The Calculus of Ideas

Model-Based Reasoning



This brief article identifies the key steps in devising a plan to reach a goal.

The process of defining, organizing, and executing projects embodies a variety of important skills. At the intellectual heart of the matter is a kind of thinking that I like to call The Calculus of Ideas.

The Calculus of Ideas subsumes a discipline that ought to be a central thread in any college curriculum.

The first stage of the Calculus of Ideas is to identify Values. One can spend a semester constructing a Value System, which is really a topic in Philosophy.

Given a System of Values, the second stage is to derive Goals.

A Goal is a Future State of Affairs which is Feasible, Desirable, and Reachable.

Feasible means that the Goal State is not a physical impossibility. It doesn’t violate the Laws of Physics, or any other inviolable constraints.

Desirable means that within the Value System, the Goal State is preferable to the current state of affairs.

Reachable means that the Goal State can be attained with available resources of time, energy, and materiel.

Given a Goal, the third stage is to develop a Plan for reaching the Goal State from the Present State of Affairs.

A Plan is a Course of Action. Planning begins with Ideas. An Idea is a Possibility for Changing the State of Affairs.

Most of the work in Planning is in discovering and evaluating Ideas, to find those that provide the best Strategy.

One can evaluate Candidate Ideas many ways, but in the Calculus of Ideas, we tend to focus on Model-Based Reasoning. In Model-Based Reasoning, we consider the likely consequences of each candidate idea. Oftentimes, this work requires technical analysis, simulation, or experimentation.

Once a Strategy is selected and reduced to a Plan, the actual work can be broken down into Tasks.

A Task is a discrete unit of work that can be assigned to an individual or team. The various Tasks often comprise a lot of grunt work. The motivation to do all this grunt work comes from the compensation or expected payoff for completing the Plan and reaching the Goal.

To carry off an entire project, you need Sponsors who are Values Oriented, Directors who are Goal Oriented, Creative Problem Solvers who are Idea Oriented, Decision Makers who are Plan Oriented, and Workers who are Task Oriented.

(Bureaucrats, who are Rule-Oriented should be dispensed with, and replaced by computers.)

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  1. Chris

    One of my driving philosophies behind following a plan is that it is always flexible and changeable. Unexpected situations often occur and I have to re-adjust and adapt. You’ve made a very clear description of idea ⇒ results.

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