An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg
by Željko Filipin
Three sentence summary
Prepare for a very hard read. You will not understand anything the first time you read the book. If you’re like me, you will not like the book and you will not want to read it the second time.
This was the sixth book in our book club and the first one that wasn’t on software testing. We were reading it for three months, from November 2022 to January 2023. The club meets once a month for an hour long discussion. We had three very interesting discussions. Some members of the club like the book, some don’t. This is by far the oldest book we’ve read. It was published in 1975.
It’s one of those books that you have to read once just to get an idea of what the book is about. Then you have to read it at least one more time. I’ve read it once and I’ve had enough of it for now. I’m not sure I know what the book is about. Maybe I’ll read it again in the future. Maybe.
According to my notes, in 2022 I’ve read over 100 books. Only 5 got a 2-star rating. 4 were kid’s books I didn’t like. The fifth 2-star book was this one.
This book was recommended in Lessons Learned in Software Testing (5-star rating from me), so I was expecting much more.
According to Wikipedia, this is one of the two of the author’s most famous books. The second one is The Psychology of Computer Programming. I’ve read his Perfect Software: And Other Illusions about Testing (twice) and really liked it (4-star rating).
I usually sort books in fiction and non-fiction. Or, practical and non-practical. This book looked like a practical book, but I didn’t get anything practical out of it. Maybe it’s not the book. Maybe I just didn’t put enough effort in the book. Maybe I’ve approached it wrongly, expecting it to be a practical book.
Usually, when I read a practical book, I summarize each chapter. That’s what I did for this book. Well, I’ve tried. I’ve struggled with chapter summaries for the first three chapters, then gave up for chapters four to seven.
All that said, there are good quotes in the book.
Chapter 1. The Problem
The first step to knowledge is the confession of ignorance. We know far, far less about our world than most of us care to confess. (p. 10)
Any field with the word “science” in its name is guaranteed not to be a science. (p. 32)
Chapter 2. The Approach
If you never say anything wrong, you never say anything. (p. 47)
Chapter 3. System and Illusion
What is a system? As any poet knows, a system is a way of looking at the world. (p. 55)
Chapter 4. Interpreting Observations
The Lump Law: If we want to learn anything, we mustn’t try to learn everything. (p. 105)
Chapter 5. Breaking Down Observations
The Axiom of Experience: The future will be like the past, because, in the past, the future was like the past. (p. 141)
Chapter 6. Describing Behavior
Count-to-Three Principle: If you cannot think of three ways of abusing a tool, you do not understand how to use it. (p. 191)
Chapter 7. Some Systems Questions
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These, then, are the three great questions that govern general systems thinking, the Systems Triumvirate:
- Why do I see what I see?
- Why do things stay the same?
- Why do things change? (p. 221)