Doug, MiLK here. I agree that it is important to focus on understanding how evolution shapes the development of complex-systems. However...
Evolution is self-directed. Its outcomes are self-imposed. Its outcomes are not externally imposed. This collides with the predicates of traditional system engineering which begin with a specification of an anticipated outcome and require a span of control that ensures realization.
Complex-system engineering is engineering by intervention (modulation of the processes that drive the natural evolution of the system). Traditional system engineering is engineering by specification followed by realization. So I would suggest that an adjunct focus of the discussion is the boundary between these two approaches.
How are problems parsed so that the appropriate solution seeking methodology is adopted? Of course, if there is only one bin for problems, or only one solution seeking methodology, then this question is pointless.
I completely concur that a review of the boundary is important. I also agree that interventional approaches and manipulation of the "environment" or "context" is the primary mechanism to achieve evolutionary ends. Where we have found quite a bit of friction in getting discussions moving is our failure to get people to recognize that evolution, and evolutionary processes, are the mechanism and forces at work - and it is these which must be understood and operated with.
Consider the Regimen. What we've found is that many folks (who ignore, or are ignorant) of the underlying model (i.e. evolution) pick apart aspects of it seeking to bring consensus to a room full of people and end up with an ad hoc collection of stuff which is essentially content-free. So I've focused on the need to acknowledge the underlying model(there are other aspects which I believe have also not been given their due such as "flow" which is what enables and maintains the energy in complex systems to change - even against our will).
Good to hear from you; I hope things are going well for you.
I agree that understanding "evolution" is an essential pre requisite. Evolutionary processes are not "random." (The notion of a "random" process is a meaningless oxymoron.) What you are saying is that engineers (and others) do not understand these processes - and prefer to ignore what they can't or won't understand. That is unfortunate.
I also argue that an improved understanding of how we conceptualize anything - including the processes of evolution, and of course a "system" - are also essential. We humans are bumping up against the limits imposed by our conceptualization "muscles" - our brains. We must come to accept that it "distorts" (that's a bad word) our understanding of the real world. Our brains form conceptualizations that are finite. Those finite conceptualizations bump up against information of the real world that exceeds the finite capacity of the brain - and "partial" conceptualizations just can't be "added" together to circumvent that limit.
However, getting evolution as it bears on engineering into the center of discussion and research would be an accomplishment if you are correct.