A Twitter thread by Patrick OShaughnessy.

New series of "Behind the Curtain" books that explain how stuff works, with highlights in each book's thread. I'll add more as I find new ones and revisit old. Quoted thread below explains why all of this is worthwhile.

First up:

1. The Systems Bible by John Gall

In an era where systems and technology are so primary, the lesson of this book is jarring:

*Do not build a system unless you absolutely need to*

If you do, make it as simple as possible.

Systems are like babies: once you get one, you have it. They don’t go away. On the contrary, they display the most remarkable persistence. They not only persist; they grow. And as they grow, they encroach.

Many systems are designed to fight old wars. They are F.P.F.P—fully prepared for the past. An example is the French Maginot Line of underground fortresses with long-range cannon aimed at Germany—the ultimate development of World-War-I-style trench warfare.

In 1940, the Germans simply went around it, leaving the cannons pointed the wrong way. Only then did the defenders realize with awful clarity that the cannons couldn’t be turned around.

System designers tend to design ways for themselves to bypass the system.

Example: The Congress of the United States specifically exempts itself from legislation.

As systems grow in size and complexity, they tend to lose basic functions.

Super tankers can’t dock.

In Aeronautics, evolution of complexity has proceeded from the simple biplane that could land in a plowed field, to the 747, that needs a mile of reinforced concrete, and finally to the Concorde and the Space Shuttle, which can hardly land at all.

If a system can be exploited, it will be...any system can be exploited.

Whatever a system has done before, you can be sure it will do it again.

In a closed system, information tends to decrease and hallucination tends to increase.


If the error is grandiose enough, it may not even be comprehended as an error, even when brought to attention. Thus, the loss of tends of thousands of lives per year in auto accidents is seen, not as a flaw, but merely as a fact of life.

This is Occam’s Razor in modern form: avoid unnecessary systems.

My favorite simple application of this: don’t have a regularly scheduled meeting if an email will do.

If you do have to create a system, remember:

*A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked*

Finally, always ask: is it possible that I am seeing the world from inside a System? Am I, unbeknownst to myself, a Systems-person? The answer is always, Yes. The relevant question is, simply, which one?

At that moment one can graduate from being only a Systems-person to becoming a true student.