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Stop being concerned with what is fair

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Stop being concerned with what is fair

Scott Miker

Many of us are taught at a young age to judge.  We judge situations, we judge others, and we judge events. 

But if we get caught up too much in judging we tend to move away from accountability in our lives.  Instead we can always point to something that we judge is wrong or unfair, instead of owning up to our lives and taking full responsibility for where we are and what we have. 

This ties directly to the idea of fairness.  We can easily say that it isn’t fair that an employee was with the company 20 years and wasn’t promoted while someone was there 6 months and got the manager job.

We can say it isn’t fair that some people get to eat whatever they want and not gain a pound.  Or some people never exercise but never seem to gain weight while someone else works out for hours and never loses. 

We can say it isn’t fair that one person won $500 at the casino while someone else lost $500.  Though we know gambling is random, we still associate fairness to it. 

The point is that we can easily find some linear causation to justify when something is unfair.  But that doesn’t help anything other than protect our ego and give us a very superficial view of the situation.

This is why systems thinking can be so beneficial.  It cuts through the linear relationships and views all of the various interconnected parts of a system.  We may see within that system parts that seem unfair, but we can grasp the full system and why those areas exist.

Health care in the US is a very complex system.  People can easily say that the system in place for years was unfair because if someone got seriously ill, then they may not be able to get insurance in the future. 

The system that replaced it, accounted for this and made adjustments to the system in order to make sure this unfairness was addressed.  But it didn’t address the fact that a young person who is focused on their health and takes care of their health has to pay more money for their coverage with this new system.  So that person could easily say that it is unfair for them. 

Both of these are small examples of how a larger system can be ignored to find the unfairness.  All we are really doing is ignoring systems thinking and resorting to linear thinking.  Linear thinking cuts out all of the “extra” stuff and just focuses on a small subsection of the system, usually to “prove” us right about something. 

While this may be a way for politicians to argue their point and get people to relate to what they see as a problem, it really isn’t a way to build systems. 

If our goal is just to account for an unfair aspect of the system, but we aren’t aware of how that full system works, then we will likely end up with another ineffective system that helps some and hurts some, just as we tried to replace. 

And if we find too much that is unfair in our personal goals, we start to find that there is always a “reason” that we can point to why something isn’t our fault. 

Instead of constantly searching for examples of fairness, we should instead focus our efforts on seeing the full system, understanding the full system, and then improving the system. 

We can start to break away from the constant focus on fixing problems, only to create new problems.  We can start to realize that one aspect may be out of our control but others are certainly within our control.  Focusing on those can have significant advantage. 

Regardless of where you are in life it is important to be able to see the full system at play and not just see a small linear snapshot and then judge accordingly.  We miss so much when we don’t understand how systems work and can easily hurt our ability to improve over time.