Highly Complex Systems  by Wayne M. Angel, Ph.D.

About This Site - Optimal Achievement




The Quest - A Preface

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                        Consider a human decision maker, for example, a businessman.  How do we judge his decisions? What criteria do we use to decide whether he has done a good or bad job? Usually we say he has done well when he makes adequate selections within the time and resources allocated.  Goodness is judged relative to his competition.  Does he produce a better widget? Does he get it to market more efficiently?  With better promotion?  We never judge a businessman by an attainment-of-the-best criterion; perfection is all too stern a taskmaster.  As a result, we conclude that convergence to the best is not an issue in business or in most walks of life; we are only concerned with doing better relative to others.  Thus, if we want more humanlike optimization tools, we are led to a reordering of the priorities of optimization.  The most important goal of optimization is improvement. ...  Attainment of the optimum is much less important for complex systems.

                                                            David Goldberg [1989,7]


By using the word optimal I mean to imply "the best that we can do for now." Thus I am not looking for the ultimate course of action.  There is almost always some time limitation as to when something is wanted.  Thus I mean also to imply that optimal means the best within a time limit where it will be useful.  Looking for the best may result in a solution, but if it comes too late it is no solution at all.

By using the term "optimal" I mean to set the achievement bar very high.  Far beyond what most believe is possible.  The only way to judge the level of achievement is the extent to which wants are achieved.  Since all of our wants are coupled to some type of cost-benefit trade-off, optimal may mean doing some mundane task that has been done many times in the past but with less effort.  But, it equally might mean doing what has never been done before. 

Our future is directly dependent upon the quality of our decision making.  Optimal achievement is dependent on our decision making ability.  Our ability to make optimal decisions is irrevocably tied to our ability to plan and forecast.  Thus much of this text is focused on optimal planning and forecasting. 

You will find I rely very strongly on a careful analytic approach.  Many people are put off by such an approach.  They often dismiss it with a wave of the hand and call it "ivory tower thinking" or "analysis paralysis."  Although, such comments are often used as an excuse to avoid a difficult path, there is an element of truth in the accusation.  We will avoid such pitfalls by adhering to the concept that the path to optimal achievement is through searching for better right now, and not the best at some time in the future. 


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