Thursday, October 16, 2014

Practical applications of Pareto Principle

A strange economic principle first outlined by an Italian Professor Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) discovered an imbalance in the distribution of wealth and income in nineteenth century England. Vilfredo Pareto is widely known for his law of income distribution. In the 1860s, he found that the majority of the wealth and income went to a minority of people. In percentage terms 80 percent of the income and wealth went to 20 percent of the population. The Pareto rule is the observation that if you divide the world into causes and results, relatively few causes (roughly 20 percent) nearly always lead to most of the results (roughly 80 percent). It is the observation that a small number of events give rise to the majority effects. Most consequences come from few causes. The great majority of outputs come from a small minority of inputs. In an industrial world, Pareto’s rule was found to apply in an increasing number of situations. Pareto’s rule is a fact of life in the world of selling and sales force management: 80 percent of sales are made by 20 percent of the sales force. Project managers know that 20 percent of the work (the first 10 percent and last 10 percent) consume 80 percent of one’s time and resources. The value of the Pareto principle for a manager is that it reminds one to focus on the 20 percent that matters.

Pareto’s principle, 80/20 rule should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of one’s time and energy on the 20 percent of one’s work that is really important. Moreover many researchers have confirmed that the rule applies to many other phenomena, including the distribution of measured defects. For instance, it has been found that 80 percent of the observed defects on a product or in a process can be attributed to 20 percent of the possible causes. The 80/20 principle asserts that 20 percent of products, customers or employees are really responsible for about 80 percent of profits. Living the 80/20 way enables anyone to get extraordinary results without extraordinary efforts. In a way this leads to the idea of achievement islands which means that the small time periods when you are in your most productive or creative.
     A small amounts of our energy – leads to – most great things in our lives.
    A small portion of our time- leads to- most of our happiness and fulfillment


Pareto’s rule states that a small number of causes are responsible for a large percentage of the effect, in a ratio of about 20:80. This means that for many phenomena, 20 percent invested inputs are responsible for 80 percent of the results obtained. In another words 80 percent consequences originate from 20 percent of the causes. The 80/20 rule means that a few (20 percent) are vital and many (80 percent) are trivial. Dr. Joseph M. Juran called Pareto principle as the ‘vital few and trivial many.’ Joseph Juran popularized the Pareto principle in the 1950s by showing that it can be applied to a variety of situations, especially quality problems. The rule is also called ‘the law of the vital few’ or the principle of factor sparsity.
For example IBM found that, on average, 80 percent of the run time of a software application is due to only 20 percent of the lines of code. This realization helped them streamline the most important lines of code and speed up their applications by working on the lines of code that were 16 times (20 %) as important. According to factor 16, the individuals in the 20- percent group are 16 times as important as those in the 80- percent group.

Pareto analysis

Pareto charts are one tool we can use to help us be more effective in tracking down the sources of problems and focusing our efforts where they will have the biggest effect. This is known as pinpointing or localizing, a problem. Pareto charts break a big problem into its parts and identify which parts are most important. A Pareto chart is a special kind of bar chart where each bar represents a different category or part of a problem. The tallest bars on the chart represent that parts that contribute the most to the problem. By focusing our efforts on the tall bars, we can usually get the most from limited resources and maximize our gains. That is because usually it takes just as much effort to cut the tallest bar in half as it does to cut the smallest bar in half.

Pareto thinking

The 80/20 rule asserts that approximately 80 percent of the effects generated by any large system are caused by 20 percent of the variables in that system. The 80 percent of a product’s usage involves 20 percent of its features. In a city’s traffic control system, 80 percent of a city’s traffic is on 20 percent of its roads. The 80 percent of your website traffic comes 20 percent of your pages. The 80 percent of a company’s revenue comes from 20 percent of its products. In a company or industry, 80 percent of innovation comes from 20 percent of the people. The 80 percent of your success comes from 20 percent of your efforts.   The 80 percent of your problems are a result of the same 20 percent of your issues.  In machinery, 80 percent of errors are caused by 20 percent of the components. In an organization, 80 percent of its progress comes 20 percent of the effort. Out of 100 % of the people, 20 percent are making 80 percent of the difference. The other 80 percent make 20 percent of the difference. Top 20s have a better way of thinking, learning and communicating. The 80 percent of our happiness or success is tied to the 20 percent of the inside world. The 80 percent of the profits in an endeavour will be derived from 20 percent of the segments (or client groups). In general 20 percent of your clients yield 80 percent of your profits. Below   20 percent of your total number of friends contribute the great majority of happiness and meaning to life. In summary, a small number of events give rise to the majority of effects. Most consequences come from few causes.

Practical applications

Personal productivity – The 80 percent of one’s time is spent on the trivial many activities. But in order to improve your productivity, you concentrate on the vital 20 percent. The key is to identify those vial few activities, actions, products or programs.
Costs – to reduce costs, identify which 20 percent are using 80 percent of the resources.
Customer profitability – In most successful companies, some customers can be more profitable than others. Many companies struggle to measure the profitability of customers, distributors or agents. If they use 80-20 strategy, such companies can definitely profit from their customer portfolio. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Health benefits of dietary phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are non-steroidal plant – derived phytochemicals with estrogenic activity. The common biological roles of phytoestrogens are to protect plants from stress or to act as part of a plant’s defense mechanisms. The name ‘phyto’ means plant and ‘estrogen’ comes from estrus (period of fertility for female mammals).  All phytoestrogens are diphenolic compounds with chemical structures similar to natural estrogens and antiestrogens. Phytoestrogens are made up of more than 20 compounds and can occur in more than 300 plants such as fruits, herbs and grains. Three major subclasses of phytoestrogens have been identified and chemically defined as Isoflavones, lignans and coumestans. The best studied dietary phytoestrogens are the soy Isoflavones and the flaxseed lignans. Phytoestrogens cannot be stored in the body and can be easily broken down and eliminated. Dietary phytoestrogens have weaker estrogenic effects than human estrogens. Human clinical trials suggest that phytoestrogens may potentially confer health benefits related to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms.

The soy hypothesis

Historically, Asian countries have had low incidence rates of breast cancer compared to Western countries. Soy, a dietary staple in many Asian countries may protect women against breast cancer. Anticancer effects of soy Isoflavones may be attributable to their structural and functional similarities to estrogens.  Epidemiologic studies in Asian and Asian-American populations support the hypothesis that early exposure to dietary soy may decrease breast cancer risk, while exposure in adulthood may not be positive. A regular intake of soy foods appear to be protective. This is evidenced by Japan, for example only 25% of menopausal women suffer hormone withdrawal symptoms as compared with 85% of women in the U.S (Notelovitz 1989). In menopausal women, dietary phytoestrogens can help compensate for the hormone deficits and thereby moderate the hormonal withdrawal symptoms.

Phytoestrogens – a definition

Phytoestrogens are defined as “any plant substance or metabolite the induces biological responses in vertebrates and can mimic or modulate the actions of endogenous estrogens usually binding to estrogen receptors” (MAFF UK, 2003).

Estrogenic potential of phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens have biochemical structures similar to those of mammalian sex hormone estrogen. The estrogenic activity of phytoestrogens has been related to their ability to bind to the mammalian estrogen receptor (ER). The phytoestrogens such as genistein and coumestrol were shown to have higher binding affinities to estrogen receptor(ER). Dietary phytoestrogens have weaker binding affinities when compared with the female endogenous estrogen β-estradiol. Isoflavones are best researched and most common form of phytoestrogens.

Dietary sources

The main dietary source of Isoflavones (e.g. genistein and daidzein)  for humans is soybean, while flavonoids (e.g. apigenin, naringenin and luteolin) are found in several different vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs and green tea. The soy foods contain approximately 0.2 – 1.6 mg of Isoflavones/ g dry weight.  For Coumestans( e.g. coumestrol), the main sources are sprouts of alfalfa and various beans. Lignans (e.g.entrolactone and enterodiol ) are not present in our diets as such, but precursors are converted to lignans by the gut microflora. Lignan precursors are present in fibre- rich foods such as flaxseed, unrefined grain products particularly rye and some berries. Flax seeds are one of the best sources for lignans. Dietary intake of phytoestrogens is greater in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians. Asians, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese consume more phytoestrogens than the people of Western countries including Americans.  It is estimated that dietary phytoestrogen intake is up to 30 times higher in Eastern Asia than in Europe and North America.

Dietary reference intakes

The total phytoestrogen consumption in Eastern population or in adults taking phytoestrogen supplements may be approximately 60 to 75 mg/day. Therefore an average 60-75 kg adult would consume approximately 1 mg phytoestrogens per kg body weight (bw). Many Asian populations that exhibit low incidence of prostate and breast cancers consume 20 and 80 mg/day of the isoflavone genistein mainly from soy foods. The mean daily isoflavone intake in Asian populations has been estimated to approximately 30 mg/day. It has been recommended that dietary phytoestrogens sources containing 30 to 120 mg of Isoflavones can be given daily for relief of post menopausal symptoms. The dietary intake of phytoestrogens can affect the menstrual cycle and the concentration of reproductive hormones in the blood of premenopausal women. In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the health claim that a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25g of soyprotein per day reduce the risk of heart disease. A meta-analysis study concluded that an intake of an average of 47g soyprotein / day lowered total cholesterol and LDL- cholesterol. This was supported by studies in the monkey indicating that isoflavone increased HDL-cholesterol, enhanced vasodilation and decreased atherosclerosis.

Therapeutic properties

Several health effects have been hypothesized for phytoestrogens: they can be estrogenic or antiestrogenic, antioxidative, antiproliferative, antiviral, antibacterial, insecticidal or fungistatic, cardioprotective, antiatherogenic, hypocholesterolemic, bone maintaining, cancer protective and anticarcinogenic (Branca F and Lorenzetti S, 2005). Phytoestrogen such as genistein affect the blood vessel wall to inhibit atherosclerosis by binding to hormone receptors. Phytoestrogens exert a cardiovascular protective effect by regulating blood lipid levels. Isoflavones and other phytoestrogens have been considered to exert anticarcinogenic actions mainly through antiestrogenic, antiaromatase or antiprolifertive mechanisms. Isoflavones can have a beneficial effect on balancing male hormones and the risk of prostate cancer. Dietary soy supplementation has been shown to increase bone mineral density. Sufficient dietary intake of soyprotein relieves hot flashes in post- menopausal women. The lignan phytoestrogens provide the building blocks of cell walls in plants and in humans. Lignans have the ability to inhibit fungus growth and kill various bacteria and viruses.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Health benefits of dietary phytosterols

Phytosterols are steroid alcohols (triterpenes). Phytosterols (plant sterols and stanols, saturated form of the sterol) are chemically like cholesterol molecules. Phytosterols are related to cyclopentaphenanthrene with four condensed rings of 28 or 29 carbons. Phytosterols present a diverse group of more than 200 different compounds found in various plant and marine materials. They are essential structural components of the plant cells and membranes. Phytosterols regulate membrane fluidity of plant cells. Sitosterol, campesterol and stigmosterol are the most abundant phytosterols in plants. Stanols such as sitostanol, and campestanol are saturated plant sterols. Phytosterols can be converted into phytostanols by chemical hydrogenation. Phytosterols are not synthesized by the body and an estimated 200-300 mg phytosterol is obtained daily from the diet. In humans, intestinal absorption of Phytosterols is low (0-10%) compared to the >40% for cholesterol. The phytosterols and stanols are naturally occur in a variety of foods such as nuts, vegetable oils, seeds and cereals. The prime function of phytosterols is to inhibit the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. Human body uses the Phytosterols to produce the hormones it needs. Phytosterols are not synthesized in human body, are poorly absorbed and are excreted faster from the liver than cholesterol.


Phytosterols encompass plant sterols and stanols, are steroid compounds similar to cholesterol which occur in plants and vary only in carbon side chains and/or presence or absence of a double bond. Stanols are saturated sterols, having no double bonds in the sterol ring structure (
Phytosterols are plant –derived compounds that are structurally similar to cholesterol. The compounds may lower blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol and may have uses as immunostimulants and in treating benign prostate enlargement.

Phytosterols and cholesterol

1. Phytosterols are not synthesized in the human body.
2. Phytosterols have their intestinal absorption much lower than that of cholesterol and
3. Large doses of Phytosterols in diet diminish the absorption of cholesterol.

Mechanism of action of phytosterols

Cholesterol absorption is a very important physiological mechanism that regulates cholesterol metabolism. Phytosterols have been shown to inhibit the uptake of both dietary and endogenously produced (biliary) cholesterol from intestinal cells. Such inhibition results in a decrease in serum total and LDL-cholesterol levels. Levels of HDL – cholesterol and triglycerides do not appear to be affected by dietary phytosterol consumption (AbuMweis et al 2008).

Food sources

Plant sterols are found in all foods of plant origin. Foods rich in phytosterols include unrefined vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts and legumes. The main sources of Phytosterols are vegetable oils, vegetable fat spreads and margarines, cereals and cereal products (bread) and vegetables. These sources contribute to 50-80% of the total phytosterol intake (Klingberg et al 2008,Valsta et al 2004). The fruits contain about 12% of phytosterol. The content of phytosterols in most vegetable oils ranges from 1.0 to 5.0 mg/g of oil. Wheat germ oil contains 17-26 mg/g of phytosterols. Lower amounts of phytosterols are found in palm oil (0.7 – 0.8 mg/g ), coconut oil (0.7 -0.8mg/g ), and olive oil (1.4 – 1.9 mg/g ). The phytosterol content in Finland rye, wheat, barley and oat are 1.0, 0.7,0.8 and 0.4 mg/g respectively.

Health promoting properties

The most important function of phytosterols is their plasma cholesterol –lowering effect through inhibition of intestinal cholesterol absorption and enhanced elimination of cholesterol in stools. Maximum cholesterol – lowering benefit is achieved at doses of 2-3 g/day (Hallikainen et al 2000, Jones et al 2000, Maki et al 2001). Several recent studies indicate that the consumption of 2g/day of sterols or stanols could result in a reduction in the risk of heart diseases by about 25% (Law 2000, Jones and Raeini – Sarjaz 2001, Hicks and Moreau 2001). The potential health effects of phytosterols include the prevention of inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, control of blood sugar in diabetes, the reduction of the risk of various types of cancers and the prevention of inflammation caused by atheroscelerosis. Phytosterols protect against colon cancer by slowing down the reproduction of cells in the large intestine.  The phytosterols have been shown to effectively reduce prostatic hyperplasia (Berges et al 1995, Berges, Kassen and Senge 2000) and colon cancer (Bouie and Lamprecht 1999). The phytosterols have limited antioxidant activity.

Recommended dietary intakes

Dietary phytosterol intakes have been estimated to range approximately 150 mg/day to 450 mg/day in various populations. Early human diets were rich in phytosterols providing as much as 1 g/day. On average, most Americans get between 2 and 4 mg/day of the phytosterols. Natural health practitioners believe that we actually need to consume between 30 and 50 mg/day of phytosterols. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended an amount of 800 mg of phytosterol per day on a consistent basis for increased health benefits.  Typical consumption of plant sterols in the diet is approximately 200-400 mg/day (Aparna Kuna et al 2011).

Functional use of  dietary phytosterols 

Phytosterols and phytostanols in free or esterified form are added to foods for their properties to reduce absorption of cholesterol in the gut and thereby lower blood cholesterol levels. Phytosterols are currently added as an esterified form to wide range of food products such as margarines, yoghurts, salad dressings, milk and snack bars. Phytosterol and phytostanol esters are used as a fat replacer in margarines and spreads. These esters can provide a crispy texture (prevents sogginess) to cereal products by coating the product surface. Both phytosterol and phytostanol esters give an enhanced creamy texture to low fat dairy products (yoghurt / drinking yoghurt). They may also improve the taste of food products by masking bitterness and hence reduce the amount of sugar or sweetener required to obtain a pleasant taste and mouth feel (e.g. soy drinks).The phytostanol and phytosterol esters are microbiologically inert during the fermentation process used to produce yoghurt. The phytostanol and phytosterol esters added to various food products show excellent stability at different pH levels during long term storage (upto one year). The phytostanol and phytosterol esters are also stable in milk and fermented milk products with viable bacteria like yoghurts and yoghurt drinks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Health benefits of food enzymes

Enzymes are natural catalytic proteins that speed up biochemical reactions by lowering the activation energy. All plants and animals produce enzymes. All vital processes in human body are dependent on enzymes. Enzymes aid in the digestion of food and are essential for all metabolic activity in the body. Each organ has its own set of enzymes. Enzymes vary in different individuals, depending on genetics and life style. More than 3000 different enzymes have been identified in the body. In humans enzymes can be categorized into 3 classes: metabolic enzymes, digestive enzymes and food enzymes. Metabolic enzymes catalyse many different biochemical reactions that take place in the body’s cell and tissues. Metabolic enzymes are involved in the processes of energy production, synthesis and repair of cell structures and replication of genetic material. Digestive enzymes are secreted along the gastrointestinal tract, help break down macronutrients such as protein, fats and carbohydrates found in our diet and enable absorption of nutrients into the blood stream. Humans secrete about 24 different digestive enzymes depending on the type of foods eaten. Digestive enzymes fit into 3 primary categories: proteases digest proteins, amylases digest carbohydrates and lipases digest fats. Food enzymes are introduced to the body through the raw foods we eat and through consumption of supplemental enzyme products. Food enzymes are vital helpers to predigest food and aid greatly in the absorption of nutrients. Food enzymes include digestive enzymes but also enzymes unique to particular foods. Food enzymes of particular food cannot be stored in the body for later use. The three major food enzymes are: amylase, which breaks down starches into sugars; lipase, which breaks down fats into fatty acids and protease, which breaks down proteins into amino acids. Fresh raw foods are capable of self –digestion by its own self-contained enzymes. The cooking and processing of natural foods destroys all of its enzymes.

Definition of enzyme

Dixon and Webb (1979) defines an enzyme as a “protein with catalytic properties due to its power of specific activation.” Enzymes are protein catalysts that increase the velocity of a chemical reaction and are not consumed during the reaction they catalyse.

The food enzyme concept

When ingested, the enzymes in raw food or supplementary enzymes result in a significant degree of digestion, thus lowering the drain on the organism’s own enzyme potential.

The law of adaptive secretion of digestive enzymes

This law states that the organism values its enzymes highly and will make no more than are needed for the job. If enzymes in the food digest some of the food, the body will make less concentrated enzymes.

The concept of food enzyme stomach

The human stomach consists of two physiologically distinct parts: the upper cardiac region(the fore-enzyme stomach) and the lower pyloric region. The peptic digestion of protein takes place in the lower part of the stomach whereas the upper portion is where food enzymes in raw foods predigest food material. According to the food enzyme concept of Dr. Edward Howell, the duration of life varies inversely with the intensity of metabolism. In other words the length of life is inversely proportional to the rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential.

Food enzyme hypotheses

1. Raw foods contain enough food enzymes for that particular food.
2. Enzymes in raw foods are destroyed with cooking, radiation and processing of food(critical temperature above, wet heat 47 degree Celsius / 118 degree Farenheit)
3. Food enzymes are reduced by long-term storage, shipping and treatment with organic chemicals and toxins.
4. Eating cooked foods deplete the body’s limited enzyme capacity.
5. Modern processes of pasteurization, canning, baking, drying, freezing and microwaving are particularly harmful to the enzymes in food.
6. The enzyme shortage in processed foods may be the direct cause of shortened lifespan, inferior health of the organs and chronic illnesses.

Enzyme-friendly foods

Enzyme research has revealed the importance of raw foods in the diet. The enzymes in raw foods help start the process of digestion and reduce the body’s need to produce digestive enzymes. Plant based enzymes are the most popular choice of enzymes. The plant based proteases are papain from the papaya, ficin from the fig tree and bromelain from the pineapple. Grains are naturally endowed with amylase, and some protease and lipase. Raw honey has considerable amounts of amylase.  Sprouted foods (seeds, grains and legumes) are one of the best sources of living enzymes. Bovine milk contains 35+ different known enzymes most of which are destroyed by pasteurization. Fermented foods (e.g., miso, kabitofu, Toyu, Natto, Tempeh, masato, malakachisu, tofu, certain soybean products such as soy sauce) are loaded with enzymes. Some fruits that contain lots of enzymes include avocados, papayas, pineapples, bananas, kiwi, figs, grapes and mangos. Grains, nuts, legumes and seeds are rich in enzymes as well as other nutrients, but also contain enzyme inhibitors. Unless deactivated, these enzyme inhibitors  can put an even greater strain on the digestive system than cooked foods.

Enzyme – specific foods

Papayas contain large amounts of proteolytic enzyme (protease) called papain. Papain is known to alleviate the inflammation and pain.When digestion is poor, many people use papaya, which is actually a digestant. Pineapples also contain proteolytic enzyme called bromelain, which helps to dissolve antigens that are responsible for allergies and inflammation. Protease enzymes help with food allergies or intolerances to animal protein. Apples contain a number of enzymes including ascorbates oxidase, beta galactosidase, catechol oxidase, pectase, pectin methyl esterase, peroxidase, polygalactouronase, polyphenol oxidase and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Apricots contain amylase, invertase, polyphenol oxidase, and other enzymes. Avocados contain amylase, cellulose, lipase and other enzymes. Green beans contain amylase, lipoxygenase, peroxidase and SOD. Broccoli contains amylase, casein, kinase and SOD. Cabbage contains allene oxidase, cyclise, amylase and other enzymes. Cherries contain beta glycosidase and polyphenol oxidase.

Advantages of food enzyme intake

1. Improves digestion, elimination and bowel disorders.
2. Reduces bloating, belching, gas, heartburn and food allergies.
3. Enhances physical stamina, energy and vitality.
4. Promotes balanced pH in the body.
5. Protects form degenerative diseases.
6. Strengthens the immune system.
7. Relieves muscle stiffness and inflammation.
8. Promotes the efficiency of cardiovascular system.
9. Slows down aging process and contributes to longevity.
10. Influences overall health and weight management.

Enzyme therapy

Presently enzymes are used in supplement form to improve health, in injectable form to treat heart attacks and in topical form to treat skin problems such as burns. The enzymes used most frequently to treat digestive problems include proteases, amylases and lipases. Enzymes are wonderous aids used to improve health, maintain wellness and fight disease and injuries. Enzyme therapy is a plan of dietary supplements of plant and animal enzymes used to facilitate the digestive process and improve the body’s ability to maintain balanced metabolism. Enzyme supplements are often prescribed for patients suffering from disorders that affect the digestive process such as cystic fibrosis, Gaucher’s disease and celiac disease. Supplementary enzymes have the ability to purify blood, strengthen the immune system, enhance mental capacity, cleanse the colon and maintain proper pH balance in urine. Enzyme supplements are extracted from plants like pineapple and papaya and from the organs of cows and pigs. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Systems thinking for problem solving

 A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs.  The processing is performed by the subsystems. Super systems are other systems in environment of which the survival of the focal system is dependent.  Boundaries are the part of the system through which inputs and outputs must pass, during which exchanges between systems and with their environment reflect a mutually interactive process. The concept of boundary implies a hierarchy of systems in which there is both separateness and connectedness. All systems operate in an environment of cause and effect. Systems science provides a means of analysing and understanding complex processes based on a few basic principles. According to Ludwig Van Bertalanffy (1968), the founder of the systems theory, a system is ‘a set of elements in interaction’. Some examples of systems include scientific, organizational, personal and public systems. Systems are wholes which cannot be understood through analysis.  Synthesis is a prerequisite for the systems thinking. Systems thinking places high value on understanding contexts and looking for connections between the parts, actors and processes of the system. Ludwig Van Bertalanffy, father of systems thinking said, “In one way or another we are forced to deal with complexities, with ‘wholes’ or ‘systems’ in all fields of knowledge. This implies a basic reorientation in scientific thinking.” Stephen Haines also said, “The systems thinking approach is an absolute necessity to succeed in today’s complex world.”
 The term ‘system’ comes from a Greek word systema meaning ‘whole compounded of several parts or members’ or in the literary sense ‘composition.’ System means ‘something to look at.’  A system is constituted by its elements that is, all the parts that make up the whole; the links between the parts, that is the processes and interrelationships that hold  the parts together in view of the whole; its boundary, that is , the limit that determines what is inside and outside a system.  

Systems defined...

Systems are made up of a set of components that work together for the overall objectives of the whole (outputs).

Systems theory

Systems theory was proposed in the 1940s by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanfy (General systems theory 1968) furthered by Ross Ashby (Introduction to Cybernatics 1956). Systems theory can be defined as a set of unifying principles about the organization and functioning of systems. Systems theory provides an analytical framework for viewing an organization in general.

Systems concept

Systems are defined as meaningful wholes that are maintained by the interaction of their parts (Laszlo 1972). System can also be defined as “a set of interacting or interdependent system components forming an integrated whole (Lidell and Scott 1940).  A system is a dynamic and complex whole, interacting as a structured functional unit. All systems are composed of inter-connected parts. A change to any part or connection affects the entire system. The structure of a system determines its behaviour. “Structure produces behaviour.” To understand a systems’ gross behaviour, it is essential to understand its structure. The change in the structure of a system effects change in its gross behaviour. System behaviour is an emergent phenomenon – how a system behaves cannot be determined by inspection of its part or structure. Feedback loops control a system’s major dynamic behaviour. Every part of a system is involved in one or more feedback loops. Systems have more feedback loops than parts. Feedback loops are the main reason, a system’s behaviour is emergent.

Systems nature (Fredrich Hegel 1770-1831)

1.       The whole is more than the sum of the parts.
2.       The whole defines the nature of the parts.
3.       The parts cannot be understood by studying the whole.
4.       The parts are dynamically interrelated or interdependent.

System components

A system must consist of 3 kinds of things: elements (things), interconnections (processes) and a function (purpose).  A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in such a way that achieves something. A tree is a system and a forest is a larger system that encompasses subsystems of trees and animals. The interconnections in the tree system are the physical flows (e.g., water) and the chemical reactions that govern the tree’s metabolic processes. The interconnections or purposes are critically important in a system. Changing relationships usually changes system behaviour. System behaviour operates through feedback loops.

Systems thinking – ‘thinking about systems’

  Systems thinking is the ability to understand interactions and relationships in complex dynamic systems. Systems  thinking focuses on relationships, connectedness, multiple outcomes, holism and boundaries, the environment, the larger system and feedback. Systems thinking helps to view systems from a broad perspective that includes seeing overall structures, patterns and cycles in systems and context. Systems thinking is a superior approach in trying to understand the world’s complexity.

Systems characteristics

1.       A system is a collection of interacting parts. Every system is a part of some larger system. Behaviour of any part is influenced by interaction with other parts.  Systems can be represented in abstract networks of relations between components.
2.       A system boundary defines the set of parts that comprise a system. A system may interact with things outside of its boundary. External interaction is less influential of the system behaviour than internal interaction. Behaviour is understood by examining the entire system, not individual parts.  
3.       Systems are organized in structural and functional hierarchies.
4.       Systems exhibit several of kinds and levels of complexity.
5.       Systems have dynamic processes on one or more time scales.
6.       Systems emerge from proto-systems (unorganized, not complex) and evolve over time to greater organization and complexity.
7.       Systems can encode knowledge and receive and send information.
8.       Systems evolve internal regulation subsystems to achieve stability.
9.       Systems can contain models of other systems.
10.   Sufficiently complex, adaptive systems can contain models of themselves (brain/ mental models).
11.   Systems can be understood – science as the building of models.
12.   Systems can be improved – Engineering as an evolutionary process.

Systems understanding

Understanding of system is achieved through identification, modelling and analysis of relationships and interactions among the parts of a system. System modelling is performed by representing the parts of a system and interactions among those parts. In reality, a system consists of many feedback loops and many interactions among those loops.  It is that total systems view that helps to achieve depth of understanding and real insight into the behaviours of complex systems.

Systems thinking rules (minimalist concept theory, MCT)

Distinction making – All thinking is distinction making. Distinction making is autonomic – one constantly makes distinctions all of the time. It is the making of differentiation between the identity of  concepts and  between what is internal and what is external to the boundaries of the concept.
Interrelating – It is the process of interlinking one concept to another by identifying reciprocal causes and effects.
Organizing systems – It is the process of splitting / lumping concepts into larger wholes or smaller parts and
Perspective taking – It is the process of reorienting a system of concepts by determining the focal point from which observation occurs by attributing to a point in the system, a view of the other objects in the system (e.g., point of view).

System thinking skills (Assaraf and Orion 2005)

1.       The ability to identify the components of a system and processes within the system.
2.       The ability to identify the relationships among the systems’ components.
3.       The ability to identify dynamic relationships within the system.
4.       The ability to organize the system’s components and processes within a framework of relationships (e.g.,chain, circle, network).
5.       The ability to understand the cyclic nature of systems.
6.       Understanding the hidden dimensions of the system.
7.       The ability to make generalizations.
8.       Thinking temporally: retrospection and prediction.

Systems thinking process

1.       List as many elements as possible. Analytical thinking breaks things apart in stages. Systems thinking groups things together in stages.
2.       Group the elements into sub-themes.
3.       Find the central theme – the common theme across the sub-themes.

Systems thinking benefits

1.       A conceptual framework to think strategically and a way to look at a complex issue in multiple perspectives.
2.       A way to acquire new knowledge more easily because basic rules remain the same from system to system.
3.       A better way to integrate new ideas within the systems context and dynamics.
4.       A clearer way to see, understand and assess what is going on in an organization or in any system. Complex problems become easier to understand as do the interrelationships and the multiple causes and effects.
5.       A new and better way to design solutions, create strategies, take decisions and solve problems.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Developing critical thinking skills


Thinking is the highest mental activity present in man. Thinking is the process of giving careful thought to something. In other words, thinking is an action of using one's mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories etc. .  Thinking process involves using a sequence of skills intended to achieve a particular outcome.Thinking is a simple cognitive operation of observing, organizing, analyzing evaluating and inferring. It is a habit of intelligent behaviour learned through practice. Edward de Bono said, “Thinking is a skill that can be improved by practice.” 

Critical thinking

“Critical” is derived from the Greek word kritikos which means “to judge.” Critical thinking includes a complex combination of abilities such as ordering, classifying, and analyzing, evaluating, observing, comparing, and contrasting information for problem solving. Critical thinking involves questioning. Critical thinking is goal directed; it is the thinking with a purpose. Using logic and reasoning a critical thinker identifies the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. Critical thinking has two important dimensions: it is both a frame of mind and a number of specific mental operations.  Critical thinking is a process “orchestrates numerous skills and is directed toward achieving an objective."  Swartz and Perkins (1990) discuss critical thinking as “the critical examination and evaluation –actual and potential- of beliefs and courses of action.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary."

Definitions of critical thinking

Critical thinking may be defined as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgement. The process gives reasoned consideration to evidence, contexts, conceptualizations, methods and criteria (American Philosophical Association, 1990).
Critical thinking is the ability to analyse facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems (Chance, 1986).
Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe (Ennis 1996).
Critical thinking is skillful, reasonable thinking that is conducive to good judgement because it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria and is self-correcting (Matthew Lipman).
Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to making your thinking better (Richard Paul).
In short, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of evaluating information and evaluating our thought process. In brief, critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective thinking.

Critical spirit

Critical thinkers need certain attitudes, dispositions, passions and traits of mind. Thinking critically requires a critical spirit or critical mindedness (Norris, 1985). The critical spirit requires one to think critically about all aspects of life, to think critically about one’s own thinking and to act on the basis of what one has considered when using critical thinking skills.Critical thinking skills enable people to evaluate, compare, analyse, critique and synthesize information.

Principles of critical thinking

Critical thinking is an active process – It involves in gathering, analyzing, synthesizing, assessing and applying data in solving problems.
Critical thinking is an organized and systematic process – It involves using criteria or standards to judge the validity of information.
Critical thinking is a search for meaning – it is a way of making sense out of the data or information.
Critical thinking is reflective – It involves thinking about your thinking.
Critical thinking involves standards – Accuracy, relevance and depth are some examples of standards or criteria.
Critical thinking is authentic – critical thinking is thinking about real problems. Real problems are often messy and unclear.
Critical thinking involves being reasonable – for thinking to be critical, it must be reasonable thinking.
Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned – It is based on active, logical reasoning on facts and evidence and a desire to learn.

Intellectual standards of critical thinking (Paul and Elder 2001).

Critical thinking includes a complex combination of skills. Critical thinkers use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers-concepts and principles that enable them to analyse, assess and improve thinking. Critical thinkers should check their thinking according to the following standards of Paul and Elder (2001).The standards of critical thinking are clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness. Standards are essential to increasing the quality of thinking. Increased skill in the application of standards improves the process of critical thinking.
  • Clarity- understandable, the meaning can be grasped;
  • Accuracy- free from errors or distortions, true; 
  • Precision-exact to the necessary level of detail;
  • Relevance-relating to the matter at hand;
  • Depth- containing complexities and multiple interrelationships;
  • Breadth- encompassing multiple viewpoints;
  • Logic-the parts make sense together, no contradictions;
  • Significance-focusing on the important, not trivial;
  • Fairness – justifiable, not self-serving or one sided.

3 – Parts of critical thinking

Firstly, critical thinking involves asking questions. Secondly, critical thinking involves trying to answer those questions by reasoning them out. Thirdly, critical thinking involves believing the results of our reasoning.

5 – Step process of critical thinking - IDEAS

Step 1.Identify the problem and set priorities (I)
Step 2.Deepen understanding and gather relevant information (D)
Step 3.Enumerate options and anticipate consequences (E).
Step 4.Assess situation and make a preliminary decision (A).
Step 5.Scrutinize the process and self-correct as needed (S)
The ability to think critically requires a great deal of effort and time. Critical thinking is that mode of thinking –about any subject, content or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his/her thinking by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing the intellectual standards ( or a level or degree of quality) (Paul and Willsen, 1993).

A list of critical thinking skills based on Maker and Nielson ( 1996)

·         Determining fact and opinion
·         Choosing relevant from irrelevant information.
·         Determining the accuracy of a statement.
·         Determining the credibility of a source.
·         Recognizing ambiguities.
·         Identifying underlying assumptions.
·         Determining external and internal bias.
·         Recognizing valid and fallacious arguments.

5-main theoretical requirements for critical thinking (Joe Y.F.Lau 1968)

1.       Meaning analysis – Explain ideas clearly and systematically; use definitions and other tools to clarify meaning and make ideas more precise.
2.       Logic – Analyse and evaluate arguments; identify logical consequences and inconsistencies.
3.       Scientific methods – Use empirical data to test a theory; identify causes and effects; probability theory and statistics.
4.       Decision and values -Rational decision making; critical reflection of value frameworks and moral judgements.
5.       Fallacies and biases – Typical mistakes of reasoning and psychological traits likely to cause such mistakes.

Characteristics of a critical thinker (Paul R and Elder L, 2010)

1.       One who raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
2.       One who gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively.
3.       One who comes to well- reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria or standards.
4.       One who thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications and practical consequences and
5.       One who communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

 Critical thinking and creativity

The ideas are usually composed of different elements. Our store of ideas (knowledge base) provides the ingredients to generate new ones. The new combination of ideas is formulated by joining different ideas together. In general new ideas are old ones rearranged in a new way. The ingredients for creativity depend on the store of ideas that are available for recombination.
Critical thinking is necessary to help determine the relevance and effectiveness of the idea. It is a necessary condition for cognitive creativity- the generation of new ideas and the evaluation and modification of old ideas. Creativity is enhanced by the ability to detect connections between the ideas. So if anyone wants to be creative, he /she must develop the skill of critical thinking to see the connections between different areas. Good thinking involves both critical thinking and creativity.

Benefits of critical thinking

 Critical thinking is higher-order and more complex form of thinking. It involves more evidence – based analysis of information and clear understanding of problems and solutions. Critical thinking enables faster, accurate and logical inferences and quality decisions. Critical thinking is inherent to problem solving and decision making. Good critical thinking is a cognitive skill. Using critical thinking, one is able to acquire knowledge, understanding, insights and skills in any given body of content. Critical thinkers are more flexible in their thinking and they offer a richer variety of explanations and solutions for any problem. A well cultivated critical thinker thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing their assumptions, implications and practical consequences. People, who think critically, consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathetically. Critical thinking contributes to the process of self-evaluation and transformation. They easily recognize opportunities and avoid making mistakes in problem-solving. Critical thinking results in improved planning of tasks. Critical thinking skills are essential for all sorts of careers in which we have to communicate ideas, make decisions, analyse and solve problems. Good critical thinking is the foundation of science and democracy. Science requires rationality in designing experiments and testing hypotheses. A good democracy requires citizens who can think objectively about social and political issues. The cultivation of critical thinking is central to the aim of education.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Effective decision making skills

Decisions are important part of our life. A decision is a choice. Life is full of choices at every moment of time. Some of the decisions are small and inconsequential, and some are large and life determining.  All decision making occurs in dynamically changing contexts. This context includes psychological aspects of the decision maker and socio-cultural aspects of the situation he or she acts in. Making good decisions is a life skill that can be learned. Each person makes decisions based on his or her knowledge, skills, values and past experiences.  Effective decision making is a matter of defining the situation, weighing the possibilities and choosing the moment to act. Peter Drucker quoted, ‘making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.’ Decision making is a reasoning process which can be rational or irrational and can be based on explicit assumptions or tacit assumptions. Rational decisions maximize our chances of happiness, successful living and fulfillment. Anthony Robins quoted, ‘Success and failure are not overnight experiences. It’s the small decisions along the way that cause people to fail or succeed.’
Decision is a commitment to a course of action or determination of future action. Making is the process of applying the objectives in proper way. Decision making is primarily concerned with choosing between the available options. Every decision is made within a decision environment, which is defined as the collection of information, alternatives, values and preferences available at the time of decision.   Every decision making process produces a final choice. It can be an action or an opinion. Many decisions involve solving a problem. Wise decisions are decisions that are made using a definite process.  Decision making is an integral part of management, planning, organizing, controlling and motivation processes.
Decision making refers to the mental activities that take place in choosing among alternatives. Decision making is the study of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision maker.

Effective decision making procedure

1. Identify the right decision problem – State your decision problem as goals to focus on the positive and on the future. You need to state your decision problems carefully, acknowledging their complexity and avoiding unwarranted assumptions and opinion limiting prejudices. Identification of the decision problem produces a motivational state that induces action.
2. Create imaginative alternatives to reach that goal - Your alternatives represent the different courses of action you have to choose from. It is better to ‘brainstorm’ and list the possible options. Your decision can be no better than your best alternative.
3. Understand the consequences – Consequences are the end results of each option. Consider all the facts about each alternative.
4. Choose the best alternative – You have to consider the benefits of each alternative as well as the disadvantages or cost. Your values, goals and standards will guide you in making your choice. Weigh the pros and cons and implement the best alternative. Effective implementation of the decision is critical.
5. Evaluate the decision and the process – When a problem is stated as a goal, you can use your standards to judge whether you have reached the goal or not. The decision making process is a valuable resource to help you solve problems and reach your goals. A conscious awareness of your willingness to accept risk will make your decision making smoother and more effective.

Types of decisions

Programmed decisions- are repetitive decisions that can be handled using a routine approach.
Nonprogrammed decisions- are unique decisions that generate unique responses.

Types of decision making

Intuitive decision making –is making decisions on the basis of experience, feelings and accumulated judgement.
Rational decision making – describes choices that are logical and consistent while maximizing values.
Individual decision making – is the decision taken by an individual in an organization.
Group decision making – decisions taken by a group of organizational members.
Creative decision making – The creative decision making may be characterized by the generation of a large pool of diverse and perhaps novel alternatives and a number of evaluation strategies for choosing among options. It may involve using intuition and insight before logic and analysis.

Barriers to good decision making

Hasty – making quick decisions without having much thought.
Narrow – decision making is based on very limited information.
Scattered – our thoughts in making decisions are disconnected or disorganized.
Fuzzy – sometimes, the lack of clarity on important aspects of a decision causes us to overlook certain important considerations.

Conditions in making decisions

Risk – a situation in which an individual is able to estimate the likelihood (probability) of outcomes that result from the choice of particular alternatives.
Certainty – a situation in which an individual can make an accurate decision because the outcome of every alternative choice is known.
Uncertainty – limited information prevents estimation of outcome probabilities for alternatives associated with the problem and may force an individual to relay on intuition or ‘gut feelings.’

Styles of making decisions

Reflexive style – Such people makes quick decisions without taking the time to get all the information that may be needed and without considering all the alternatives.
Reflective style – Such people takes plenty of time to make decisions, gathering considerable information and analysing several alternatives.
Consistent style – Such people tends to make decisions without either rushing or wasting time.
Linear thinking style – a person’s preference for using external data and facts and processing this information through rational, logical thinking.
Non-linear thinking style – a person’s preference for internal resources of information and processing this information with internal insights, feelings and hunches.

Guidelines for effective decision making

1. The decision problem should be defined properly.
2. More quantity of reliable information is gathered for effective decision making.
3. Various views at the same point are taken into account for quality decisions.
4. Decision should be made at proper time to meet the competitive advantages.
5. More alternatives can be generated by brain storming
6. Decisions can also be made on the basis of questionnaire filled by respondents (Delphi technique).
7. Decisions can be made on the basis of majority opinion (consensus).

Benefits of effective decision making

1.       It focuses on what is important
2.       It is logical and consistent
3.       It is straightforward, reliable, easy to use and flexible.
4.       It acknowledges both subjective and objective thinking and blends analytical with intuitive thinking.
5.       It requires only as much information and analysis as is necessary to resolve a particular dilemma.
6.       It encourages and guides the gathering of relevant information and informed opinion.

Errors in decision making

Over confidence – when a decision maker thinks he knows more than he do or holds unrealistic positive views of himself.
Immediate gratification – decision makers tend to want immediate reward and to avoid immediate costs.
Anchoring – decision makers fixate on initial information as a starting point and then once set, fail to adequately adjust for subsequent information.
Selective perception – decision makers selectively organize and interpret events based on their biased perceptions.
Confirmation – decision makers seek out information that reaffirm their past choices and discount information that contradicts past judgement.
Framing – decision makers select and highlight certain aspects of a situation while excluding others.
Availability – decision makers tend to remember events that are the most recent and vivid in their memory.
Representation – decision makers assess the likelihood of an event based on how closely it resembles other events.
Randomness – decision makers try to create meaning out of random events.
Sunk costs – decision makers forget that current choices can’t correct the past.
Self-serving – decision makers who are quick to take credit for their successes and blame failure on outside factors.
Hind sight – decision makers tend to falsely believe that they would have accurately predicted the outcome of an event that outcome is actually known.

Systematic decision making (Simon, a Nobel laureate,SIM 77)

It involves 3 major phases 1) Intelligence or information gathering phase 2)Design phase 3)Choice phase followed by the implementation phase. Decision making phase starts with the intelligence phase where reality is examined and the problem is identified. In the design phase, a model that represents the system is constructed. The choice phase includes selection of a proposed solution to a model. Once the proposed solution seems to be reasonable, it is ready for the implementation.

Significance of good decisions in business world
Good decision making is as important in the working world as it is in the rest of our lives. Every day a number of decisions must be made that determine the direction and efficiency of the organization we work for. Decisions are made concerning production, marketing and personnel. Decisions are made affecting costs, sales and margins. Just as in our personal lives, the key to organizational success is to make good choices. The organization must have effective decision making (ref: Delivering business intelligence with Microsoft SQL server 2008).

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” - Eleanor Roosevelt.