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Unexplained Resurrections


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.

  1. Andy
    August 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm | #1

    Apple also transformed into a software company.

    At All Things Digital 5 in 2007, Steve Jobs said that Apple was a software company, not a hardware company.

    “You know, what’s really interesting is-and we talked about this earlier today-if you look at the reason that the iPod exists and the Apple’s in that marketplace, it’s because these really great Japanese consumer electronics companies who kind of own the portable music market, invented it and owned it, couldn’t do the appropriate software, couldn’t conceive of and implement the appropriate software. Because an iPod’s really just software. It’s software in the iPod itself, it’s software on the PC or the Mac, and it’s software in the cloud for the store. And it’s in a beautiful box, but it’s software. If you look at what a Mac is, it’s OS X, right? It’s in a beautiful box, but it’s OS X. And if you look at what an iPhone will hopefully be, it’s software.

    And so the big secret about Apple, of course-not-so-big secret maybe-is that Apple views itself as a software company……”

    At Apple, Google, and Microsoft, nearly every vice president, manager, QA, system, test and development engineer is a computer scientist.

    However, defense and aerospace firms put hardware engineers up on a pedestal, giving them rein over system design and architecture. The software engineers are treated like second-rate dummies. I wonder when (or if) things will change……

    • August 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm | #2

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in Andy! Of course being a software engineer myself, I have to agree with your biased opinion :)

      • Andy
        August 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm | #3

        Oh very biased. :) Now that I’ve re-read it, it sounds kind of mean (not my intent), but I do think it would be interesting to see a shift towards more software people.

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