Building Your Plan

I came on Gall’s law recently. It explains why a good many things in life that do not work. It will reinforce the idea of simplicity.

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.”

It supports the idea of evolutionary solutions to you life and financial problems.

Keep your life simple to the extent you can.

We can see evolved complexity everywhere.

Most of us accept the internet as a fact and we can even describe how it works, in general. Did it spring, full grown into existence. Not even close.

It began in the mid 1960s with ARPA net which was designed for communication in the event of a nuclear attack. The important elements were the ability to withstand interruptions and the ability to choose different paths for a message. It was tiny by comparison to today. From Wikipedia, “the first wide-area packet-switched network with distributed control”

It used tools that pre-existed even it. Among them the TCP/IP protocol. The network was huge for the time and tiny by comparison to now.

From: The Science Museum

It was very slow by comparison to today, and it worked.

The internet

What began with a few interconnected defence department sites soon spawned other networks. By 1983 the TCP/IP protocol had developed to the point where it was convenient for computers running different operating systems to talk to each other, That allowed massive development and it did.

The ARPAnet was decommissioned in 1990.

By then the internet as we know it existed, but tools to use it were limited. The first file transfer protocol (FTP) search tool was Archie, developed at McGill University in Montreal. Archive, without the v. It corresponded to how the internet of the time organized its resources. Much like a file cabinet.

Tim Berners-Lee, by 1989, had found ways to hyperlink. A huge advance. The idea of a uniform resource locator (URL) and Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) made information available without knowledge of where or what it was.

All we needed were search engines

Early search tools

You may recall an early search tool GOPHER,  developed at the University of Minnesota. A clever play on words. The Golden Gophers is the name used by their sports teams. Go’ fer is a search, find and return idea. Who says computer scientists have no social skills?

Worse yet, GOPHER was followed by VERONICA and JUGHEAD. Computer scientists are hard to stop once they have begun.

There were many new search engines appearing until 1998 when GOOGLE appeared.

Search engines were a clumsy to examine the internet.

Web Browsers

The earliest browser appeared about 1984, but it was not until the early 90s that something more easily used appeared. Midas, Voila, and Lynx were early. Midas and Voila in Unix, and Lynx able to use Windows.

Mosaic, Netscape, and Windows Explorer came along by 1995. They changed the world.

Their product looks clumsy and unsophisticated compared to modern browsers, but they did most of the necessary work.

Back to Gall’s Law

Gall’s Law says complex things like the internet, must be built on proven, simpler methods. Could some agency create the internet from scratch and have it work. John Gall says no, and few would doubt him.

Simpler complicated systems, like your car, have followed the same path. Today’s engines, transmissions, suspensions, and bodies designed for safety, all evolved. It’s easier to refine than invent. No one in 1948 could have could anticipated all the adjustments.

Designing top-down misses the nuance that makes it all work, and work in inscrutable ways. A super -genius in the mid-60s could not have invented the internet because many of its components did not exist at the time. Some of them could not have been invented without the development of the earlier pieces.

It is not restricted to businesses, governments can’t do it either.

Another case of valuing simplicity.exists.

Bonini’s Paradox

Stanford business professor Charles Bonini created a useful way to think about complex systems. He noticed that you cannot create models or simulations of complex systems that capture all of the information and all their interactions. From Wikipedia, “”As a model of a complex system becomes more complete, it becomes less understandable. Alternatively, as a model grows more realistic, it also becomes just as difficult to understand as the real-world processes it represents.””

Do we call things complex when we don’t understand?

“I believe it was the great ogre philosopher Gary who observed that complexity is, generally speaking, an illusion of conscious desire. All things exist in as simple a form as necessity dictates. When a thing is labeled ‘complex,’ that’s just a roundabout way of saying you’re not observant enough to understand it.”

A. Lee Martinez, “In the Company of Ogres “

The problem is we cannot use complexity. Until we understand complexity better, French philosopher Paul Valery is likely right, ““If it’s simple, it’s always false. If it’s not, it’s unusable.” Simple just means we understand it.

Fuzzy Logic has a similar principle that applies “As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning and meaningful statements lose precision.” Lotfi Zadeh.

We need meaning. We must recognize complexity and learn to accommodate it.

If you pursue complete and complex knowledge you will make mistakes.

You can use a complex system, but not with precision. There is uncertainty, but you can draw some meaning from models and theories. The problem is to be able to judge when your meaning is not the right meaning.

Statistician, George Box, understood. “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” Models are for insight not for an answer. No model will tell you the answer, but sometimes you will understand the problem better. Planning is a kind of model and works like that too. Avoid complex plans.

Look for meaning not accuracy.

Where you find meaning in complex systems

We have rules of thumb that are simple and meaningful but in a complex system, not complete. Hacks in today’s language. They are not intended to be strictly accurate. More a guideline. When they don’t work exactly, they tend to be directionally accurate. Bonini recommends it as an approach.

Rules of thumb tend to be practical and based on experience rather than theory.

  1. Investing techniques should be simple and boring
  2. Spend less than you earn
  3. Diversity increases investment predictability.
  4. Never kick a skunk
  5. Locks keep out honest people.
  6. A stitch in time saves nine
  7. Honesty is the best policy
  8. Children may not always listen, but they are always watching.
  9. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.
  10. A fool and his money are soon parted
  11. Failing to plan is planning to fail
  12.  Drink upstream from the herd.

Your likely have dozens you use without thinking about them.

The takeaway.

Complexity looks sophisticated. Charlatans use it to persuade the naive. Complexity is a tip off.

Try to notice the hacks you use without thought.

Planning is aa tool for understanding. It is not a thing by itself. The connections, the relationship of parts, and changes over time are what matters.

Confining your vision and understanding your strategic resources automatically reduces complexity. Confusion is not your friend.

H.L. Mencken noticed this about Friedrich Nietzsche, You could notice and apply it when you notice. “Nietzsche, an infinitely harder and more courageous intellect, was incapable of any such confusion of ideas; he seldom allowed sentimentality to turn him from the glaring fact.

The approach of choice – have plans, use objective reality as your raw material, make decisions, implement them, review them, adjust as needed.


I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com

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