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Posts Tagged ‘cybernetics’

Glad To Be Of Service

March 23, 2013 2 comments

Much of my thinking on hierarchy and unconsciously veiled corpo-insanity is founded on the ideas of systems thinkers and cyberneticians like Ackoff, Deming,  Beer, Ashby, Wiener, Forrester, Meadows, Senge, Wheatley, Warfield, Bateson, Gall, Powers, etc.  But mostly, my dirty thinking is rooted in the life work of William T. Livingston and his most influential mentor, Rudy Starkermann.

Over the years, Bill has always claimed that his work on socio-technical dysfunction may not be right, but it is irrefutable because it is derived from natures laws (mostly thermodynamics and control theory). And in walking his talk, Bill constantly solicits feedback and asks for counterexamples that disprove his theories.

WLL Books

After I discovered and wrote about Valve Inc, I threw this skunk on my friend’s table:

D4P Refutation

Here’s Bill’s response and my response to his response:

WLL Response

With his approval, which I have no doubt whatsoever that I’ll receive, I’ll try to decode and post the results of Bill’s research when I get it.

Get Your Beer Here!

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The table below shows a mapping of 10 systems thinking approaches into 4 types based on primary “purpose“. I extracted this table from Michael C. Jackson‘s terrific “Systems Thinking: Creative Holism For Managers“.

Did you notice that the brilliant Stafford, awesome-last-name, Beer is listed twice and his “Team Syntegrity” approach falls under the “ensuring fairness of the system category“? In Jackson’s opinion, Beer created his cybernetics-based, recursive 5 subsystem, Viable System Model (VSM) for the purpose of improving the goal seeking performance of complex social systems. Beer, both a tasty drink and a staunch anti-hierarchy champion, got so pissed when BMs, BOOGLs, BUTTs, SCOLs and dudes with BFTs interpreted his VSM as just another way of implementing a CCH with omnipotent and omniscient bosses at levels 2-5, that he developed his wildly innovative, polyhedron-based, “Team Syntegrity” approach to ensure fairness in org governance. In his design of the VSM, even though Beer articulated that the sole purpose of subsystems 2-5 is to support the operations of system 1 at the bottom (you know, the DICforce where you and I dwell), people of importance still kept their self-serving UCB blinders on and interpreted his system of management to be hierarchical.

As the figure below shows, the VSM appears to be hierarchical on the surface and, since most (not all) managers operate on the “surface” because they no longer roll up their sleeves to dive into anything difficult to understand, they internalize it as a better way to run their CCH psychic prisons as instruments of domination. However, when one studies Beer’s VSM approach to org management, it’s a self sufficient system of collaboration and intergroup support with each subsystem playing a key role in the holarchy.

Dark Hero

April 21, 2010 2 comments

In Dark Hero of the Information Age: In Search of Norbert Wiener The Father of Cybernetics, authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman trace the life of Mr. Wiener from child prodigy to his creation of the interdisciplinary science of cybernetics. As a student of the weak (very weak) connection between academic and spiritual intelligence, I found the following book excerpt fascinating:

Since his youth, Wiener was mindful that his best ideas originated in a place  beneath his awareness, “at a level of consciousness so low that much of it happens in my sleep.” He described the process by which ideas would come to him in sudden flashes of insight and dreamlike, hypnoid states:

Very often these moments seem to arise on waking up; but probably this really  means that sometime during the night I have undergone the process of deconfusion which is necessary to establish my ideas…. It is probably more usual for it to take place in the so-called hypnoidal state in which one is awaiting sleep, and  it is closely associated with those hypnagogic images which have some of the sensory solidity of hallucinations. The subterranean process convinced him that “when I think, my ideas are my  masters rather than my servants.”

Barbara corroborated her father’s observation. “He frequently did not know  how he came by his answers. They would sneak up on him in the middle of the  night or descend out of a cloud,” she said. Yet, because Wiener’s mental processes  were elusive even to him, “he lived in fear that ideas would lose interest in him  and wander off to present themselves to somebody else.”

This description of how and when ideas instantaneously appear out of the void of nothingness aligns closely with those people who say their best ideas strike them: in the shower, on vacation, out in nature, during meditation, while driving to work, exercising, or doing something they love. In situations like these, the mind is relaxed, humming along at a low rpm rate, and naturally prepared for fresh ideas. Every person is capable of receiving great ideas because it’s an innate ability – a gift from god, so to speak. Most people just don’t realize it.

I haven’t heard many stories of a great idea being birthed in a drab, corpo-supplied, cubicular environment under the watchful eyes of a manager. Have you?

Note: The picture above is wrong. Exept for “what’s your status?“,  BMs don’t ask DICs for anything. Since they know everything, they just tell DICs what to do.

Powerful Tools

February 24, 2010 3 comments

Cybernetician W. Ross Ashby‘s law of requisite variety states that “only variety can effectively control variety“. Another way of stating the law is that in order to control an innately complex problem with N degrees of freedom, a matched solution with at least N degrees of freedom is required. However, since solutions to hairy socio-technical problems introduce their own new problems into the environment, over-designing a problem controller with too many extra degrees of freedom may be worse than under-designing the controller.

In an analogy with Ashby’s law, it takes powerful tools to solve powerful problems. Using a hammer where only a sledgehammer will get the job done produces wasted effort and leaves the problem unsolved.  However, learning how to use and wield powerful new tools takes quite a bit of time and effort for non-genius people like me. And most people aren’t willing to invest prolonged time and effort to learn new things. Relative to adolescents, adults have an especially hard time learning powerful new tools because it requires sustained immersion and repetitive practice to become competent in their usage. That’s why they typically don’t stick with learning a new language or learning how to play an instrument.

In my case, it took quite a bit of effort and time before I successfully jumped the hurdle between the C and C++ programming languages. Ditto for the transition from ad-hoc modeling to UML modeling. These new additions to my toolbox have allowed me to tackle larger and more challenging software problems. How about you? Have you increased your ability to solve increasingly complex problems by learning how to wield commensurately new and necessarily complex tools and techniques? Are you still pointing a squirt gun in situations that cry out for a magnum?

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