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Do you see systems?

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.  

Do you see systems?

Scott Miker

Systems are all around us.  Everything we see, interact with, think about etc. is part of multiple systems.   

In fact, we are systems.  The human body is a system made up of many systems.  And we create systems and are impacted by systems around us. 

In Enterprise-wide Change: Superior results through systems thinking, by Stephen G. Haines, Gail Aller-Stead, and James McKinlay, the authors talk about systems from this all-encompassing perspective.

They say, “Everywhere we look, we can see living, breathing examples of systems in our lives, in organizations, on our Earth, and floating in the fast universe.  In a Systems Thinking view of the world, human beings are simultaneously the creators of systems, systems ourselves, and parts of larger systems.”

While it may seem difficult to start to see the interaction of systems in life, doing so has great rewards.  We can finally start to see our role and see how we control much more than we realize.

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend who was talking about shows like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos.  These shows represent how we can quickly change our morals and beliefs based on perspective. 

Normally we would view career criminals who murder and cheat their way through life in a negative way and judge them as bad people.  We would want them caught and punished. 

Yet when I watched Tony Soprano avoid getting caught I found myself cheering him on.  I wanted him to get away with it.  I rooted for him. 

Years ago I remember thinking about a serial killer that was caught.  As they learned more and more about this person you could start to see evidence that this person was treated horribly throughout their life.  They were physically and mentally abused and neglected by their parents.  Imagining a small child being treated this way created the feeling that this person was a victim.

Yet their horrible acts created more devastation and hurt.  But I found myself often changing my perspective of who was at fault.  Was it the individual?  Was it the parent?  Was it the parent’s parent who also used abuse and neglect as their approach to raising children? 

When we look at this systematically, we can start to see the whole, not just the parts.  Doing so reveals a structure where being hurt caused the victim to be more likely to then hurt others.  They were impacted by the system but also perpetuated the system. 

This allows us to break away from looking for that one individual responsible and start to see the system that is responsible.  We can see that this individual was impacted by the system and also kept the system going.

Years ago I watched a documentary on several conspiracy theories.  They talked about events hundreds of years ago and events that happened recently.  By the end of the film, I almost felt that there was a single, evil person that controls all of these things for their own benefit.

But that isn’t possible.  If someone was living hundreds of years ago to manipulate a situation they weren’t alive recently to manipulate another situation.   

But the answer makes sense when we start to look systematically.  We can start to see why people might act in a certain way, given the structures around them. 

Instead of one person manipulating everything, we can start to see that a system could form and act in a way to create the situation.  People are generally motivated by the same intrinsic elements today as in the past.  So people who are greedy and power-hungry could act in similar ways regardless of their place in history creating systems to hurt others so they can gain money and power. 

All of this system investigation, for me, results in a much clearer view of the world.  We can start to see elements interacting.  We can see the whole and not get too caught up in the parts. 

It also allows us to see our own role and responsibility in the system.  It changes from being about bad people doing bad things to see that we all do things that are good and bad and more about the various system structures around us than from an internal evil that some have but most don’t have. 

Then if we aren’t happy with something, we can address the system.  It may be that the system is too large and powerful for us to completely change, but we can change how we interact with the system. 

If we don’t like the structures around licensing our vehicle we can’t just ignore it and say we aren’t going to pay the fees to register our vehicle without consequence.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have options within the system. 

We still have options, even though they might be a bunch of options that we don’t like.  We could avoid purchasing a vehicle and rely on pubic transportation.  We could use Uber.  We could register the vehicle and pay the fees anyways because the benefit of having and operating a vehicle are better than the other options.  We could stop paying the fees and hope we don’t get caught. 

Suddenly life becomes about more than blaming others for everything we dislike and feeling like we are the good and others are the bad.  We now have the ability to choose variables within the system.  We have the ability to create our own systems.  We have the ability to impact current systems in a much more thought-out manner. 

Instead of just going through the motions in life we gain control.  We gain the ability to choose.  We gain the ability to improve.  We gain hope.