Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 4 Number 2, Feb. 2005
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:email@example.com
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Copyright 2005 by Alan B. Scrivener
We Pride Ourselves on Service
Life is your restaurant
And I'm your maitre d'
C'mon whisper what it is you want
You ain't never had a friend like me
Yes sir, we pride ourselves on service
You're the boss
The king, the shah
Say what you wish
It's yours! True dish
How about a little more Baklava?
Have some of column "A"
Try all of column "B"
I'm in the mood to help you dude
You ain't never had a friend like me
-- "Friend Like Me" (song) from the Disney
animated feature "Aladdin" (1992),
words by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken,
performed by Robin Williams as the Genie
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001I561E/hip-20 )
I receive a lot of email about this 'zine (I apologize to those of
you I haven't had time to answer), and the most common topic is
the application of cybernetics to business. I have already shared
my correspondence a year ago with Jelle van Luipen of the Netherlands,
who is working to apply cybernetics in the Dutch Railway, and mentioned
another reader who recommended "The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small
Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" (1995) by Michael E. Gerber.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887307280/hip-20 )
More recently I received this query from a group of French students:
We want to understand the way cybernetics can apply to industrial
systems and to engineering. Can you present us a industrial system
which represents a typical application of cybernetics on industrial
systems and on which we can work.
In response to these emails, I am devoting this issue to the application
of cybernetics to business problems.
* * * * * * * *
In books such as "Critical Path" (1981) Buckminster Fuller promotes
the idea that to be a good citizen you must be a generalist.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312174918/hip-20 )
Making essentially a political argument, he points out that an informed
electorate is vital to the survival and prosperity of democracy, but that
most of the forces that shape our world (physical, such as electromagnetic
radiation, biological, such as genetic "forces," and economic, such as the
law of supply and demand) are invisible and undetectable directly to
human senses, and can only be inferred through scientific study. Ergo,
scientific literacy is important for every citizen. Bucky thought that
television could be a tool for improving the level of public education.
It can be argued that this is slowly coming to pass. In the United
States shows such as "Nova" on PBS,
( www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova )
and cable networks such as "The Discovery Channel"
( www.discovery.com )
have certainly contributed to raising the level of public education.
Our high school curricula make an attempt to to produce "well rounded"
citizens. But our colleges still require specialization. The
notion of "interdisciplinary" studies still usually means only two
disciplines combined, such as bio-chemistry or socio-biology. The
ambitious cybernetics major at UCLA is an exception to this. It
combines classes from:
* life sciences
* behavioral sciences
* engineering and applied mathematics
* computer studies
* biomedical systems
As a result the cybernetics major and pre-major require the most
classes of any program at UCLA. And yet it still focuses almost
entirely on biotech.
( www.cs.ucla.edu/~cyber )
The exception to this general pattern is in business education.
The colleges that train future corporate leaders expect them to
need the skills of a generalist, and train them accordingly.
(Bucky reported the same pattern in the training of naval officers.)
The field of "management science" therefore is one place in
education where a student can show an interest in just about
everything and not be treated like some sort of "kook."
So it makes sense to plumb the literature of business management
in search of the application of cybernetic principles.
* * * * * * * *
The first book on business I ever read -- as a teenager -- was the
best-seller "The Peter Principle" (1969) by Laurence J. Peter.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553244159/hip-20 )
( collections.ic.gc.ca/heirloom_series/volume5/200-203.htm )
Taking a systems thinker's approach to analyzing business hierarchies,
Peter concluded that in a business organization it was common for
high-performance employees to be promoted until they stopped being
high-performers, and then to languish after reaching their "level of
incompetence." His shorthand for this principle was "the cream rises
until it sours."
The second book on business I read -- still as a teenager -- was
"Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People
and Strangling Profits" (1970) by Robert Townsend.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0449226255/hip-20 )
He was CEO of the Avis Rent-a-car company when they launched the "we
try harder" ad campaign. His book is full of glib, page-long
pronouncements with titles like "Call Yourself Up" (to see how much
of a run-around your callers get) and "Fire the Whole Marketing
Department" (because marketing is a function your whole company
should do). I only knew about these two books because they were
mentioned in Time Magazine (which I was required to read each week
in history class!) and I read them because they were available as
In contrast, I didn't read any books on business while in college.
Business and management were completely "off the radar" of all my
professors and fellow students. The only people who paid attention
to capitalism -- outside of the economics department -- seemed to
think it was evil. The only businessman I ever met was when I
worked at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk amusement park: an old guy named
"Buck" who owned a popcorn stand, and didn't like my idea for
flavored popcorn toppings.
I do remember reading an article in Playboy Magazine by "Up the
Organization" author Robert Townsend, about "power" in corporations.
(I haven't been able to track down which issue it was in, even with
the help of some web sites that list the contents of back issues.)
But I was quite impressed by his argument that most executives
didn't want real power, which takes hard work, but merely the
TRAPPINGS of power, like a putting green in the corner office.
My first job after college was as a technical writer with Massachusetts
minicomputer-maker Data General, in the software documentation
department. At a reception for new-hires I met Edson DeCastro,
CEO of the company, and urged him to get into personal computers
and computer graphics. He told me each would be "flash in the pan."
(This was in 1977! In 1999 what remained of DG -- a small disk array
product line -- was sold to EMC.)
Two years later I was back in my home town of San Diego, doing
technical writing and customer support for a little start-up
company that made Data General add-on equipment, when the book "The
Soul of a New Machine" (1981) by Tracy Kidder came out.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316491977/hip-20 )
It was a journalist's account of a secret engineering effort at
Data General during the EXACT SAME TIME that I worked there;
it even mentioned the apartment building I'd lived in and a
favorite pizza restaurant. I was reading it for the personal
connection, but it gave me some of my first insights into how
high-tech companies are managed.
Working in a small start-up also gave me my first experience
of a business where I could walk into the CEO's office and
have a conversation. I learned a lot about all the jobs:
factory workers, engineers, sales people, managers, the buyer,
the accountant, and the "bench techs." In larger companies
these people never saw each other.
Around this time a friend recommended "The Mythical Man-Month and
Other Essays On Software Engineering" (1975) by Frederick P Brooks.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006WPPOI/hip-20 )
This was the first "how to" book I read on software project
management, and it still ranks as one of the best. It reminded
me of a joke: Q: What's an "IBM man-year"? A: Seven hundred people
trying to get something done by noon.
The same friend (hi Wayne) also recommended two very different books:
"How I Made $1,000,000 In Mail Order -- And You Can Too!" (1964)
by E. Joseph Cossman,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671872761/hip-20 )
and "The Incredible Secret Money Machine" (1980) by Don Lancaster.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0672215624/hip-20 )
At the time Wayne was in the process of starting his own small
business, and both of these books were about how to operate a
small business. Cossman, who achieved fame in the 1960s by
marketing (but not inventing) the ant farm, spud gun, and "100
toy soldiers for a dollar" with ads in the back of comic books,
( home.att.net/%7E1.elliott/comicbooktoysoldiers.html )
told a tale of extreme persistence and constant vigilance in his
scanning for money-making ideas. He also emphasized the importance
of feedback in analyzing advertising, using competing pairs of
"test ads" until he hit on a winning formula, and then never
changing an ad that was producing well. Today he uses infomercials
and the web to sell courses on marketing for small businesses.
( www.cossman.com/index.html )
Lancaster was most famous for his series of hobby books at the
beginning of the personal computer era in the late 1970s, such as
"the TV Typewriter Cookbook" (1976).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0672213133/hip-20 )
His advice aims at providing you multiple streams of recurring
income without employees or investors. Today he sells his books
and reports on the web.
( www.tinaja.com )
By 1983 I was working for a small start-up division of a larger
company, documenting a new 3D graphics computer. Our CEO, James
K. LaFleur, was an old school manager from Pittsburgh, who was
actually hired to turn around the company because he was yachting
buddies with some board members. Though he was managing a rather
small company, he brought big company ideas with him. Since I
reported directly to him for most of my employment, I had the
opportunity to learn a lot of things that might otherwise only
have been available to me if I had been a senior executive in a Fortune
1000 company. Every summer he had a retreat for his senior staff
in a small town called Ocotillo, California (an ocotillo is a kind
of cactus) in the desert east of San Diego, where the summer weather
has average daily highs above 100 degrees F, and can get as high
as 120 degrees.
( www.city-data.com/city/Ocotillo-California.html )
This was designed to keep everyone inside the hotel (no wandering
off to play golf) and focused on the retreat. In preparation for
the event he gave his executives stacks of books and a notebook
filled with photocopied articles to read. One manager told me
it was "grueling" but definitely educational to prepare for and
attend these getaways.
I was not a member of the senior staff so I didn't go along, but
Mr. LaFleur was kind enough to share his book list with me. It
included a book that was the "flavor of the month" for a while
in management theory: "In Search of Excellence" (1982) by Robert
Waterman and Tom Peters.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0446385077/hip-20 )
This is the book that told the amazing story of how many successful
projects in large companies were cancelled several times, and continued
covertly by dedicated employees, before emerging to success and acclaim.
One example was Post-It Notes (TM), which were developed at 3M Corp. in
secret, and given to their own secretaries to try. When the secretaries
clamored for more, they were told to call the 3M marketing department.
After marketing was deluged with requests, they gave the project the
green light. Waterman and Peters described the kind of corporate
environment where this process could go on -- without anyone being fired
for insubordination -- as having "simultaneous loose-tight properties."
I should also mention that during this time our CEO also wrote his own
book, "Tax Sheltered Financing Through the R&D Limited Partnership"
(1983) by James K. LaFleur.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0471870668/hip-20 )
( search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?userid=HN2SMj1BYS&isbn=0471870668&itm=1 )
I didn't read it, and I suspect the tax law it is based on has long
since changed, but it was interesting talking with him about the
process of writing a business book and getting it published. (He said
the key was long uninterrupted periods of time, and writing without
editing, or even looking at what he had written, until later.)
Meanwhile, I had been "bitten" by the "entrepreneurial bug," and had
already run my own little consulting company, "Barnum & Scrivener
Circuits" on and off during the '80s. In researching ways to push
this enterprise forward, I happened upon two wonderful old books,
"Think and Grow Rich" (1937) by Napoleon Hill,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0449214923/hip-20 )
and "The Richest Man in Babylon" (1926) by George S. Clason.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451205367/hip-20 )
Hill started out as a "nobody," born into poverty, who became a
small town reporter and happened to interview steel magnate
Andrew Carnegie. It turned out Carnegie had a project he'd been
thinking about for years, which would be a methodical study of the
people who have amassed great fortunes, and he'd been looking for
a person to carry it forward. He offered the project to Hill,
and timed him, giving him (if I remember correctly) 30 seconds to
say yes. When Hill agreed Carnegie gave him a list of entrepreneurs
and letters of introduction to each of them. The result was the
book "Think and Grow Rich," which described the common elements
of each story of wealth accumulation. Napoleon Hill went on to
become one of the first and most influential "motivational"
speakers and writers in America. Though he passed away in 1970,
the Napoleon Hill Foundation continues his work.
( www.naphill.org )
Clason was a successful businessman, who founded the Clason Map
Company of Denver, Colorado and published the first road atlas of
the United States and Canada. In the 1920s he began issuing a
series of pamphlets on thrift and financial success, using parables
set in ancient Babylon. These were distributed by banks and insurance
companies. Many of them were collected into "The Richest Man in
Babylon." They explain the importance of integrity, charity, and
compound interest in creating wealth.
Also in the mid '80s I was introduced to the wonderful historical
novels of James Clavell, which -- though they were ostensibly about
culture clash between east and west in the 1600s, 1800s and 1900s --
taught me a lot about human nature and its effect on businesses.
May favorites were:
* "Shogun" (1975)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440178002/hip-20 )
* "Tai-Pan" (1966)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440184622/hip-20 )
* "Noble House" (1981)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440164842/hip-20 )
In the late '80s my career trajectory took through aerospace, which
I have written about in other issues of this 'zine, and aside from
being exposed to the concept of "linear programming" I saw nothing
in that world that I could use as a positive example of management
From '88 to '96 I was in the world of scientific computing, about
as "high tech" as you can get. While in this environment I learned
about "chaos theory," as described in "Chaos: Making a New Science"
(1988) by James Gleick.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140092501/hip-20 )
I also learned more generally about the mathematical basis of systems
theory: Ordinary Differential Equations (ODEs), and their application
to control engineering, as described in "Advanced Control Systems
Design" (1995) by Bernard Friedland.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0130140104/hip-20 )
In my searchers for books on systems theory and chaos, I found
"Dealing With Complexity: An Introduction to the Theory and
Application of Systems Science" (1988) by Robert L. Flood & Ewart
R. Carson, which applies these ideas to business management.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/030644299X/hip-20 )
One thing that concerned me is that ODEs apply only to DETERMINISTIC
systems, and I have found management to be mostly be about people,
who exhibit a high degree of "free will." As the "Harvard Law,"
( www.anvari.org/fortune/Laws_2/480.html )
known to every student of behavioral psychology, states:
Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of
pressure, temperature, volume, humidity, and other
variables, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.
While I was fiddling around with supercomputers and scientific
visualization, Microsoft was busy taking over the world. In
"Accidental Empires; How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their
Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can't Get a Date" (1993),
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887308554/hip-20 )
tech journalist Robert X. Cringely (the PBS one, not the InfoWorld
one) chronicled the rise of the PC and Windows and its influence
on the computing landscape. Very little in the way of "old school"
management theory seems to have been used in this revolution; the
managers involved were mostly amateurs by Fortune 500 standards.
Yet they triumphed.
Trying to springboard off of his "business fad" status in the '80s,
"In Search of Excellence" co-author Tom Peters wrote a new book,
"Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394559991/hip-20 )
Though I didn't read all 834 pages, I really liked his analysis,
much of which proved to be spot-on. He described how every company
was finding itself subject to cultural and fashion-driven pressures,
even traditional ones. (I like to use the example that fast foods
are often selected for the kid's meal toys, not the food.) Peters
points out that in 1991, US Steel and American Can were dropped from
the Dow-Jones Industrial Average. (Actually by that time both
companies had changed to newer, "hipper" names.) He asks:
Guess what companies replaced those two? Disney and J. P. Morgan.
Get the drift?
He also implores:
Fashion demands bonkers organizations ... and it demands continuous
innovation. Appropriately paced innovation, in turn, leads us
toward one end: BLASTING THE VIOLENT WINDS OF THE MARKETPLACE INTO
EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY IN THE FIRM.
I saw his point. Back in my job at the microfilm company, we were
a wholly-owned subsidiary of an aerospace company, General Dynamics.
(Great name, huh?) We were required to buy all of our computer time
from our parent company's mainframe timesharing business. We couldn't
use own our own minicomputers, which would've been far more cost-effective.
Service was, of course, abysmal in the absence of competition. This
was bad for us (due to lost productivity) and bad for the timesharing
service (due to lack of evolution to respond to competitive pressure).
Do I have to tell you that the division failed, and the parent company
downsized until it was forced to sell off assets to survive?
But in the pre-dot-com world of the early '90s, Peter's book didn't
catch on as a new management fad. It must've seemed too "out there"
(though in hindsight it was very accurate). The new fad, as far as I
could tell, was "Crossing the Chasm" (1991) by Geoffrey A. Moore.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060517123/hip-20 )
The "chasm" of the title is the gap between early adpoters,
who will tolerate a lot of glitches to work with "bleeding edge"
technology, and pragmatic users who just want to get a job done.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm )
The thing that best helps bridge the chasm is a third-party
market of support tools -- think consulting services, O'Reilly
books and training videos for computer users, for example.
Another sweeping fad in the 1990s was the "Total Quality Management
System" (TQMS) actually developed by W. Edwards Deming in the late
1940s. Recapitulating a common pattern in American business, US
companies ignored this innovation, which came out of academia,
until it had been adopted with great success by a number of Japanese
companies in the 1970s and '80s under the name "Hoshin Kanri."
( www.tqe.com/hoshinHI.html )
I remember hearing stories of how the concepts were misapplied
and used as an excuse to disenfranchise managers at McDonnell-Douglas
in Long Beach, until the scuttlebutt was that TQMS really stood
for "Time to Quit and Move to Seattle" (to work for better-managed
Boeing). Of course, Boeing has since bought that division of McD-D.
From 1996 to 2001 I worked in the dot-com world, as the "nanosecond
nineties" came to their shrill crescendo and imploded. Just before
that happened my bellwether friend Wayne (hi Wayne) pointed me at
"The Innovator's Dilemma" (1997) by Clayton M. Christensen.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060521996/hip-20 )
It describes the process by which high-tech markets collapse, right
when they seem to have so much promise, in favor of cheaper technologies.
And -- contrary to the advice in "Liberation Management" -- you can't
protect a company from this fate by "blasting the violent winds of the
marketplace into every nook and cranny in the firm." In fact, being
extremely responsive to your market is what brings about the collapse!
I highly recommend you read this book (of all the titles I've listed),
but barring that, you can see a synopsis on the web in a review by
( www.fastwater.com/Library/B2BEconomy/disruptive-innovation/v1-19_innovators.htm )
Upon reading this book I went into the CEO's office -- which I very
rarely did -- and warned him that while our company was trying
to move "upmarket," raising our product price from $100,000 to
$1.25 million, we were vulnerable to cheaper "disruptive technologies"
coming from below. He assured me there was no cause for alarm.
Three months later, after this dot-com went out of business, I once again
became self-employed, and turned to real estate guru Robert Allen,
of "Nothing Down" (1980) fame, for fresh advice.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067150469X/hip-20 )
His latest book, "Multiple Streams of Internet Income" (2001)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/047121888X/hip-20 )
gave me the idea for this e-Zine, and some other projects that I
am still working on, including my own book, "A Survival Guide for
the Traveling Techie" (2005).
( travelingtechie.com )
He also pointed me to a "must read" for anyone in marketing,
the classic "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" (1984) by
Robert B. Cialdini,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0688128165/hip-20 )
which tells, based on psychological experiments, what really motivates
people to buy things.
The process by which fads spread was one of the topics of "The Tipping
Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" (2000) by Malcolm
Gladwell, which I've enthused about in these pages before.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316346624/hip-20 )
This book became a fad itself, gaining kudos throughout the
blogosphere, and possibly signaling the first new trend in
management theory for the new millennium.
* * * * * * * *
Whew! This survey has covered a period of over 35 years, as I
encountered a vast array of writing on business management. It
would be fair of you to ask at this point, "Where's the cybernetics?"
The first thing I noticed in reviewing the above was that the business
books fall mainly into two categories: those for very large businesses,
and those for very small businesses. (From a book marketing perspective
I suppose this makes sense. There are more small business owners,
hence the popularity of small business management books, and
everybody wants to emulate the winners, hence the popularity of large
business management books.) Almost all of the awareness of systems
theory seems to be on the big business side. (An exception is
Cossman and other's emphasis on the importance of feedback in analyzing
advertising effectiveness.) Of course, when as manager has the job
of managing other managers in a hierarchy with "individual contributors"
way down the hierarchy somewhere, it pays to be systematic. This
is why there is such a field as "management science."
When the Oscars aired this week I got to thinking about how the
Academy Awards are bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences (AMPAS). There is plenty of acknowledgment that
moviemaking is both an art and a science. The practitioners of
"management science" sometimes seem to lose track sometimes of the
fact that management is also an art as well as a science.
I find it interesting to contrast two books in this regard.
I have in these pages before recommended "Introduction to Operations
Research" (1967-2001) by Hillier & Lieberman,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0071181636/hip-20 )
which is used as a textbook in the UCSD management science curriculum.
Overall it is a good survey of mathematical techniques useful for
solving logistics problems (and it has actual case studies --
please note, French students) but I fault it for being uncritical,
and failing to address how these techniques can be misused, and what
the symptoms are when this happens. In contrast, look at an old text
from simulation pioneer Jay W. Forrester of MIT (who created the
simulations tools used in the "Limits to Growth" models):
"Industrial Dynamics" (1961).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262560011/hip-20 )
In the introduction his first two chapters are:
1.1 Management as an Art
1.2 The Manager and Today's Management Science
Clearly Forrester understood the necessity to balance the art and
the science sides of management.
Another remarkable thing in Forrester's book is his use of
simulation to understand industrial processes, such as what
we now call "supply chain management," which is the problem
of making sure you manufacture, warehouse, and ship the right
number of "widgets" to avoid shortages or overstocking. Today
we have the notion of "Just In Time" (JIT) manufacturing, which
saves a lot of money when it works and creates calamities when it
doesn't. I scanned one of Forrester's plots of a simulation
of an inventory system's reaction to an unexpected 10% increase
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ID0001.jpg )
There is a sizable overcorrection, mostly due to communication
lags. (Kind of like when you try to adjust the water temperature
in the shower and end up scalding or freezing yourself -- or both --
due to lags in the water temperature's reaction.) In later simulations
he showed how a common strategy of increasing advertising when sales
are up, based on the idea that you should "strike while the iron
is hot," can create your own "boom and bust" cycle by amplifying
A few years ago, in my last dot-com job, I was right
in the middle of that world. With all the discussion of
"return on Investment" (ROI) and literally hundred million
dollar price tags for software that was supposed to save even
more money than it cost, I never heard any one talking about
simulating the systems in actual use. Maybe they should have. One
of the biggest players was a company called i2 Technologies,
which was sued by some of their customers for losses from
trusting their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and having it
mislead them. (Later i2's stockholders also sued, saying that
i2 management tried to hide the customer problems from investors.)
( news.com.com/2100-1017-253829.html?legacy=cnet )
By interesting coincidence, an article appeared this week:
"i2 Technologies Gets a New CEO," Information Week, February 28, 2005
( www.informationweek.com/shared/printableArticle.jhtml?articleID=60404052 )
I have searched in vain for evidence of ERP vendors using simulation.
(Somebody tell if I'm wrong here.) I did find some books on the
subject, such as "Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling
for a Complex World" (2000) by John Sterman (with CD-ROM).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/007238915X/hip-20 )
So far the approach seems stuck in academia. Could this be a "killer
app" for cybernetics in industrial processes?
* * * * * * * *
"Anyone who remains calm in the midst of all this confusion
simply doesn't understand the situation."
-- funny sign sold to struggling employees in mismanaged business
At the urging of one of my readers I finally read "The E-Myth
Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do
About It" (1995) by Michael E. Gerber.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887307280/hip-20 )
This is one of the most remarkable business books I've read.
Though 10 years old, it seems to be a best-seller right now.
(By the way, the E stands for "entrepreneur," not "electronic,"
as in "e-Commerce.") It is aimed at the one-person business
that is trying to grow. It reminded me how the quality of
service delivered by an organization is ultimately the responsibility
of upper management, a lesson applicable to businesses of any size.
It also reminded me that all the logistical tools in the world
won't help a business if the managers lose sight of the goal
of customer service.
One of the ironies I've noticed in my career is that managers who
need help the most won't seek it. (Maybe I should call this
"Scrivener's Law.") All of these above-mentioned books tend to
be read by people who are already open to new ideas. The worst
managers I have known refused to admit they had a problem, and
defensively avoided any input that might help them.
There is a book have looked for but been unable to find (it's
out of print) called "The Death March" (1999) by Edward Yourdon.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/013143635X/hip-20 )
It describes software projects gone over budget, with blown
schedules, staffed by demoralized programmers convinced that
failure is inevitable. The crazy thing is that a majority
of projects I've witnessed have been in this state. There
is a lot of debate on software methodologies -- structured
programming, refactoring, software patterns and "extreme
programming" all come to mind -- but in my experience the
"death march" projects almost always used what I call the
"napkin methodology" -- a manager scribbles a block diagram
on a napkin, and this is used INSTEAD OF A SPEC to guide
The wisest book that I have actually read on this topic
s "The Pitfalls of Object-Oriented Development" (1995) by
my long-time friend Bruce Webster (hi Bruce).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1558513973/hip-20 )
...technical managers would do well to think of [Object
Oriented Development] as consisting primarily of two activities
-- design and testing -- with a thin sliver of implementation
In "death march" projects there always seems to be pressure to skip
design, as if it was a time-wasting effort, and get right to coding,
measuring progress in lines of code written. Imagine if they did
this in the construction industry, bypassing architects and blueprints
and getting to pouring cement as soon as possible, measuring progress
in cubic yards of cement poured.
* * * * * * * *
Don't con anyone (except in poker, bridge, and similar play
period activities). Not your wife. Not your children. Not
your employees. Not your customers. Not your stockholders.
Not your boss. Not your associates. Not your regulatory
authorities. Not even your competition. Don't con yourself either.
-- Robert Townsend
This month the "DisneyWar" (2005) by James B. Stewart came out.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684809931/hip-20 )
It is a devastating look at the management failures of Disney CEO
Michael Eisner, who amazingly thinks he is doing a great job, and
has earned the nearly one billion dollars in compensation he has
extracted from that company.
One of the tragic things that has happened on his watch is the
deterioration of the flagship theme park Disneyland under Eisner-
appointee Cynthia Harris (now thankfully gone). According to the
"Mice Age" web site,
( www.miceage.com/allutz/al122104d.htm )
measurements of customer satisfaction were rising as actual
customer satisfaction was falling, due to deliberate jiggering
of the process.
In Cynthia's day the written complaint became literal poison,
and Disneyland management and Guest Relations [Cast Members]
(CMs) were instructed to avoid a written complaint at all costs.
The thinking was, as long as the customer didn't write it down,
it didn't exist. Instead of handing you the complaint form to fill
out, the City Hall CM's would always offer to "get a manager" for
you, and a quick radio call would be placed to the appropriate
manager. And very dutifully, the manager from the impacted
location would trot down to City Hall to discuss the matter
with the customer and likely buy them off with a free churro
or a backdoor pass to an E Ticket ride.
The goal was to avoid any formal documentation, via a complaint
form or an email or letter written from home, as that would then
end up on the spreadsheet sent to the TDA execs. During the height
of Cynthia's reign, there would be a steady stream of lower level
park management going into the back of City Hall ready to schmooze
and bribe the upset customers from writing anything down or
leaving in such a state that an angry letter might be written
As if that wasn't enough, management was then instructed by the
lower level executives to "fish" for compliments out at their
locations. If a customer at the Blue Bayou made a passing
comment that their waitress was very pleasant, the manager
would then fire off a quick email to the "Guest Communications"
department, and that verbal comment would officially be turned
into a written compliment attributed to a customer with a
tracking number and everything. This practice was crafted
when Paul Pressler was there, but it was Cynthia who polished
and perfected it, and the yearly bonus some managers get was
tied into how many compliments their employees received.
The ultimate product of this bizarre sham was a statistical
number representing the ratio of compliments to complaints that
was unprecedented in Disneyland history. With it virtually
impossible to log a formal complaint while on Disney property,
and any passing friendly comment turned into formal praise
without the customers knowledge or intent, the statistics on
how well the Disneyland employees were performing went through
the roof. And then on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis a
splashy spreadsheet was laid on the executive desks in [Team
Disney Anaheim] (TDA) and everyone in that big yellow building
could get warm fuzzies about how well they were running that
theme park south of them.
During this regime, the TDA copy center even began pumping out
congratulatory thank you posters (with Cynthia's faux signature
signed on each one in bold ink). Every fiscal quarter, as the
compliment ratios climbed higher and higher and towards
laughable levels above 95%, a new poster was commissioned
and plastered all over the backstage areas around Disneyland
and [Disney's California Adventure] (DCA). It meant absolutely
nothing to the average CM, and all of the park managers knew
it was a complete sham, but it sure made the execs hiding out
back in that big yellow building feel good.
While it may be hard to believe, this is exactly how Cynthia
and her gang managed the theme park business; there was very
little gut instinct involved, and plenty of PowerPoint
presentations and spreadsheets that would give them the
answer they needed. And if the news wasn't always rosy on
those spreadsheets, then they could just change the way the
information was gathered until the statistics turned in their
favor. It really does boggle the mind and it should give some
startling insight as to how things went so horribly wrong for
Disney in Anaheim.
* * * * * * * *
Gregory Bateson taught me cybernetics, but before he was a
cyberneticist he was an anthropologist. And overall, I think
anthropology may have more to teach business managers that
cybernetics has. There is a rather recent field known as
"workplace anthropology" which involves anthropologists
turning their ethnographic skills on "corporate culture."
According to an article on-line called "History of Workplace
Anthropology: the Anthropology of Work in the Fortune 1000:
a Critical Retrospective" by Marietta L. Baba, MBA, PhD,
( www.practicalgatherings.com/workplace_anthro/history.html )
The field was dominated by anti-capitalist ideology until the 1990s,
but since then has really taken off. She writes:
Probably the most significant work being done by anthropologists in
the area of "knowledge management" (although not necessarily called
that by the anthropologists who are involved) is at Xerox's Palo
Alto Research Center (PARC) and the Institute for Research on
Learning, where there resides the densest network of industrial
anthropologists in the US. This group is studying work activity
inside large corporations using ethnographic methods. Their work
is methodologically sophisticated, theoretically-informed, and it
is being used by corporations to develop new products and change
basic processes. A well known (but certainly not the only) example
is research by Julian Orr (1990) which showed that informal social
networks of photocopy repair technicians are critical to the
exchange of tacit worker knowledge, and play a central role in the
repair of equipment. Such work gets the attention of top management
-- for example, John Seely Brown, a vice president of Xerox wrote
an article for the Harvard Business Review in which he extolled
the virtues of anthropological research focused on capturing and
applying the knowledge of employees and customers.
Xerox is not the only company engaged in such efforts. At Nynex,
an anthropologist discovered that the handling and disposition of
trouble calls by the same person enables that individual to gather
and integrate knowledge about the trouble that improves the speed
of repair over the long run. When the repair work is distributed
over several different people who don't interface, long delays in
repairs result. Anthropologists at Hewlett Packard discovered
that emergency room physicians actually prefer medical equipment
that delivers information quickly, versus equipment that is more
accurate but not as fast. This was knowledge the physicians had,
but could not or would not express verbally -- they had to be
watched to find out what they knew. Both Hewlett Packard and Texas
Instruments use teams of anthropologists to find out what various
groups of customers (such as physicians and police officers)
actually do on the job in order to design better products for
them (called design ethnography).
One result of such activity is that work anthropologists have
become hot property.
I think this field has a strong future.
It is clear to me that, like many of the "soft" sciences, management
science offers the challenging quandary of deciding when to quantify
things, and when to bring other tools to bear. Therein lies the art.
Some postscripts to the three-part essay "Bateson and Me" follow.
From: Gordon Feller
Date: Mon Feb 21, 2005 5:53:32 AM US/Pacific
Following the "Gregory Bateson Centennial Conference" (convened Nov 20,
2004 at UC Berkeley), a number of us from amongst the 150 who attended
have been deep in discussion about "next steps." One of those who
attended, and who's pursued this question with me, is Dr. Debora
Hammond. Debora will be presiding over a very special event in July 2006
-- a celebration of 50 years of systems science -- and based on my
discussions with her it's quite clear that the 2006 Conference has the
potential to be something much more than 'just another talkfest.'
The 50th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Systems
Sciences will be held at Sonoma State University from July 9-14, 2006.
It will attract participants from more than 30 countries -- and it will
provide an unusual opportunity to document and celebrate half a century
of work in the broadly-defined fields of 'complexity' and 'systems
thinking.' The Conference's draft goal statement is this: "to bring
together representatives from a broad spectrum of institutions and
organizations that have drawn from this rich tradition" in order to
explore the relevance of systems thinking for contemporary issues.
By way of historical background: The ISSS was formerly known as "The
Society for General Systems Research." That was the name originally
given to it when this unusual organization was conceived in 1954 by some
of the great "systems minds" of the 20th century: Ludwig von
Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard, James Grier Miller and
Anatol Rapoport. It was founded as an affiliate society of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) while these five were
in residence at Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral
Sciences, during that Center's first year of operation.
From the outset, ISSS's primary purpose was to create a forum where
scholars -- from a very broad range of disciplinary perspectives --
could explore the significance of the emerging sciences of complexity.
(The ISSS spent its first years addressing such concepts as information,
feedback, open systems and self-organization in the context of physical,
technological, biological, social and psychological systems).
While its initial focus was primarily theoretical, drawing on a wealth
of new developments emerging from the natural sciences, engineering, and
the social/behavioral sciences, ISSS has certainly evolved. Over time
the dominant orientation has shifted to problem solving, applied systems
thinking, and organizational development.
Debora says this: "I was inspired by the recent conference in honor of
Bateson's 100th birthday, and I plan to highlight both the "patterns
that connect" and the "practices that connect." Although the exact theme
of the 2006 conference is not yet determined... the program will
address developments in the 'science and technology of complexity' and
their significance for the social and environmental problems confronting
the global community. Tentatively, then, the theme will be along the
lines of 'Complexity, Democracy, and Sustainability.'"
Urban Age Institute (a non-profit which is actively supporting
the ISSS 50th Anniversary Conference)
Richard Jung at Harvard wrote:
The Macy conferences were not sponsored by the Macy store or the
family (which did not own the store then), but by the Josiah Macy,
Jr. Foundation whose endowment comes from the family of a rich sea
captain and later industrialist. The foundation, established in
1930 by his daughter Kate Macy Ladd, supported initially mainly
I recently have re-established contact with Michael Kahn, a faculty
member at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) -- now
retired emeritus -- who I spoke of in the "Bateson and Me" essay.
He shared with me a list of his publications: