Systemantics: The Systems Bible

John Gall

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Gives good reasons for avoiding systems and the potential downfalls. Written in a matter-of-fact way that is easy to read too.

Notes

All over the world, in great metropolitan centers as well as in the remotest rural backwaters, in sophisticated electronics laboratories and in dingy clerical offices, people everywhere are struggling with a Problem: THINGS AREN’T WORKING VERY WELL

We begin at the beginning, with the Fundamental Theorem: NEW SYSTEMS MEAN NEW PROBLEMS

ANERGY. ANERGY-STATE. Any state or condition of the Universe, or of any portion of it, that requires the expenditure of human effort or ingenuity to bring it into line with human desires, needs, or pleasures is defined as an ANERGY-STATE. Anergy is measured in units of effort required to bring about the desired change. THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF ANERGY IN THE UNIVERSE IS CONSTANT

SYSTEMS OPERATE BY REDISTRIBUTING ANERGY INTO DIFFERENT FORMS AND INTO ACCUMULATIONS OF DIFFERENT SIZES [IE systems don't ever reduce effort required]

The Relativists point to Garbage Collection in large metropolitan areas as an example. Not only does the garbage not get collected, but also armies of striking workers must be fed and clothed, the multitudes of the city must be immunized against diseases of filth, the transportation Systems break down because cars and busses cannot get around the mountains of refuse, and things in general quickly go to an extreme degree of disrepair.

General Systems analogue of Parkinson’s Law: THE SYSTEM ITSELF (DAS SYSTEM AN UND FUER SICH) TENDS TO GROW AT 5-6% PER ANNUM

Insecticides, introduced to control disease and improve crop yields, turn up in the fat pads of Auks in the Antipodes and in the eggs of Ospreys in the Orkneys, resulting in incalculable ecologic damage. Meanwhile, the insects develop immunity to insecticides, even learning to thrive on them.

Many backward nations, whose greatest need is food to feed their people, sell their crops and bankrupt themselves to buy—not food, but advanced military hardware for the purpose of defending themselves against their equally backward neighbors, who are doing the same thing.

COMPLEX SYSTEMS EXHIBIT UNEXPECTED BEHAVIOR [non-linear, chaotic]

We are accustomed to thinking that a System acts like a machine, and that if we only knew its mechanism, we could understand, even predict, its behavior. This is wrong. The correct orientation is: A MACHINE ACTS LIKE A SYSTEM

THE UNIVERSE IS NOT LIKE A MACHINE except in certain trivial ways. Rather: THE UNIVERSE IS LIKE A VERY LARGE SYSTEM

The largest telescope in the world, a 230-inch reflector, takes so long to reach thermal equilibrium with the surrounding air that the night is over before it can focus a star image.

Climax Design Theorem: A LARGE SYSTEM, PRODUCED BY EXPANDING THE DIMENSIONS OF A SMALLER SYSTEM, DOES NOT BEHAVE LIKE THE SMALLER SYSTEM

SYSTEMS TEND TO OPPOSE THEIR OWN PROPER FUNCTIONS

Just as a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, so an efficient worker will move from Sub-objective A to Sub-objective B in logical pursuit of Objective K which leads in turn toward the Overall Goal. Not only can Trillium be graded on his achievements for the year, he can also be separately graded on the efficiency with which he moves toward each of his objectives. He has become Administratively Encircled. The Administrators, whose original purpose was to keep track of office supplies for the professors, now have the upper hand and sit in judgment on their former masters.

Remember, even though a System may function very poorly, it can still tend to Expand to Fill the Known Universe, and Positive Feedback only encourages that tendency.

SYSTEMS TEND TO MALFUNCTION CONSPICUOUSLY JUST AFTER THEIR GREATEST TRIUMPH

PERFECTION OF PLANNING IS A SYMPTOM OF DECAY

A TEMPORARY PATCH WILL VERY LIKELY BE PERMANENT

THE GHOST OF THE OLD SYSTEM CONTINUES TO HAUNT THE NEW

PEOPLE IN SYSTEMS DO NOT DO WHAT THE SYSTEM SAYS THEY ARE DOING

What is the real-world function of a University Scholar? Answer: University Scholarsare supposed to think and study deeply on basic intellectual problems of their own choosing. In fact they must teach assigned courses, do “research” on problems for which research money is available, and publish, or perish.

THE SYSTEM ITSELF DOES NOT DO WHAT IT SAYS IT IS DOING

In slightly greater detail: The function performed by a System is not operationally identical to the function of the same name performed by a person.

THE NAME IS MOST EMPHATICALLY NOT THE THING

Fundamental Law of Administrative Workings (F.L.A.W.): THINGS ARE WHAT THEY ARE REPORTED TO BE

TO THOSE WITHIN A SYSTEM, THE OUTSIDE REALITY TENDS TO PALE AND DISAPPEAR

The crucial variable, they have found, is the fraction Ro/Rs, where Ro equals the amount of Reality which fails to reach the Control Unit, and Rs equals the total amount of Reality presented to the System.

In large Systems employing P.F., values of C.F. [the metric defined as Ro/Rs] in excess of 0.99 have been recorded. Examples include evangelistic religious movements, certain authoritarian governmental systems, and the executive suites of some large corporations

THE BIGGER THE SYSTEM, THE NARROWER AND MORE SPECIALIZED THE INTERFACE WITH INDIVIDUALS

As we all know, sensory deprivation tends to produce hallucinations. Similarly, immersion in a System tends to produce an altered mental state that results in various bizarre malfunctions, recognizable to us but not to the persons so immersed. [So stay out of big systems?]

Functionary’s Pride: This disorder was already ancient when it was definitively characterized by W. Shakespeare as “the insolence of office.” A kind of mania of self-esteem induced by titles and the illusion of power, it is so well-known as to need no elaboration.

Hireling’s Hypnosis: A trance-like state, a suspension of normal mental activity, induced by membership within a System. [Examples I came up with: religion, social media, corporate ladder (also the high finance career path)]

Example 3: At 2 AM on Sunday, October 27, 1985, Amtrak trains all over the United States ground to a halt and remained motionless for a solid hour. Bewildered passengers were informed that the nation was switching back to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time, and the trains were waiting for the clock to catch up.

[On system descriptions:] “I’m going to fly to New York this afternoon,” you say. But what you really do, after driving an hour to get to the airport, is to strap yourself into a coffin-like tube of sheet metal and remain almost immobile, except for being passively shaken about, for a period of some hours. You are not flying in any real sense. At best the airplane could be said to be flying, though certainly not in the sense that birds fly. Why do we not say you are laboring under a delusion? The answer is: because we share your set of beliefs. We are in your delusion system, and we are both victims of a Systems-delusion.

Manager’s Mirage. The belief that some event (usually called an “outcome”) was actually caused by the operation of the System. Examples:

  • The Public School System is obviously responsible for the literary works of Faulkner, Hemingway, and Arthur Miller, since it taught them to write.
  • Similarly, the NIH is clearly responsible for (and has actually claimed credit for) the major biomedical advances of the past generation, since it funded the research. We generalize: THE SYSTEM TAKES THE CREDIT (FOR ANY FAVORABLE EVENTUALITY)

A selective process goes on, whereby Systems attract and keep those people whose attributes are such as to adapt them to life in that System: SYSTEMS ATTRACT SYSTEMS-PEOPLE [Key thing to remember in choosing a career]

However, the particular attributes that a given System fosters can only rarely be correctly inferred in advance; the actual situation is likely to contain surprises. And such attributes are not necessarily the attributes required for successful operation of the System itself; e.g., the qualities necessary for being elected President are not the qualities needed for properly running the country.

Systems attract not only Systems-people who have qualities making for success within the System; they also attract individuals who possess specialized traits adapted to allow them to thrive at the expense of the System; i.e., persons who parasitize the System. As the barnacle attaches to the whale, those persons attach themselves to Systems, getting a free ride and a free lunch as long as the System survives. [Rich kids who get into schools that their parents did are more likely to like a college system.]

SPECIALIZED SYSTEMS SELECT FOR SPECIALIZATION —or, in plain English: THE END RESULT OF EXTREME COMPETITION IS BIZARRENESS

DESIGNERS OF SYSTEMS TEND TO DESIGN WAYS FOR THEMSELVES TO BYPASS THE SYSTEM

The correct attitude of thankfulness leads naturally to the following Rule of Thumb: IF A SYSTEM IS WORKING, LEAVE IT ALONE. DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING

A COMPLEX SYSTEM THAT WORKS IS INVARIABLY FOUND TO HAVE EVOLVED FROM A SIMPLE SYSTEM THAT WORKED The parallel proposition also appears to be true: A COMPLEX SYSTEM DESIGNED FROM SCRATCH NEVER WORKS AND CANNOT BE MADE TO WORK. YOU HAVE TO START OVER, BEGINNING WITH A WORKING SIMPLE SYSTEM Diligent search for exceptions to these Axioms has yielded negative results. The League of Nations?No. The United Nations? Hardly

WHATEVER THE SYSTEM HAS DONE BEFORE, YOU CAN BE SURE IT WILL DO IT AGAIN

SYSTEMS DEVELOP GOALS OF THEIR OWN THE INSTANT THEY COME INTO BEING Furthermore, it seems axiomatically clear that: INTRASYSTEM GOALS COME FIRST More subjectively stated: SYSTEMS DON’T WORK FOR YOU OR FOR ME. THEY WORK FOR THEIR OWN GOALS

A BUG MAY BE PURELY LOCAL, BUT YOU AND I CAN NEVER KNOW THAT FOR SURE [So don't make a quick, local fix]

The process is clearly exemplified in the field of Aeronautics, where the evolution of complexity has proceeded from the simple biplane of the nineteen-twenties, that could land in a plowed field, to the 747, that needs a mile of reinforced concrete, and finally to the Concorde and theSpace Shuttle, which can hardly land at all. In summary: AS SYSTEMS GROW IN SIZE AND COMPLEXITY, THEY TEND TO LOSE BASIC FUNCTIONS

If the error is grandiose enough, it may not even be comprehended as an error, even when brought to attention. •Thus, the loss of 50,000 American lives per year in auto accidents is seen, not as a mortal flaw in our Transportation System, but merely as a fact of life.

The decision to become involved with a particular System should be made carefully, on the basis of a balanced judgment of one’s interests. One need not drift (or sail, or barge) into Systems uncritically: CHOOSE YOUR SYSTEMS WITH CARE Remember: DESTINY IS LARGELY A SET OF UNQUESTIONED ASSUMPTIONS

DO IT WITHOUT A NEW SYSTEM IF YOU CAN The scholar will recognize this as Occam’s Razor in modern form: AVOID UNNECESSARY SYSTEMS (SYSTEMS SHOULD NOT BE MULTIPLIED UNNECESSARILY)

Systems are seductive. They promise to do a hard job faster, better, and more easily than you could do it by yourself. But if you set up a System, you are likely to find your time and effort now being consumed in the care and feeding of the System itself. New Problems are created by its very presence. Once set up, it won’t Go Away; it Grows and Encroaches. It begins to do Strange and Wonderful Things and Breaks Down in Ways You Never Thought Possible. It Kicks Back, Gets In The Way and Opposes Its Own Proper Function. Your own perspective becomes distorted by being In The System. You become anxious and Push On It To Make It Work. Eventually you come to believe that the misbegotten product it so grudgingly delivers is What You Really Wanted all the time. At that point, Encroachment has become complete.

ALMOST ANYTHING IS EASIER TO GET INTO THAN OUT OF

Give a normally bright toddler a new toy such as a ball and the toddler will chew it, pound it, sit on it and quickly discover what it can be used for. The toddler will then Utilize it for those purposes. The astute Systems-Manager will do well to emulate the toddler.

When pioneering Primate researchers looked through the peephole of the cage and saw a large round eye staring back, they were made uneasily aware of the Observer Effect. And when Anthropologists began to study tribes in their native habitats, they increasingly began to notice that the typical New Guinea family consisted of father, mother, three children, and one or more Anthropologists. In brief, there can be: NO SYSTEM WITHOUT ITS OBSERVER and NO OBSERVATION WITHOUT ITS EFFECTS

When a freshman college student fails several courses the first semester, it is assumed, generally with reason, that s/he does not know how to study. With impeccable logic, administrators have therefore set up college courses in HOW TO STUDY. Typically such courses follow the standard format of college courses, with lectures, reading assignments, and a measure of performance such as a letter or numerical grade. In such a setting, predictably, substantial numbers of students fail their course in HOW TO STUDY. After all, they don’t know how to study. Since this is usually a credit course, the standard rules apply: the student who fails HOW TO STUDY is entitled to take the make-up course, REMEDIAL HOW TO STUDY. Since this is also a credit course. . . the student eventually becomes entitled to take REMEDIAL REMEDIAL. At some point the students (and perhaps also the Professor) may feel that they have become trapped in a hall of mirrors, a situation of infinite regress. Designed to help them, the System now locks them in perpetual failure.

The parent who urges a sleepless child to “try harder” to get to sleep may fail to realize that “trying harder” makes getting to sleep more difficult, not easier. At this point one has created a small System called “trying to get to sleep” in which the functioning of the System (i.e., trying, etc.) produces wakefulness, not sleep. The stage is now set for the Systems-delusion that past failures are the result of Not Trying Hard Enough, or—worse yet—are Somebody’s Fault.

Designing a system so that it will tend to come to equilibrium somewhere within the realm of achievable environmental conditions is a neat trick. Indeed, it is an art. But the history of large systems demonstrates that, once the hurdle of stability has been cleared, a more subtle challenge appears. It is the challenge of remaining stablewhen the rules change

Note:Partly why simplicty and flexibilty are so impkortant

During the Battle of Britain, it was noted that fighter pilots who in diving accelerated their craft beyond a certain speed experienced severe buffeting and then, with dismaying regularity, crashed. One such pilot was able to pull out and survive. When interviewed, he remarked, “Pulling back on the stick with all my might was just making things worse, so I shoved the stick forward and the plane responded.” His plane had gone supersonic, at which point the reaction to the stick becomes reversed. By throwing away the rule book, by assuming that a new set of rules was in effect, he survived.

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