Friday, August 25, 2017

"A Working Simple System"

This post represents an interesting confluence of past and present. In a recent short series I wrote for LinkedIn on "Economizing on High Quality Documentation Projects," I ended the third with a reference to John Gall's famed concept about the crucial role of what he called "a working simple system."  It turns out this concept has become so famous over time that it's now known as "Gall's Law."

Well, that started the wheels turning, because one of the first half-dozen posts I wrote in 2006 was about just that.  Why rewrite what I've long been saying about Mr. Gall's stellar thinking, when I already have *and* had decided to start republishing my own favorites from the blog, as topsoil for what will come next.

That's what made this one our nominee for our blog's humble "Hall of Frame," we'll call it.  So:

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 first 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."

– from this blog, Rosswriting: "A Working Simple System"
  (originally posted  July, 2006,

Facebook, LinkedIn… and Back Around to Blogger

All of my blogging energy for years now has gone into my locality of Facebook, and the blog has mostly been left sitting here, wondering when I would return.  (Blogs are a lot like dogs that way – they just wait.)

But recently I've begun dropping articles (now known more as "long posts,") in LinkedIn, too.
The three-part "Economizing on High Quality Documentation Projects" is the current one.

That, in turn, has brought me back here – how do I want to use the "old fashioned" public blog?
The first answer to that was to go back and find the posts that I'm happiest about, the most proud of, that say things that bear repeating (at least one more time), and republish them, annotated. 

That starts with this "Introductory Demarcation Point," which you apparently are still reading.  Good!

(I'm terming this bit that way only because an "introduction" is a logical unit that would only function correctly at the beginning of what it describes, at the top, right?  But in a blog, they immediately sink to the bottom as soon as what they were previewing appears and pushes them out of the way. Even after over 10 years, I still find that clumsy.)

Well, whatta ya gonna do?  Each medium has its quirks to match its virtues.