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.