The Systems Bible - John Gall

This book is the perfect kook book. There are plenty of Capitalised Expressions, and


Seriously. The typesetting is often dodgy, but that's explained by the fact that the whole thing is self-published. Nutter probability is approaching 1, and then you finally reach the text itself. It's basically paranoid ranting, and not terribly logical ranting at that, if you stare hard enough.

The scariest, nuttiest thing of all, though, is that this book is right. It's accurate and precise and matches reality in a way that no other book on the subject dares to.

I guess I better explain what the book's all about. It's about "Systems" in all their great and varied forms. From computer programs to research programs, to governments, to aeroplanes and nuclear reactors. Any man-made artefact, physical or procedural, that's complex enough that you can't comprehend it all at once.

The view of the book is that such systems will suck, they'll break in totally unexpected ways, and our attempts to build them are mostly hubris. Example upon example is wheeled out. The view may sound excessively dystopian, but on the one hand a sense of paranoia is the only thing that can make your systems have a hope of functioning appropriately. On the other hand, all the systems I deal with at work do have numerous faults described in this book.

This is not to say that the book is just a diatribe against those doomed to create unworkable systems. It does cover a variety of ways to work to give yourself the best sporting chance of being successful with an incomprehensible system. It is somehow a rag-bag of useful coping strategies, combined with the mindset that one-size-fits-all standardised solutions won't work (yes, I know that's somewhat self-contradictory).

To give a flavour of the text, from a passage I rather liked, "The diagnosis of Grandiosity is quite elegantly and strictly made a on a purely quantitative basis: How many features of the present System, and at what level, are to be corrected at once? If more than three, the plan is Grandiose and will fail." It matches my experience scarily accurately.

In summary, this book should be required reading for so many people. Highly recommended.

Posted 2011-12-29.