I blog, therefore I am

Applying thermodynamics to business systems

Cisco
This is just a quick post and by way of update to say a little something about what I’ve been thinking about. First, some news. I’ve accepted a full-time staff position at Cisco Systems. When it comes to the infrastructure of the internet and broadband, Cisco hardware and services comprise much of the backbone. My role is as a Business Analyst within the Finance organization, and specifically within Strategic Pricing and Services. Our teams are busy defining, designing, and building the next generation of client-facing services. I’m involved in trying to get my head around the systems that we intend to nurture to fruition.

Which brings me to thermodynamics. Roughly put, thermodynamics is the science of energy-- how energy flows, how work is obtained, and how to define and measure everything about energy processes. The basic conceptual framework is the “system,” which operates on the “surroundings.” And basic concepts include temperature, heat, pressure, and entropy, all of which can be understood at a macro or a micro level. The micro level is particularly interesting (to me) as it explores how vast numbers of atoms (or electrons or molecules) behave and affect the surroundings.

Four Las that Drive the Universe
I’ve been reading Four Laws that Drive the Universe by Peter Atkins. It’s a very slim volume that recounts the basic concepts for a general audience. There is no math in it, save a few very useful simple and general equations which help to express the crucial (and famous) laws. The first two laws are so famous that even many lay people have been exposed to them (or at least very prosaic interpretations). The first law states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only transformed. The second law states that no process can ever be completely efficient, and is sometimes expressed that there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine.

It turns out that not only do the laws hold for energy processes, but similar laws also seem to work for information processes. In fact, it may well be that all systems (even business systems) must obey such laws. And if such laws hold, then entities and relationships that are analagous to energy and entropy will also apply to other sorts of systems. And if that is true, as I think it must be, then an understanding of thermodynamics may prove interesting (at the very least). Long story short: I’m now thinking about systems, energy and information flow, metrics, chaos and order-- and I’m glad I have a job in which to approach my new systems analysis subject with my interest in technical and creative work.