johngall   12

The Oppenheimer Moment - Alan Cooper | Open Transcripts
[direct link to video: https://vimeo.com/254533098 ]

[via: https://twitter.com/TopLeftBrick/status/1123865036370468864 ]

"All of our social sys­tems bias us toward a pre­sen­tist focus: cap­i­tal­ist mar­kets, rapid tech­no­log­i­cal advance, pro­fes­sion­al reward sys­tems, and indus­tri­al man­age­ment meth­ods. You have to ask your­self, how will this be used in ten years? In thir­ty. When will it die? What will hap­pen to its users? To be a good ances­tor, we must look at the entire lifes­pan of our work.

I know I said that there were three considerations, but there’s a strong fourth one, too. Having established the three conduits for bad ancestry—assumptions, externalities, and timescale—we now need some tactical tools for ancestry thinking.

Because it’s a systems problem, individual people are rarely to blame. But people become representatives of the system. That is, the face of bad ancestry will usually be a person. So it takes some finesse to move in a positive direction without polarizing the situation. You can see from the USA’s current political situation how easy it is to slip into polarization.

First we need to understand that systems need constant work. John Gall’s theory of General Systemantics says that, “systems failure is an intrinsic feature of systems.” In other words, all systems go haywire, and will continue to go haywire, and only constant vigilance can keep those systems working in a positive direction. You can’t ignore systems. You have to ask questions about systems. You must probe constantly, deeply, and not accept rote answers.

And when you detect bad assumptions, ignored side‐effects, or distortions of time, you have to ask those same questions of the others around you. You need to lead them through the thought process so they see the problem too. This is how you reveal the secret language of the system.

Ask about the external forces at work on the system. Who is outside of the system? What did they think of it? What leverage do they have? How might they use the system? Who is excluded from it?

Ask about the impact of the system. Who is affected by it? What other systems are affected? What are the indirect long‐term effects? Who gets left behind?

Ask about the consent your system requires. Who agrees with what you are doing? Who disagrees? Who silently condones it? And who’s ignorant of it?

Ask who benefits from the system? Who makes money from it? Who loses money? Who gets promoted? And how does it affect the larger economy?

Ask about how the system can be misused. How can it be used to cheat, to steal, to confuse, to polarize, to alienate, to dominate, to terrify? Who might want to misuse it? What could they gain by it? Who could lose?

If you are asking questions like these regularly, you’re probably making a leaky boat.

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about what I call working backwards. It’s my preferred method of problem‐solving. In the conventional world, gnarly challenges are always presented from within a context, a framework of thinking about the problem. The given framework is almost always too small of a window. Sometimes it’s the wrong window altogether. Viewed this way, your problems can seem inscrutable and unsolvable, a Gordian Knot.

Working backwards can be very effective in this situation. It’s similar to Edward de Bono’s notion of lateral thinking, and Taiichi Ohno’s idea of the 5 Whys. Instead of addressing the problem in its familiar surroundings, you step backwards and you examine the surroundings instead. Deconstructing and understanding the problem definition first is more productive than directly addressing the solution.

Typically you discover that the range of possible solutions first presented are too limiting, too conventional, and suppress innovation. When the situation forces you to choose between Option A or Option B, the choice is almost always Option C. If we don’t work backwards we tend to treat symptoms rather than causes. For example we clamor for a cure for cancer, but we ignore the search for what causes cancer. We institute recycling programs, but we don’t reduce our consumption of disposable plastic. We eat organic grains and meat, but we still grow them using profoundly unsustainable agricultural practices.

The difficulty presented by working backwards is that it typically violates established boundaries. The encompassing framework is often in a different field of thought and authority. Most people, when they detect such a boundary refuse to cross it. They say, “That’s not my responsibility.” But this is exactly what an externality looks like. Boundaries are even more counterproductive in tech.

A few years ago, a famous graphic circulated on the Web that said, “In 2015, Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”

The problem is that taxi companies are regulated by taxing and controlling vehicles. Media is controlled by regulating content. Retailing is controlled by taxing inventory. And accommodations by taxing rooms. All of the governmental checks and balances are side‐stepped my business model innovation. These new business models are better than the old ones, but the new ideas short‐circuit the controls we need to keep them from behaving like bad citizens, bad ancestors.

All business models have good sides and bad sides. We cannot protect ourselves against the bad parts by legislating symptoms and artifacts. Instead of legislating mechanism mechanisms, we have to legislate desired outcomes. The mechanisms may change frequently, but the outcomes remain very constant, and we need to step backwards to be good ancestors.

And when we step backwards, we see the big picture. But seeing it shows us that there’s a lot of deplorable stuff going on in the world today. And a lot of it is enabled and exacerbated by the high‐tech products that we make. It might not be our fault, but it’s our responsibility to fix it.

One reaction to looking at the big picture is despair. When you realize the whole machine is going in the wrong direction, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with a fatalistic sense of doom. Another reaction to seeing this elephant is denial. It makes you want to just put your head back down and concentrate on the wireframes. But those paths are the Option A and the Option B of the problem, and I am committed to Option C. I want to fix the problem.

If you find yourself at the point in a product’s development where clearly unethical requests are made of you, when the boss asks you to lie, cheat, or steal, you’re too late for anything other than brinksmanship. I applaud you for your courage if you’re willing to put your job on the line for this, but it’s unfair for me to ask you to do it. My goal here is to arm you with practical, useful tools that will effectively turn the tech industry towards becoming a good ancestor. This is not a rebellion. Those tools will be more of a dialectic than a street protest. We can only play the long game here.

Our very powerlessness as individual practitioners makes us think that we can’t change the system. Unless of course we are one of the few empowered people. We imagine that powerful people take powerful actions. We picture the lone Tiananmen protester standing resolutely in front of a column of battle tanks, thus making us good ancestors. Similarly, we picture the CEO Jack Dorsey banning Nazis from Twitter and thus, in a stroke, making everything better."



"Now fortuitously, I had recently been talking with folks at the engineering school at the University of California at Berkeley about teaching something there. Renato Verdugo, my new friend and collaborator with the great hair, agreed to help. And we just completed co‐teaching a semester‐long class called “Thinking Like a Good Ancestor” at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation on the Berkeley campus. Renato works for Google, and they generously supported our work.

We’re introducing our students to the fundamentals of how technology could lose its way. Of awareness and intentionality. We’re giving the students our taxonomy of assumptions, externalities, and time. Instead of focusing on how tech behaves badly, we’re focusing on how good tech is allowed to become bad. We’re not trying to patch the holes in the Titanic but prevent them from occurring in future tech. So we’re encouraging our students to exercise their personal agency. We expect these brilliant young students at Berkeley to take ancestry thinking out into the world. We expect them to make it a better place for all of our children.

Like those students, we are the practitioners. We are the makers. We are the ones who design, develop, and deploy software‐powered experiences. At the start of this talk I asked you to imagine yourself as a tech practitioner witnessing your creations turned against our common good. Now I want you to imagine yourself creating products that can’t be turned towards evil. Products that won’t spy on you, won’t addict you, and won’t discriminate against you. More than anyone else, you have the power to create this reality. Because you have your hands on the technology. And I believe that the future is in the hands of the hands‐on.

Ultimately, we the craftspeople who make the artifacts of the future have more effect on the world than the business executives, the politicians, and the investment community. We are like the keystone in the arch. Without us it all falls to the ground. While it may not be our fault that our products let evil leak in, it is certainly within our power to prevent it. The welfare of our children, and their children, is at stake, and taking care of our offspring is the best way to take care of ourselves.

We need to stand up, and stand together. Not in opposition but as a… [more]
alancooper  design  ethics  ancestors  2018  time  systemsthinking  systems  capitalism  neoliberalism  technology  lifespan  externalities  economics  ancestry  legacy  side-effects  morality  awareness  intentionality  renatoverdugo  powerlessness  longgame  longnow  bighere  zoominginandout  taiichiohno  problemsolving  johngall 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail
"The immediate motivation for undertaking this work was provided by the bizarre experience of a colleague of the author (let us call him Jones), a medical scientist specializing in the study of mental retardation. This field, until recently, was a very unfashionable one, and Jones considered himself fortunate to be employed as Research Associate at a small State Home for retarded children. In the humble, even despised, position he was too low on the Civil Service scale to merit the attention of administrators, and he was therefore left alone to tinker with ideas in his chosen field. He was happily pursuing his own research interests when, following presidential interest and national publicity, mental retardation suddenly became a fashionable subject. Jones received an urgent invitation to join an ambitious federally funded project for a systematic attack upon the "problem"[*] of mental retardation.

[Footnote. See The "Problem" Problem, Chapter XI.]

Thinking that this new job, with its ample funds and facilities, would advance both his research efforts and his career, Jones joined. Within three months his own research had come to a halt, and within a year he was completely unable to speak or think intelligently in the field of mental retardation. He had, in fact, become retarded relative to his previous condition.

Looking about him to discover, if possible, what had happened, Jones found that a dozen other skilled professionals who made up the staff of the project had experienced the same catastrophe. That ambitious project, designed to advance solutions to the "problem," had, in fact, taken most of the available workers in the field and neutralized them.

What had gone wrong? Jones, knowing of the author's interest in systems operation, turned to him for advice, and the two of us, jointly, tried to analyze the problem. We first reviewed Parkinson's classic essay on Institutional Paralysis,[*] hoping to find enlightenment there. Was the disease a fulminating case of Injelititis?[*] Obviously not. The professional staff of the Institute were competent, dedicated, and hardworking. Furthermore, the administrators were experienced, energetic, and extremely logical in their approach to problems. The Institute was failing in spite of the best efforts of every one of its members."
johngall  1975  systemsthinking  systems  problemsolving  bureaucracy  institutions  via:caseygollan  organizations  failure  systemicfailure  purpose  paralysis 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Systemantics
"Jones found that a dozen other skilled professionals who made up the staff of the project had experienced the same catastrophe. That ambitious project, designed to advance solutions to the "problem," had, in fact, taken most of the available workers in the field and neutralized them."

"Faced with this realization, and moved by the dramatic and touching crisis that had overtaken his colleague, the author resolved to redouble his researches into the causes of organizational ineptitude and systems malfunction, seeking deep beneath the surface for the hidden forces that caused the best-laid plans to "gang aft agley." Little did he suspect, that that moment, where those studies would lead. He had not yet experienced the blinding illumination of the OPERATIONAL FALLACY. The FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM OF SYSTEMANTICS lay well over the horizon. Even the relatively simple and easy-to-understand GENERALIZED UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE was not yet a gleam. Those and other deep-ranging and depressing generalizations were to come only much later, after exhaustive researches conducted under the least auspicious circumstances and in settings not calculated to bolster the faint of heart."

"Manager's Mirage.[*] The belief that some event (usually called an "outcome") was actually caused by the operation of the System. For example: The Public School System is believed by some to be responsible for the literary works of Faulkner, Hemingway, and Arthur Miller, since it taught them to write. Similarly, the NIH is credited with the major biomedical advances of the past generation, since it funded the research. We generalize:

The System Takes The Credit (For What Would Probably Have Happened Anyway)."

"In human terms, this means working with human tendencies rather than against them. For example, a state-run lottery flourishes even in times of economic depression because its function is aligned with the basic human instinct to gamble a small stake in hopes of a large reward. The public school system, on the other hand, although founded with the highest and most altruistic goals in mind, remains in a state of chronic failure because it violates the human principle of spontaneity. It goes against the grain, and therefore it does not ever really succeed.

Finally, don't make the system too tight. This is usually done in the name of efficiency, or (paradoxically) in the hope of making the system more permanent. Neither goal is achieved if the resulting system (a) doesn't work at all; (b) disintegrates; or (c) rapidly loses steam and peters out.

Loose Systems Last Longer And Function Better."
systems  systemsthinking  complexity  johngall  1975  organizations  simplicity  education  publicschools  fallacies 
april 2013 by robertogreco
Daring Fireball: Complex
great analysis of apple's development of the iphone. that john gall quote has been stuck in my head for months now. products as platforms is a strong meme.
daringfireball  platform  less  iphone  ui  technology  apple  development  design  simplicity  simple  complex  complexity  product  strategy  johngall  system 
april 2009 by colm.mcmullan
Gall's law - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system."
gallslaw  complexity  networktheory  systematics  johngall  extremeprogramming  heuristic  pre-client 
november 2008 by boxman
Book Covers
Like most creatives the brainstorming process usually involves some combination of the following: avoidance, procrastination, mild sedation, cups of coffee, staring out the window, long walks on a spring morning, lack of exercise, talking to myself in a f
design  inspiration  book  bookdesign  bookcovers  designer  interview  John  Gall  JohnGall  recommended  publishing  Knopf 
july 2007 by petrichor

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