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The Value Of Theoretical Frameworks

When designing a complex piece of equipment, an engineer must understand the basic functioning of its parts, their interaction with each other and the influence of the surrounding environment. To this end, she draws on theories from from physics and engineering science: theories that are, in essence, compact mathematical summaries of tedious experimental details. They weigh heavily in many of her design decisions, helping her predict, for instance, the effect of a race car's shape on its speed, or letting her forsee the number of revolutions per second that will cause its motor to overheat.

Similarly, a company manager tries to engineer an optimal communication network in her firm - one that will yield maximum productivity output given the resource input. In order to do that, she may refer to raw empirical data on various aspects of information transfer in the company. Such data is often extremely detailed, but may not be very useful. In many cases, she would benefit from effective summaries of the data - theoretical propositions akin to those of physics and engineering. One such proposition might, for example, help explain the changes in a company's email-phone communication ratio. Furthermore, it may suggest a beneficial management strategy, such as installing more phones, or encouraging the use of electronic mail.

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