Systems break because of change, and we often go to great lengths to prevent or manage change with heavy-handed, bureaucratic change-management processes. What we forget is that systems also function because of change.
For instance, computer systems function through state transition: 0s changing to 1s and back again. More fundamentally, computers work because 0s can change into 1s, because computer systems are changeable.
This is a somewhat subtle point, one that’s easy to overlook in search of more tangible conditions required for systems to function or malfunction. But it’s worth repeating: the fundamental reason that systems start, stop, or continue working—the one root cause of all functioning systems and all system outages—is their changeable, impermanent nature.
More broadly, impermanence is a fundamental property of all compounded things, i.e., those that consist of two or more parts. All of the systems that we work with certainly have two or more parts (how about five billion parts for the upcoming Xbox chip?).
So how can this theoretical and philosophical understanding of impermanence help us? How can we make impermanence usable and useful?
First, impermanence is useful because it reminds us that all functioning systems will eventually break down. Understanding impermanence frees us from looking for the “single root cause” of outages, and from the mistaken belief that there is none. (Sidney Dekker proclaims that “What you call ‘root ...