February 03, 2004

Facts of Life Database

A logistics article in StrategyPage just reminded me of a phenomena that I've noticed quite a bit. Things that are taken for granted often change without us ever knowing it. In the article, it was the troop carrying capacity of railroads. In academia, it might be the long discredited marxist theory that a particular piece of literary criticism is based upon. In energy analysis it might be your attitudes about alternative energy and what to do about energy supplier political instability.

Just about every decision relies on underlying facts that people often take into account and then forget that their entire plan or argument depends on those facts staying within certain parameters. In simple situations, you can keep it all in your head but when things get complex, nobody really understands the full implications of basic facts changing until an extensive (and expensive) review process goes on figuring out exactly what other things are no longer true since this new factor arrived on the scene.

This doesn't just help in after the fact adjustment. It also helps in future policy planning. I've lately taken up the hobby of talking about gay marriage. I know from reading that there are hundreds and hundreds of state and federal laws that this policy decision touches. I don't know what they are. I don't know what the motivation was for making marriage a factor in those laws. In other words, I (and everybody else honestly looking at the subject as well) am cast adrift without more than a visceral understanding that this is a very big deal that shouldn't be cavalierly changed, willy nilly, without working out all the consequences. I also get a sick feeling in my stomach as I see the shallow level of analysis on both sides that obviously isn't going through and figuring out all the consequences of such a potentially society shifting adjustment.

So what if you could make a plan, create a system where all your major underlying assumptions would be explicit? What if you could set alarms for a range of values and have some sort of group monitor those values for a small fee? If they values go out of range, an alarm would go out and you wouldn't have the embarrassing (and possibly disastrous) situation of a perfectly good plan being silently rendered useless by changing facts on the ground.

Posted by TMLutas at February 3, 2004 04:06 PM