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.
After I discovered and wrote about Valve Inc, I threw this skunk on my friend’s table:
Here’s Bill’s response and my response to his 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.
- D4P Has Been Hatched (bulldozer00.com) ( Download the D4P book for free)
- D4P And D4F (bulldozer00.com)
- D4P4D (bulldozer00.com)
- D4P4D Tweetfest (bulldozer00.com)
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.
Here’s yet another insightful paragraph from William Livingston’s “Design For Prevention“:
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.
If for some strange reason you wasted some precious time and read yesterday’s post, you might have wondered what this “mismatch” thing is all about. Hopefully, this excerpt from the forthcoming 2012 edition of Bill Livingston’s D4P book (not the layman’s D4P4D) should shed some light on the mystery:
Naive outrage? Lack of understanding? Hmm. Not BD00. He knows everything.
I’m in the process of reading William L. Livingston’s “Design For Prevention For Dummies” (D4P4D). I’m a pretty fast reader, but like my prior consumptions of all of Bill’s other dense and mind-absorbing writings, it’s a slow going affair that’s severely playin’ with my mind. I can only read about 10 fascinating pages per sitting before having to abandon ship and recoup my senses. After a martini, it’s 1 page and done. D’oh!
The book is full of masterful and tweet-worthy quotes like these:
Bill, if you’re reading this bogus blog post, I apologize for the lack of attribution in some of the tweets. I think I know you well enough that you don’t give a chit, but since I twisted your words so much in some of the tweets, I didn’t know if I should attribute them to you. Cheers!
I just received two copies of William Livingston’s “Design For Prevention For Dummies” (D4P4D) gratis from the author himself. It’s actually section 7 of the “Non-Dummies” version of the book. With the addition of “For Dummies” to the title, I think it was written explicitly for me. D’oh!
The D4P is a mind bending, control theory based methodology (think feedback loops) for problem prevention in the midst of powerful, natural institutional forces that depend on problem manifestation and continued presence in order to keep the institution alive.
Mr. Livingston is an elegant, Shakespearian-type writer who’s fun to read but tough as hell to understand. I’ve enjoyed consuming his work for over 25 years but I still can’t understand or apply much of what he says – if anything!
As I slowly plod through the richly dense tome, I’ll try to write more posts that disclose the details of the D4P process. If you don’t see anything more about the D4P from me in the future, then you can assume that I’ve drowned in an ocean of confusion.
As some of you may know, my friend Bill Livingston recently finished writing his latest book, “Design For Prevention” (D4P). While doodling and wasting time (if you hadn’t noticed, I like to waste time), I concocted an idea for supplementing the D4P with something called “Design For Function” (D4F). The figure below shows, via a state machine diagram, the proposed marriage of the two complementary processes.
After some kind of initial problem definition is formulated by the owner(s) of the problem, the requirements for a “future” socio-technical system whose purpose is to dissolve the problem are recorded and “somehow” awarded to an experienced problem solver in the domain of interest. Once this occurs, the project is kicked off (Whoo Hoo!) and the wheels start churning via entry into the D4F state. In this state, various structures of connected functions are conceived and investigated for fitness of purpose. This iterative process, which includes short-cycle-run-break-fix learning loops via both computer-based and mental simulations, separates the wheat from the chaff and yields an initial “best” design according to some predefined criteria. Of course, adding to the iterative effort is the fact that the requirements will start changing before the ink dries on the initial snapshot.
Once the initial design candidate is selected for further development, the sibling D4P state is entered for the first (but definitely not last) time. In this important but often neglected problem solving system sub-state, the problem solution system candidate is analyzed for failure modes and their attendant consequences. Additional monitoring and control functional structures are then conceived and integrated into the system design to prevent failures and mitigate those failures that can’t be prevented. The goal at this point is to make the system fault tolerant and robust to large, but low probability, external and internal disturbances. Again, iterative simulations are performed as reconnaissance trips into the future to evaluate system effectiveness and robustness before it gets deployed into its environment.
The figure below shows a dorky model of a system design before and after the D4P process has been executed. Notice the necessary added structural and behavioral complexity incorporated into the system as a result of recursively applying the D4P. Also note that the “Behavior Monitoring” structure(s), be they composed of people in a social system or computers in an automated system, or most likely both, need to have an understanding of the primary system goal seeking functions in order to effectively issue damage prevention and mitigation instructions to the various system elements. Also note that these instructions need not only be logically correct, they need to be timely for them to be effective. If the time lag between real-time problem sensing and control actuating is too great (which happens repeatedly and frequently in huge multi-layered command and control hierarchies that don’t have or want an understanding of what goes on down in the dirty boiler room), then the internal/external damage caused by the system can be as devastating as a cheaper, less complex system operating with no damage prevention capability at all.
So what do you think? Is this D4F + D4P process viable? A bunch of useless baloney?
No, the title of this blost (short for blog-post and pronounced “blow-ssst”) is not “pick your nose“. It’s “pick and own“. My friend Bill Livingston uses the following catchy and true phrase throughout his book “Design For Prevention“:
He who picks the parts owns the behavior. – Unknown
This is certainly true in the world of software development for new projects. For maintenance projects, which comprise the vast majority of software work, this dictum also holds:
He who touched the code last owns the stank. – Unknown
Bill also truly but sadly states that when something goes awry, the dude who “picks the parts” or “owns the stank” is immediately sought out for punishment. When everything goes smoothly, the identity of the designer/maintainer magically disappears.
Punishment but no praise. Such is the life of a DIC. BMs, CGHs and CCRATS on the other hand, clever as they are, flip everything upside down. Since they don’t pick or maintain anything, they never get blamed for anything that goes wrong. Going one step further, they constantly praise themselves and their brethren while giddily playing the role of DIC-punisher and blamer.
WTF you say? If you fellow DICsters didn’t know this already, then accept it and get used to it because it’ll sting less when it happens over and over again. Tis the way the ancient system of patriarchical CCH institutions is structured to work. It doesn’t matter who the particular cast of characters in the upper echelons are. They could individually be great guys/gals, but their collective behavior is ubiquitously the same.
Friend and long time mentor Bill Livingston has finished his latest book, “Design For Prevention” (D4P). I mildly helped Bill in his endeavor by providing feedback over the last year or so in the form of idiotic commentary, and mostly, typo exposure.
Bill, being a staunch promoter of SCRBF feedback and its natural power of convergence to excellence, continuously asked for feedback and contributory ideas throughout the book writing process. Being a blabbermouth and having great respect for the man because of the profound influence he’s had on my worldview for 20+ years, I truly wanted to contribute some ideas of substance. However, I struggled mightily to try and conjure up some worthy input because even though I understood the essence of this original work and it resonated deeply with me, I couldn’t quite form (and still can’t) a decent and coherent picture of the whole work in my mind.
D4P is a socio-technical process for designing a solution to a big hairy problem (in the face of powerful institutional resistance) that dissolves the problem without causing massive downstream stakeholder damage. Paradoxically, the book is a loosely connected, but also dense, artistic tapestry of seemingly unrelated topics and concepts such as:
Bill does a masterful and unprecedented job at connecting the dots. The book will set you back, uh, $250 beaners on Amazon.com, but wait….. there’s a reason for that astronomical price. He doesn’t really care if he sells it. He wants to give it away to people who are seriously interested in “Designing For Prevention”. Posers need not apply. If you’re intrigued and interested in trying to coerce Bill into sending you a copy, you can introduce yourself and make your case at vitalith “at” att “dot” net.
The D4P book is available for free download at designforprevention.com. The second edition is on its way shortly.