Bill's Birthday Poem

I sent the piece of doggerel below to Bill Powers on the occasion of his
71st birthday. He suggested I post it to the list; that it ought to elicit
a grin or two. The poem (if I can call it that) was published in 1976, not
too long after I'd first read B:CP. I was then, and still am, tying
together most of what I know by way of a systems view. In any case, enjoy...


What comes in is routed about,
        molded and shaped before it goes out.
Inputs to outputs are changed within,
        then outputs are inputs -- transformed again.
"Related parts" doesn't make much sense;
        systems are loops--cycles of events.

So if you'd adopt "the systems view,"
        here's sound advice from me to you:
When watching a system from the outside,
        trace its outputs back to its input side,
for what systems "do," and this I believe
        is act to control the things they receive.

A system's purpose is but to survive
        and only new inputs will keep it alive.
Some are changed and pass on through;
        some nourish the system--they sustain and renew.
With environment the system transacts
        outputs for new inputs and so interacts.

For human folks 'tis much the same;
        we all are involved in the systems game.
But science to now has dwelt in a fog,
        portraying us as digital, not analog.
Such wrong-headed models are easy to defeat.
        Our experience is continuous, not discrete.

Tho' behaviorist rant and behaviorists rave,
        stimulus in doesn't make us behave.
The S-R model is a mechanical one,
        man as "black box"-- automaton.
Remember, human beings are autonomous.
        Conditioning can't work, so why all the fuss?

Our behavior results in things being changed
        but it's our environment that gets rearranged.
Defining what should be is a matter of believing.
        Assessing what is is a function of perceiving.
Each perception compared against some ideal.
        In this way we each define what is real.

Organizations cannot be exceptions:
        they're made up of people and thus their perceptions.
Remember, all those goals and all those objectives
        are nothing more than human directives
expressing someone's valued "druthers"
        (to be achieved through the labor of others).

Problems surrounding what other folks do
        are best resolved from the systems view;
meaning, with all due respect and deference,
        that Step One is to align the referents.
For feedback isn't between you and me
        but between my referents and what I see.

Perception and referents, these are the keys
        to questions of behavior, questions like these:
Why do we do all the things that we do?
        What controls behavior? For me? For you?
I think answers will someday be found
        in the study of systems going 'round and 'round.

There's a moral in this story, a point to this rhyme
        of loops and cycles tumbling through time:
Listen very cautiously to those who shout
        for a narrow-minded focus on what's going out.
Beware their clamor, their self-serving din
        and keep one eye peeled on what's coming in.

There can be no rules for what should go out
        save this one: it will somehow come about
that what goes out affects what comes in.
        What you put out is irrelevant, then,
except in light of its impact on you.
        This is the essence of "the systems view."


Fred Nickols