Don’t Ignore Ashby’s Law

Many observers will claim that complex systems are inherently fragile.  Some argue for simplifying things instead.  But one of the main reasons why many man-made complex systems are fragile is that we often ignore Ashby’s Law.

Ashby’s Law is also known as the Law of Requisite Variety.  It is so powerful that it is sometimes called the first law of cybernetics.

Basically, Ashby’s Law states that to be fully effective, a control system must has as much variety as the system being controlled.  The control system must be as complex as the system being controlled.

So man-made complex systems often evolve when people decide to add more and more functionality – more variety – to existing systems.  Sometimes this includes linking up multiple complex systems.

But humans are really clever and they tend to save time and money by not bothering to even figure out what additional controls are needed to make a newly enhanced system secure.  There is often not any appreciation of how much more control is needed when two complex systems are combined.

But look at the literature regarding company mergers and acquisitions.  The literature keeps saying that the majority of this activity destroys value.  Sometimes that is because the two organizations have incompatible cultures.  Executives are becoming aware of that and activities to create a single new culture are sometimes included in post merger activity lists.

But there is an aversion to recognize that there needs to be much more spending on control systems.  Most often in a merger, there is a reduction in the amount of people assigned to internal controls, either directly or within a line function.  This is usually expected to be one of the synergies or redundancies than can be eliminated to justify the purchase price.

But in reality, if the new merged entity is more complex than the two original firms, the need for control, as expressed under Ashby’s Law, is greater than the sum of the two entities.

Merging without recognizing this means that there is an out of the money put being embedded in the merged entity.  The merged entity has lower control expenses than it should for a time.  And maybe, just maybe, it will experience major problems because of the inadequate controls.

 

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Enterprise Risk Management

One Comment on “Don’t Ignore Ashby’s Law”

  1. Robert Arvanitis Says:

    {Complex = fragile} only in sequential systems, where everything has to go right for it to work. Think Rube Goldberg: https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-a-rube-goldberg-machine
    Instead, complexity that offers multiple pathways is inherently more stable. Think rich ecosystem, whether biological, economic, operational…
    But there’s a far more important factor than complexity. Control systems must have feedback mechanisms and the feedback must be aligned with the desired results.
    That right there is what’s wrong with politics – feedback is misaligned, and often deliberately so, when politicos, especially statists, seek to escape constraints of our brilliant Constitution.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: