A boss gave me a book years ago called “Systemantics” (now unfortunately renamed to “The Systems Bible”) by John Gall, a pediatrician of all things. It used to be you’d order it from the good doctor’s office personally, but now it’s on Amazon and available to all. Anyway, this is a tongue-in-cheek-but-still-quite-worthy look at systems theory, including how systems are built, work, and more importantly, how they fail. And we’re talking all types of systems, of which computer systems are only one small part. I have passed on this book to more people than I can count.
The book is full of quotable lines, especially around the “axioms, theorems and corollaries” Gall puts forward. Here is a sampling. He uses other people’s ideas and quotes (with attribution), but much of the book is original, and given that the first edition was published in 1975, if you think someone else said it first, you may have to prove it predates the Ford presidency:
o Cherish your exceptions.
o New systems generate new problems.
o Systems tend to grow and as they grow they encroach.
o A temporary patch will very likely be permanent.
o People in systems do not do what the system says they are doing.
o The system itself does not do what is says it is doing.
o Systems attract systems people.
o A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.
o In complex systems, malfunction and even total non-function may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.
o Any large system is going to be operating most of the time in failure mode.
o If it doesn’t fail here, it will fail there.
o When a fail-safe system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe.
o In setting up a new system, tread softly. You may be disturbing another system that is actually working.
o Experience isn’t hereditary - it ain’t even contagious.
o The message sent is not necessarily the message received.
o Every picture tells a story - but not the same story.
o You can’t not communicate.
o The meaning of a communication is the behavior that results.
o Loose systems last longer and function better.
o Great advances do not come out of systems designed to produce great advances.
And my personal favorites:
o Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.
o Intrasystem goals come first.