Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"A Working Simple System"

(orig. posted 7/6/06)

(About our concept of "news"...)

One thing I'm not going to do is limit the subjects of this inverted column to "news," in the sense of only throwing items in here that relate to what happened or was published within the last 24 hours. Especially when we only plan to update this maybe a couple times a week.

Like with this following bit -- what is timely about this is, however, is that I remembered it today; which technically makes it news, doesn't it?

= = =

"A Working Simple System"

Here's an idea so profound, so fundamental, that I can't tell you how many times I've quoted it; even before the time I had it on my old site ( in "the Serious Part," now enshrined here, along with everything else in the Internet Archive). A lot of system designers of all kinds would do well to contemplate this principle.

It's from a book by John Gall, famously named "Systemantics, The Underground Text of Systems Lore." (With the typical feverishness of Web publishing, I'm going to slap this up here now, then do some searching later to see if I can find anything about it online, or in print, or at least a bread crumb trail. Originally found this in print, in the old Whole Earth Review when I believe Kevin Kelly was editing it, before he went on to Wired.)

Some essential statements:

"Complex systems exhibit unexpected behavior.

"The system always kicks back - systems get in the way - or, in slightly more elegant language: Systems tend to oppose their own functions.

"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."

General Systemantics Press, Pub. Date 2nd Ed.: November 1990

(Shortly afterwards:)

...Sure enough, there are ample references to Mr. Gall's book all over the Web.

"General Systemantics Press was established in the 1970s to publish Dr. John Gall's book, 'Systemantics™ - How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail.'
This was the First Edition of what is now 'The Systems Bible™,' which they proclaim includes, "three new chapters, new AXIOMS, THEOREMS AND RULES OF THUMB, and many new Horrible Examples..."

Of course there are a number of entries about it in the Wikipedia;
the main page for Systemantics contains these additional, comforting Laws:

"The Functional Indeterminacy Theorem (F.I.T.):
In complex systems, malfunction and even total non-function may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.

"Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being."

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