The older we get, the more we notice failures.
Usually we may notice failures simply because they have kept mounting up all around us that there is nowhere to look without seeing them. Sometimes we see our own failures in the pile of failures around us because they no longer stay out of sight. Less often, we realize that these failures accumulated because we failed to recognize the places to intervene in our systems.
Switching on the light usually has the same predictable success. So does riding a bicycle. Or cooking a meal. These are simple systems. We recognize the system easily. The place to intervene is obvious. Our way to solve the problem is simple. We exercise independence and control. We get into the habit of intervening where we are familiar, not where we need to.
Meeting our budget does not have as much predictable success.
Nor does our discussion with a colleague, friend, spouse, or child. Nor do the outcomes of our projects. Even less predictable of success are our interventions to change our environment. The interventions least predictable of success are the interventions of our bureaucrats, politicians and technologists to change our world for the better.
This is not to make a statement about the intervener, except perhaps the intervener failed to recognize where to intervene in the system, or that the intervener failed to recognize the system itself.
But then, as a society or even as a civilization, we are systems illiterate.
We look at the world and live a life as if individual parts were independent of each other. We live a life as if the interactions we have with each other, or with the other parts of our system do not matter. Many times, we do not even know what the other parts of our system are, let alone understand or value a common purpose.
The interactions of participants create systems. If the interactions are transient, the systems are transient. If the interactions are sustained, the systems are enduring.
Interactions are sustained if the participants share common purposes. Interactions are sustained if they are not exploitative but are symbiotic. For example, we interact to the common purpose of raising children and create a family system. We interact for the common purpose of sharing joys and sorrows and create systems of friendship. We interact with the purpose of learning from each other to create learning systems. We interact with the purpose of ensuring our views are heard and create a representation system.
Perhaps, because we over valued our own power and independence, we don’t recognize systems, their participants and the shared purposes for which we come together.
The more the simple systems we deal with, the less likely we seem to understand or accept our dependence on other systems participants. Technology is one such toy, that gives us the illusion of independence from each other in the dozens of systems we form together through our interactions.
Next, if we recognize our systems: our families, our friendships, our markets, our learning systems, our representation systems, we fail to know where to intervene in the system.
If you are sailing in the rough sea, with strong winds and high waves, it is not the make of your sailboat that will save you. It is your ability to recognize the interventions that the sail and the rudder can make to navigate you through rough waters. Intervening to calm the wind or still the sea would be foolish. Yet when it comes to dealing with the many complex systems, of which we are a part, we do exactly that.
That’s yet one more reason why politics, politicians and bureaucrats are the most ineffective persons to seek interventions from. They are not part of the system where we need intervention. They do not share the common purpose of the participants in the system where we need interventions. Yet, strangely, we design our organizations of governance and management to have bureaucrats and politicians to intervene rather than the participants of the system itself.
Successful interventions in systems require mutual respect, love, care and patience. They require symbiosis.
They require giving up control. They require understanding each other’s worldviews. They require valuing our mutual dependence. They require valuing a common purpose together.
When we are systems literate, we recognize the systems we are a part of. We recognize the places we can intervene. We pace ourselves to the rhythm of the system. We deaddict ourselves from the short term.
The rhythm of our life is the Short Now, the lifetime of a child born now or 100 years. As we grow older, let us recognize the systems that we are a part of together. Let us find mutual respect, love, care and patience. Let us learn to share and value our common purposes together.
Let us find places we can intervene. Let us recognize the Short Now. Let us add to the list of our successful interventions.
#All views in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph