Posts Tagged ‘William Livingston’


November 1, 2014 Leave a comment

A long time friend of BD00’s, Mr. William L. Livingston IV, asked me to post the following provocative product sheet on this blog:

Breakthrough October 2014

Everyone knows breakthroughs come in various kinds and sizes. The breakthrough announced here is in social system productivity. The noteworthy dimension of this breakthrough is the huge size of its available collective impact.


The math of its extravagant benefit is simple. This breakthrough applies to the productivity of any social system producing goods or services. The typical boost in social system productivity in application experience is 20%. The 2014 productivity of all the social systems around the globe, measured by the value of goods and services produced, the World Gross National Product, is $40 Trillion. By multiplication, the economic value of the benefit of this breakthrough to the world GNP is $8 Trillion/annum.

  • The cost of the program is trivial. Its ROI computes in the many hundreds.
  • No changes in facilities or personnel is necessary. Nothing is required of management.
  • The attained positive transformation is fast. Program success is established and obvious in a couple of days. Tangible, measurable benefits start appearing in a couple of weeks.
  • The program is transparent, natural law based, incontrovertible. Nothing is hidden. It has the characteristics necessary for universal, unconditional application.
  • The need for this program cannot diminish. Its market opportunity is continuously replenished by business as usual.
  • While the benefits to the participants sustain indefinitely after the program ends, eventually, with turnover, productivity maintenance will be necessary.
  • There are various collateral benefits beyond the base economic 20%. Transformation brings a tide that raises all boats. There are many beneficiaries.
  • Applications of the breakthrough can be demonstrated in your shop in a day and/or you can visit an application in process. One day of first-hand experience will do it.

To express interest in auditing an application, contact


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.

Unexplained Resurrections

August 26, 2012 3 comments

If you dive head first into the work of Bill Livingston and/or Rudy Starkermann, you’ll find it easy to either develop or maintain a doomsday mindset of a future increasingly dominated by bigger and more inhumane institutions. Their rigorously developed physics and control engineering-based theories of institutional behavior can seem ironclad and 100% irrefutable. BD00 has drunk the kool-aid, but not the whole glass.

According to BD00’s interpretation of Livingston’s D4P, once an established institution encounters a novel and identity-threatening situation, annihilation is sure to follow because it is incapable of learning and adapting at the expense of losing its identity. I think that to be true in general, but not in the absolute. There are too many counter-examples of resurrection in the real world that go unacknowledged in his work:

  • IBM was on its deathbed stuck in a “mainframe hardware” mindset, but it recovered under cookie-man Lou Gerstner by transforming itself  into a software services company.
  • Apple was on its deathbed, but it recovered under Steve Jobs and a financial bailout from Microsoft (yes, Microsoft!).
  • My company, which was consistently losing money, heavily in debt, and arguably on its deathbed, is now debt-free and making money in a wickedly brutal economic environment.

I’ve had the privilege of e-interacting with both Bill and Rudy over the past several years. Bill sends me his draft work regularly for feedback/review and he’s very inviting of criticisms and challenges. However, I’m not satisfied with his answers when I pose cases like those listed above to counter those examples in his books that promote his theories.

When all is said and done, Livingston and Starkermann are two genuine social science originals and much of what they say is true. I highly recommend delving into what they have to say.

Yin And Yang

August 19, 2012 1 comment

In Bill Livingston’s current incarnation of the D4P, the author distinguishes between two mutually exclusive types of orgs. For convenience of understanding, Bill arbitrarily labels them as Yin (short for “Yinstitution“) and Yang (short for “Yang Gang“):

The critical number of “four” in Livingston’s thesis is called “the Starkermann bright line“. It’s based on decades of modeling and simulation of Starkermann’s control-theory-based approach to social unit behavior. According to the results, a group with greater than 4 members, when in a “mismatch” situation where Business As Usual (BAU) doesn’t apply to a novel problem that threatens the viability of the institution, is not so “bright” – despite what the patriarchs in the head shed espouse. Yinstitutions, in order to retain their identities, must, as dictated by natural laws (control theory, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, etc), be structured hierarchically and obey an ideology of “infallibility” over “intelligence” as their ideological MoA (Mechanism of Action).

According to Mr. Livingston, there is no such thing as a “mismatch” situation for a group of  <= 4 capable members because they are unencumbered by a hierarchical class system. Yang Gangs don’t care about “impeccable identities” and thus, they expend no energy promoting or defending themselves as “infallible“. A Yang Gang’s  structure is flat and its MoA is “intelligence rules, infallibility be damned“.

The accrual of intelligence, defined by Ross Ashby as simply “appropriate selection“, requires knowledge-building through modeling and rapid run-break-learn-fix simulation (RBLF). Yinstitutions don’t do RBLF because it requires humility, and the “L” part of the process is forbidden. After all, if one is infallible, there is no need to learn.

Building The Perfect Beast

August 2, 2012 10 comments

The figure below illustrates a simplified model of a Starkermann dualism. My behavior can contribute to (amity), or detract from (enmity) your well being and vice versa.

Mr. Starkermann spent decades developing and running simulations of his models to gain an understanding of the behavior of groups. The table below (plucked from Bill Livingston’s D4P4D) shows the results of one of those simulation runs.

The table shows the deleterious effects of institutional hierarchy building. In a single tier organization, the group at the top, which includes everyone since no one is above or below anybody else, attains high levels of achievement (89%). In a 10 layer monstrosity, those at the top benefit greatly (98% achievement) at the expense of those dwelling at the bottom – who actually gain nothing and suffer the negative consequences of being a member of the borg.

What do you think? Does this model correspond to reality? How many tiers are in your org and where are you located?

Nine Plus Levels

July 11, 2012 6 comments

In William T. Powers’ classic and ground-breaking book “Behavior: The Control Of Perception“, Mr. Powers derives a theoretical model of the human nervous system as a stacked, nine-level hierarchical control system that collides with the standard behaviorist stimulus-response model of behavior. As the book title conveys, his ultimate heretical conclusion is that behavior controls perception; not vice-versa.

The figure below shows a model of a control system building block. The controller’s job is to minimize the error between a “reference signal” (that originates from  “somewhere” outside of the controller) and some feature in the external environment that can be “disturbed” from the status quo by other, unknown forces in the environment.

Notice that the comparator is one level removed from physical reality via the transformational input and output functions. An input function converts a physical effect into a simplified neural current representation and an output function does the opposite. Afterall, everything we sense and every action we perform is ultimately due to neural currents circulating through us and being interpreted as something important to us.

So, what are the nine levels in Mr. Powers’ hierarchy, and what is the controlled quantity modeled by the reference signal at each level? BD00 is glad you asked:

Starting at the bottom level, the controlled variables get more and more abstract as we move upward in the hierarchy. Mr. Powers’ hierarchy ends at 9 levels only because he doesn’t know where to go after “concepts“.

So, who/what provides the “reference signal” at the highest level in the hierarchy? God? What quantity is it intended to control? Self-esteem? Survival? Is there a “top” at all, or does the hierarchy extend on to infinity; driven by evolutionary forces? The ultimate question is “who’s controlling the controller?“.

This post doesn’t come close to serving justice to Mr. Powers’ work. His logical, compelling, and novel derivation of the model from the ground up is fascinating to follow. Of course, I’m a layman but it’s hard to find any holes/faults in his treatise, especially in the lower, more concrete levels of the hierarchy.

Note: Thanks once again to William L. Livingston for steering me toward William T. Powers. His uncanny ability to discover and integrate the work of obscure, “ignored”, intellectual powerhouses like Mr. Powers into his own work is amazing.

Shall And Shall Not

July 7, 2012 1 comment

For a controlled system to remain viable and stable, Ashby’s law of requisite variety requires that the system controller(s) exhibit a wider variety of behavior than the system controllee(s). This can be accomplished by either the controller increasing its variety of responses to controllee disturbances, or by decreasing the variety of controllee disturbances relative to its own variety of control responses, or both.

In order to comply with Ashby’s law (in conjunction with several other natural laws – 2nd law of thermo, control theory, Turing’s infallible/intelligence thesis, etc), Bill Livingston asserts that membership in any institution requires the internalization, either consciously or (more likely) unconsciously, of the following set of “shall” and “shall not” rules:

As you can see, suppressing variety in the controllee population is the preferred method of a controller aiming to satisfy Ashby’s law. The alternative, increasing its own variety of response relative to controllee variety of disturbance, requires learning and development. By definition, infallible controllers don’t need to learn and develop. They stopped learning when they achieved the status of “infallible” – either by force or by illusion.

So, what do you think? Did Mr. Livingston hit the bullseye? Miss by a mile?

Still Applicable Today

July 1, 2012 2 comments


Here’s yet another insightful paragraph from William Livingston’s “Design For Prevention“:

Scripted Behavior

Since I’m on a mini-roll hoisting excerpts from W. L. Livingston’s D4P book, here’s yet another one (I had to type the example in by hand because it only appears in the print version and not in the pdf. D’oh!):

In project review meetings, the whimsical plan, riddled with entropy and misinformation, is used as gospel to measure “actual” progress. Since everyone at the meeting knows the measurement is useless as a control, it becomes an instrument of management to manage the project. Invariably, management directs a get-well plan be devised to get back on the horribly-flawed milestone plan. Of course, the get-well plan is composed in the same toxic way.

The attending executive proclaims “If you don’t get this mess back on schedule by tomorrow, I’ll get somebody who can.” Everyone has heard this proclamation of executive out-of-control. The impact of this act of desperation on the project is wholesale CYA (Cover Your Ass) and subreption. Information available for forecasting progress becomes nothing but calculated lies. That’s where attempts to defy natural law land you.

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