Most people take the systems and structures in their life for granted. They view people as being in complete control of their behaviors so they assume that their behaviors are the result of specific thoughts.
To some extent this is true. We all have the ability to choose how we act and how we think throughout our lives. But if we stop there, we never realize how the systems in place have a profound impact on us.
In The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, he says, “Different people in the same structure tend to produce qualitatively similar results. When there are problems, or performance fails to live up to what is intended, it is easy to find someone or something to blame. But, more than we realize, systems cause their own crises, not external forces or individuals’ mistakes.”
Years ago I worked at an organization that was struggling financially. It had lost its key revenue-generating product and was scrambling to replace the revenue and find a way to continue to exist.
Leadership was making decisions that were heavily criticized. They were ineffective and it seemed like almost everyone could see what they were doing wrong.
So a leadership change was made. The new leadership seemed to follow the same model! They made extremely similar decisions.
At first people were shocked. “How could they be so stupid to follow the same broken strategy,” they would say.
But there is more to it than this. The reality is that none of us judging from the outside were in the position to make those decisions. If we were we would likely experience the full scope of the structure and systems in place.
It might sound easy as an outsider to suggest a different decision but we aren’t in that position. The structure is powerful and causing similar results regardless of who is in the leadership position.
Sometimes we see that when a worker gets promoted. They rebel against the managers and state all of the things management does wrong.
Then, when they get promoted to management, they start making very similar decisions.
When they were a worker, they thought management was stupid and didn’t realize how valuable the common worker is. When they were management they didn’t realize how the common worker didn’t realize how much they slacked and avoided doing the hard work necessary to succeed.
All that changed was perspective. The individual changed his perspective and suddenly sees things from a different structure.
In order to make sure we don’t fall into the same traps as others who came before us, we shouldn’t be so naïve to think that our own greatness will be enough to get us past any structures in place.
Instead we should use systems thinking to make sure we understand the situation from multiple perspectives at all times. This will help us to see why someone makes a certain decision. It will help us to avoid replacing an ineffective manager or leader and suddenly make all of the same mistakes.
Systems and structures are incredibly powerful yet they often go unnoticed. We assume we are free from their influence but we aren’t. Therefore, we have to be aware of them and understand how they influence our decisions so we can make sure to avoid making common mistakes or judgments.
Senge goes on to say, “When placed in the same system, people, however different, tend to produce similar results.”