This blog, and my book, Bending the Law of Unintended Consequences, grew out of my work as a software architect and management consultant. I specialized in creating software solutions to support decision-making, using artificial intelligence, distributed systems, and modeling and simulation technologies.
Early in my career, I focused on operational decisions by businesses and government. For example, I developed a database and analytics solution to improve process control in a semiconductor fabrication plant; a simulator to schedule work on a factory floor; and an intelligent network management assistant that helped NASA engineers manage the custom computer system used to checkout, test, and launch Space Shuttles.
A common thread in all of these decision support applications was a fascination with time and change, an outgrowth of my graduate studies in physics and philosophy. (My thesis topic was “The Direction of Time” – a three year foray into the esoteric question of what before and after “really” mean!) Leaving academia to tackle more tangible problems, I carried with me the conviction that solutions generally require an understanding of situational dynamics – the actions and environmental factors that drive the behavior of complicated systems and outcomes of complex situations over time.
At the height of the dot.com boom in the late 1990s, I was consulting with companies about decisions to join or build Business-to-Business (B2B) Internet marketplaces. It soon became clear that the core problem my clients and prospects faced was business strategy rather than the design of hardware and software architectures. The spreadsheet models that most consultants were using at the time to guide decisions were inadequate to reliably project the growth of membership and trading volume of new B2B net markets. But understanding these dynamics was precisely what was required to make a sound build vs. join decision.
Entranced with this challenging problem, I quit my consulting job, started my own company, and developed a decision support system to help businesses “test drive” their B2B Internet market strategies before committing precious capital and resources. This tool projected the growth of a net market by simulating the decisions of businesses to join a net market, allocate supply and demand to it, and execute trades there. I brought the solution to market with unfortunate timing, just as the dot.com bust began. This crash wiped out my entire target market, much as an incoming tide sweeps away all the sand castles on a beach.
Taking stock, I realized that the test drive approach that I had developed was not restricted to modeling decisions about B2B net markets. Regrouping, I generalized and refined both the software and methodology to support a much broader range of critical decisions. I have worked to help to help businesses and government agencies make and execute critical decisions more effectively in an increasingly complicated world. This included solutions that improved decisions to formulate and adjust competitive drug marketing strategies, allocate resources to better combat terrorist threats, and enable smooth organizational change.