Saturday, March 10, 2012


This was a note I shared with my "Modeling of Dynamic Systems" class at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy the other day. The course's subject matter is the methodology and applications of System Dynamics Modeling developed by Professor Jay W Forrester at MIT, beginning in the 1950s. The best known application is the book, The Limits to Growth, The 40th aniversary of this landmark book, authored by the late Donella Meadows and others, is being celebrated this year.

Dear Class Members,

As you know, I shared an excerpt from Tuesday night’s lecture notes with systems engineering and system dynamics friends, evoking most interesting responses. As I was reflecting on this, the thought that titles this message came to me. It is based on my studies of Urban Dynamics and a classic which I have not assigned, but which, like Urban Dynamics, had life-changing implications for me: Herbert Simon’s Administrative Behavior. This latter work, which may be the best book on decision-making ever written, grew from field studies of municipal budgeting in Illinois. Forrester’s Urban Dynamics grew from conversations with mayors as you know. His Market Growth model grew from conversations with business executives.

I checked out references to Simon on the web because I wanted to get the exact publication date of Administrative Behaviour - 1947 - which grew from Professor Simon’s dissertation research. Even though I know Simon’s work well, and both reading his work and my very few personal interactions with him were life-changing for me, I was amazed by the compilation of achievements that Wikipedia provided. Since we have spoken frequently about Professor Forrester, but only rarely about Professor Simon, I wanted to share the compilation with you. JR.

Simon was among the founding fathers of several of today's important scientific domains, including artificial intelligence, information processing, decision-making, problem-solving, attention economics, organization theory, complex systems, and computer simulation of scientific discovery. He coined the terms bounded rationality and satisficing, and was the first to analyze the architecture of complexity and to propose a preferential attachment mechanism to explain power law distributions.[citation needed]

He also received many top-level honors later in life. These include: the ACM's Turing Award for making "basic contributions to artificial intelligence, the psychology of human cognition, and list processing" (1975); the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics "for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations" (1978); the National Medal of Science (1986); and the APA's Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (1993).

As a testament to his interdisciplinary approach, Simon was affiliated with such varied Carnegie Mellon departments as the School of Computer Science, Tepper School of Business, Departments of Philosophy, Social and Decision Sciences, and Psychology.

Could there be a member of our class who willl make similar contributions to those of Professor Simon or Professor Forrester in their lives?

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