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Functional Discontinuity

| On 01, May 2008

Michael S. Slocum

Many times a system is improved by increasing the performance of a particular function in a system. For example, if the function of fuel efficiency in an automobile is important, a system improvement might involve a system change that increases fuel efficiency by 5%. This is an improvement to the system-although an incremental one. The performance of fuel efficiency had been improved to another point on the curve that is asymptotically approaching the theoretical maximum for that system. Incremental functional improvement is necessary; however, it is not the only way to improve a system.


Sometimes it is necessary, for strategic reasons, to create a system improvement that introduces a new functional performance level that is unobtainable by the current system. In our example, this might be replacing a combustion engine in our automobile with some other non-combustion system. This replacement might give us an initial fuel efficiency vastly superior to the theoretical maximum achievable with the existing combustion engine system. A new functional performance curve has now been created and it is discontinuous versus the previous.


Functional Discontinuity is an important evolutionary tactic. We need to take advantage of this technique as much as possible. It allows us to evolve on the curve as well as off the curve. This gives us current generation improvement as well as the opportunity to create the next generation of functional performance.