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BriefConsulting 2.0: The System

The System takes the blame for almost everything. And why not? Over the last century, our society has become obsessed with system this and system that, as if The System certainly must be the solution. Whenever it turns out not to be the be-all and end-all, it’s a handy Shmoo.

The second stage entails trying to fix the system so it will work as I thought it was supposed to work. This seemingly reasonable response encourages ‘creeping featurism,’ as the system, originally—and unavoidably—naively designed morphs to accomplish ends unimagined by the original designers. Rarely does any system get discarded in favor of wholesale redesign after encountering difficulties, even after catastrophic failures. The original design sticks, and the fixes tend to accumulate until they ascend to the status of the latest problem with The System.

We might eventually understand that no system works as intended. This doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault. Humans in our infinite folly believe ourselves above fundamental folly when we actually couldn’t exist without it. Our grandfathers might have invented the system our fathers failed to fix, so it seems to fall upon our generation to really fix it.

Near as I can tell, The System fully qualifies as eternal. It’s always been missing pieces, and each generation has managed to make their inheritance a little bit better and a little bit worse, producing at best perhaps, some satisfying employment and a prolonged frustration. Every few years some breakthrough gets blown all out of proportion. We later learn that we filed off some rough edge rather than fixed the system, while creating a system filings problem.

We might be able to rearrange the volume of difficulty in the world, but are unlikely to ever resolve it. So, blaming The System might well be a healthy response. It beats blaming ourselves. Or someone else, who could not have possibly broken or fixed the damned thing, anyway.

Systems are notional beings, not quite things. Too complicated, typically, to ever be encapsulated into a meme. We name them anyway, like we name our children and our pets, assigning a shorthanded identity to an essential mystery, believing that we’ve brought them under our control. This control can’t be more than temporary, for it’s the nature of systems to remain unfathomable. It’s the natural order of systems to fall apart sometimes. We build them in the here-and-now for use in the there-and-then, then wonder why they always eventually seem to let us down. Do we craft systems in our own image?

Getting past blaming The System can get complicated, and not only because The System seems so obviously culpable. The trap set by blaming any ‘The System,’ which was fated to fail, seems to snare the trapper first, and not his prey. The Brief Consultant considers all systems fallible by nature, and refuses to stand shocked when one inconveniently falls apart. It’s their nature, after all. And rather than hop to fixing the latest damned thing which never was quite a thing, he might consider whether the resulting all-too-obvious problem really warrants fixing, or even could be fixed.

This perspective might seem cynical or simply wimpy, lacking that bubbly optimism all budding failures exude, but a deeper purpose lurks there. The easiest fix is always the one that doesn’t need any fixing. By this measure, fixing (affixing) blame might qualify as the most difficult fix to fix. What if it’s nobody’s fault, merely that predictably unpredictable system exhibiting its nature again. Then what?

Working the system so the system can work has to be among the easiest of the easiest fixes. Rather than sinking investment into fixing the system, how about if I shift my purpose for it. Or simply expect it to do what it does, rather than what I innocently believed it capable of doing. These strategies require no fix, other than the sometimes daunting fix my expectations require. But as Roger Miller reminded us more than a generation ago, you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd. If I find myself surrounded by buffaloes, it might just make sense to discard my once useful skates and hoof it for a change. Maybe.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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