is a free try at an idea; it’s a free run at it.  It doesn’t matter how messy it is, doesn’t matter how good it is, as long as you're getting the payoff which is that in the end of the day you’ve got a clear statement of what you think which makes sense. 

Part Two
"It is actually the thinking that's hard - it's not drawing diagrams."

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Lecturer
Having drawn this diagram, I think there are some things we can say in general about drawing diagrams.  And the first is it isn’t very difficult.  It’s a matter in a way of having the confidence to just put your ideas on a piece of paper, see how they link up and be prepared to change your mind, be prepared to scribble over things and try it again.  It’s not that that’s difficult.  What is difficult is getting your ideas clear.  That’s the hard bit.  It’s nothing to do with the technique.  This idea of putting bubbles around things and linking them with arrows isn’t difficult or complicated, what is hard is realising that an idea is left hanging in the air and it needs to go somewhere or it needs to be crossed out.  What is difficult is seeing that a link that you’ve drawn in is actually quite difficult to understand how that works, and you need an extra idea like we did up there.  Those are the things that are hard.  It’s actually thinking that’s hard; it’s not drawing diagrams. 

Part Three
"These diagrams show you not just the ideas, but how they're linked."

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Lecturer
You really do have to do it again and again, and the ones that you see in the unit texts have been done again and again and been criticised by other people and redrawn.  And if you're not sure if your diagram is helpful or tells you anything, show it to somebody and say does this tell you anything, and ask them to criticise it and comment on it.  It’s a very good test of whether your diagram makes sense.

Part Four
"These diagrams show you not just the ideas, but how they're linked."

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Lecturer
These diagrams show you not just the ideas but the way they're interlinked.  For example, the connections between the type of technology involved and the company’s ability to respond, and it shows you in particular that that idea of the company’s ability to respond has become a central focus, that is where the connections home together, and in a way that’s given you a clue as to what’s important about this issue and what you might have to respond to in future.  And that’s the point: when you're drawing these diagrams, they're diagrams of systems, and systems, we use that word when things are very connected, very complicated, very interlinked, and this technique is a way of seeing how things interlink.  And it’s very difficult to do that in a written text because writing is sequential, you have one sentence after the other, and it’s very hard to see what the links are when you're writing.

So if you want to understand systems, think about systems and work with systems, which is what this course is about, you'll need to draw diagrams, and it’s a crucial tool in the whole of the course.

 

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