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Events are not the full system

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.  

Events are not the full system

Scott Miker

What grabs your attention more, a news article describing the latest gruesome murder in your community or a new trend that has increasing incarceration rates?

The answer is simple. It is the criminal event. Events grab our attention. They become the crisis at hand. So we block out everything and focus on the event.

We tend to see events as the emotional, attention-grabbing aspects of life. These aren’t always negative or even news-worthy. They could easily be the focus on an upcoming vacation to reduce stress in life instead of looking at daily routines.

In Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh, the author says, “People often focus their attention and spend most of their time on responding to individual events. They want to know what is happening so that they can react quickly to the crisis at hand.”

This is human nature to respond to these one-off events. They make great topics of conversation around the water cooler. They make for good gossip. Unfortunately, though, doing this will make it much less likely that you will be able to change or improve because you aren’t able to connect the various events to the full system.

In business I have seen managers get consumed with events. Usually they see constant fires that spring up out of nowhere. They reach for a quick fix. We tend to call them Band-Aid fixes because they are quick and hit right at the symptoms of the problem but don’t address what caused the problem in the first place.

But what this does is it allows the original cause for the problem to recur. The cause sits there untouched and keeps rearing its ugly head. Each time it happens there is enough that is unique about it that it goes unnoticed as a systems problem and treated as a new one-time customer problem. As long as the problem happens with different customers, then people fail to make the connection to the cause of the problem.

In our personal life we tend to follow the same pattern. We ignore the fact that we have unhealthy lifestyle habits and instead focus on a new quick-fix diet. We ignore the need to save our money and instead talk ourselves into the nicer car that sits just above our comfortable budget. Instead of addressing poor performance at work with an improvement plan, we simply look for another job.

When we use these quick fixes what happens is that the root cause of the problem remains. It keeps the power and control. It lies in the habits and routines in our lives, yet we ignore those to focus on the latest round of quick fix ideas.

If you truly want to improve, you have to be able to move past the quick fix mindset. It is difficult to do this at first, but once you start exploring patterns and trends it will start to reveal the full system. When you see the full system structure you can start to truly understand why the problem is there.

Knowing why the problem exists can then help you to devise a way to change that aspect of your life. You can work to change. You can improve your habits and routines that are causing the problem. You can see beyond the latest discomfort you are feeling to see your responsibility in contributing to the system that creates the discomfort.

It all starts by being able to see past events. Instead of having the events become the focus, learn to focus instead on the full system structure. Look for patterns. Explore trends. Instead of reacting first and thinking second, learn to be patient in your efforts. This will start to uncover a new way to go through life. It can allow you to start changing systems in life, which will create the biggest improvement in your lifetime.