What the the heck is systems research? Why is it important? Why are we bad at it? How could we do better?
I thoroughly enjoyed this.
Perhaps it's implicit, but one theme you don't dive into, is embedding 'systems thinking' as a mindset, especially for funders/governments. You touched on it with the Apollo example, where institutions will begrudgingly fund something open-ended, but isn't *everything* we care about, a system (energy, climate, intelligence, manufacturing, inequality, security)? It feels like if that message were really to sink-in, it would be the first domino.
1. I'm wondering exactly what qualifies as a system. Is a car a system because it has so many interacting components? (You give gas → electric as an example.) Or is it one component in a larger system that includes roads, traffic lights, gas stations, etc.? I'm leaning towards saying that “system” isn't a discrete category but maybe an attribute that can scale from “not really a system” to “small system” to “large system.”
2. It's not clear to me that companies don't support systems research. Isn't this exactly what Bell did? Isn't Amazon a system? Generally, since there is a profit opportunity in getting useful systems to work, aren't companies incentivized to do it? What's an example of a system that you'd think companies would work on, but they're not?
3. It seems to me that systems research will be done if there is an output metric that needs to be hit, and can't be achieved any other way. That's why academia doesn't do it: they value knowledge creation, not real-world results. But both corporations and government would seem to be able to do it (and have?) if they have the right output metrics as goals.