Thursday, June 29, 2006

Systems, Antics, and Failure

There has been much in the news lately about systems that are failing. Our jail is over crowded. The school district needs $375,000,000 to fix and build new buildings. The list goes on and on. While reviewing this list, I remembered a book I read when I was younger. Systemantics (since updated to the Systems Bible) was a true underground classic. The introduction, by its author John Gall states

"Systems are seductive. They promise to do a hard job faster, better, and more easily than you could do it by yourself. But if you set up a system, you are likely to find your time and effort now being consumed in the care and feeding of the system itself. New problems are created by its very presence. Once set up, it won't go away, it grows and encroaches. It begins to do strange and wonderful things. Breaks down in ways you never thought possible. It kicks back, gets in the way, and opposes its own proper function. Your own perspective becomes distorted by being in the system. You become anxious and push on it to make it work. Eventually you come to believe that the misbegotten product it so grudgingly delivers is what you really wanted all the time. At that point encroachment has become complete... you have become absorbed... you are now a systems person!"

This goes a long way to describing the working (or not) of our government and most big businesses. For more detail start at the Wikipedia entry, and then try some of the links, especially this one.

We will be using this to describe some of the problems we find in later postings.

1 comment:

  1. This exercize should have been reigned in to reality long before we got to the absurd figures now presented to us. Bricks and mortar do not educate children, teachers do.

    I will grant that we are past the point where education can be accomplished at Socrates' knees beneath the trees, but some of the assumptions in this study group's deliberations are beyond reason.

    How does a city which strives mightily to preserve hundred year old architectural relics as part of our cultural heritage turn around and say that any educational building over 40 years old needs to be scrapped and replaced at unaffordable expense?

    My junior high school was the original "oldest public high school in North Carolina" in Cary, NC. We had windows instead of air conditioning, and classrooms in the basement by a boiler room. We also had the highest graduation rate in the state.

    I supported the last school bond issue. With the understanding I not divulge specific line items, I was given access to cost estimates, and overall I found it to be reasonable and necessary. In a rare exception for me, I publically supported a tax increase to fund it.

    On this issue, we need to start from scratch, set out a reasonable amount of money, and have a proposal within shouting distance of economic reality.

    Children need a roof that doesn't leak, plumbing that works, and my personal history notwithstanding, AC and heat that works. Above all the public works, they need teachers who love to teach. This is where we should focus our tax dollars.

    I still recall perhaps five individual teachers who made a lasting, life-changing impression on me. Strange, but thinking back, they were usually the "mavericks" who stayed in trouble with the administration. They were also the people who taught those few students willing to rise to the bait to open our minds and learn how to learn.