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John Sumser

is more
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John Gall


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Systemantics: The Underground Text of Systems Lore
(June 17, 2004)
Systemantics: The Underground Text of Systems Lore, by John Gall.
General Systemantics Press
ISBN: 0961825103; 2 edition (November 1986)

We're all involved in the management of complex systems. From the workforce to our IT infrastructure, we often find repeatable principles. Gall's Systemantics is a venerable classic. Both humorous and penetrating, you'll find yourself deep in these pages of management wisdom.

Gall's Basic Systems Principles:

  • Systems in general work poorly or not at all.
  • New systems generate new problems.
  • Systems operate by redistributing energy into different forms and into accumulations of different sizes.
  • Systems tend to grow, and as they grow, they encroach.
  • Complex systems exhibit unpredictable behavior.
  • Complex systems tend to oppose their own proper function.
  • People in systems do not do what the system says they are doing.
  • A function performed by a larger system is not operationally identical to the function of the same name performed by a smaller system.
  • The real world is whatever is reported to the system.
  • Systems attract systems people.
  • The bigger the system, the narrower and more specialized the interface with individuals.
  • A complex system cannot be "made" to work; it either works or it doesn't.
  • A simple system may or may not work.
  • If a system is working, leave it alone.
  • 15. A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.
  • Complex systems designed from scratch never work and cannot be patched to make them work; you have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.
    In complex systems, malfunction and even total nonfunction may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.
  • Large complex systems are beyond human capacity to evaluate.
  • A system that performs a certain way will continue to operate in that way regardless of the need or of changed conditions.
  • Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.
  • Intrasystem goals come first.
  • Complex systems usually operate in failure mode.
  • A complex system can fail in an infinite number of ways.
  • The mode of failure of a complex system cannot ordinarily be predicted.
  • The crucial variables are discovered by accident.
  • The larger the system, the greater the possibility of unexpected failure.
  • "Success" or "function" in any system may be failure in the larger or smaller systems to which it is connected.
  • When a fail-safe system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe.
  • Complex systems tend to produce complex responses (not solutions) to problems.
  • Great advances are not produced by systems designed to produce great advances.
  • Systems aligned with human motivational vectors will sometimes work; systems opposing such vectors work poorly or not at all.
  • Loose systems last longer and work better.

    This book has been and continues to be a favorite in the office library.

    - John Sumser  

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    Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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