Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stupid Human Tricks and System-antics

In David's recent PureSchmaltz blog post Going Organic, he fleshes out a notion he calls "management-ism", and recommends the ethic of "working the system so the system can work" - something that often feels like benevolent subversion.

In the comments responding to the post, Glen Alleman, a frequent commenter and sometimes harsh critic of David and my work, comments "The notion that systems work themselves is held only by those with no understanding of the theory of systems. But once understanding is in place, systems can be made to serve those who devised them."

This elicited my own comment on his comment that "It is always useful to remember that we humans are shaped by the systems in which we find ourselves - often inadvertently. So, once THIS understanding is in place, people can be made to serve the system. And, it is always best, in my humble opinion, to design the system with humility and awareness that I am likely to become co-opted regularly by that which I create."

As each of us work the system so it can work - both for our greater, common purpose and for ourselves, we shift the system ever so subtly (or not so subtly). And the system changes and grows, these changes effect each of the agents - or humans, in the case of these systems in which we live, work, and have our being. And the recursive cycle continues.

When we stay modestly awake to this dynamic in the system, and of the dynamics of the system working on ourselves, we might be able to affect real change. This awareness of the nature of the system is part of what Maturana calls "radical acceptance". It combines with our focus on purpose and intention for ourselves and for the common, broader purpose and demonstrates the fully human ability to create lasting systemic change.

When we lose addressability to this dynamic and go into the normal trances of life and work, we can (usually later) discover the surprisingly inhuman actions we may have inflicted on others, and which we put up with being inflicted on ourselves. Such is the subtle "Master / Slave" dynamic that can lead us, no matter how well schooled in the theory of systems or practiced in the application of systems into feeling like we have no control, no influence, and no latitude at all. Or leaving us looking to a manager for direction or railing against a manager for what they never could have known enough to direct. Or railing against the creator of the system as if the originator is really the ultimate creator of the system in which we are engaged - as a community - in co-creating every moment. Whether or not we are awake and aware of what we are doing.

Such is yet another of what I generously call a "Stupid Human Trick". And remind myself again that no matter how conscious and capable I feel, I will succumb to the co-opting effect of all of the various systems in which I live, work, and have my being.