The Systematic Approach

When you first begin to teach in the public school system, they tell you about systems you should have in place. That there should be a system for seating, a system for classroom management, a system for conflict resolution, and a system for teaching. Don't get me wrong, I like some systems. Systems are necessary in order to get things done. An ordered approach is vital to the successful completion of almost any task I can think of, but my love for systems ends there.

The difficulty with systems is that they encourage group-think. Which is great if there's a fire, but insufficient when faced with an emotional/human problem. Kids are not tasks to be completed, they are human beings and, as such, are too complex and unpredictable to be reduced to a bulleted "to-do" list. You can't apply a system to every kid and have it work every time;there are just to many variables. Some kids don't eat breakfast, some eat sugar for breakfast, some dodge a punch first thing every morning, some aren't so lucky. You can rattle on as long as you want about efficacy and best practices, but the bottom line is, you have to be a human being first and deal with what's happening in front of you, right now, in the moment. Systems are just not dynamic enough for that.

Of course, it's not just kids we're talking about here, it's all of us. People act the way they do for any number of reasons. Systems are just as fallible when it comes to dealings with your fellow adults as they are for the situations involving kids. The only real answer is to be present, listen, and then try to give what the situation calls for, and after that, be willing to improvise.

I think this not only holds true with people, but with materials as well. So often, I will do the round-peg/square-hole/must-follow-instructions dance, when, in actuality, I should be listening for what the project needs, what the materials are "asking" me to do.

So, the question of the day becomes: "Are there areas of your work/life on which you have imposed a system, where being present and improvising might actually work better? Is the systematic approach, in reality, holding a part of your creativity hostage?"

Let me know.


  1. Yes. I work in tech support for a university. Our system dictates that the only people with admin rights on a computer is us. No exceptions. The purpose for this is security which I understand. But the result is that every time there is a Windows update, Java update, software upgrade or install a technician has to be dispatched to do it. Not exactly efficient. It would be nice to have one person in a dept with the rights to do minor incidentals like this.

    We have a domain and AD setup that could automate all of this stuff, but once again the system in place does not require users on campus to participate. You are allowed to do what you want, even if it is to your detriment.

    Oh well.

    Oh, cool ham radio diagram. QSL?

  2. Tim - Thanks for the comment. Thanks for the compliment on the diagram too;embarrassingly, I don't know what it is.

  3. BMoxie BMore! -- my brother. wow! thank you for the thoughts. (from an average - who doesn't often comment)My goal is always flow, yes in a puesdo(way of the peaceful warrior)-Taoist sense. but recognize however that it is all process. point a birth point b death. incremental in between. version a.1012, a.1013, etc ... baby steps if you will. . I find that systems often can help with analysizing this and that but in no way should be the limit of one's expectation/production. anyway. . .looking forward to future tweets and blog posts. thanks. jb

  4. j.bmoxie - Thanks for the comment. Glad you're digging it!

  5. Flexibility is key with any system, and it has to be designed in from the start. According to teachers I know, there's nothing that teaches flexibility like trying to run a successful classroom for the whole day, so I've got some idea of where the post comes from.

    I think that systems have value, though. The same as routine has value in everyday life - it frees you up to put your attention where it's more useful. As long as the system is working and isn't over-used, of course. It's important to know when you just have to abandon the system because it doesn't make sense anymore.

    Maybe the problem is that there's a tendency to over-use systems these days? Whether it's institutions (like schools) or large-chain businesses, it seems common to implement rigid systems that, as you say, encourage group-think in the name of standardisation, or because someone thinks that a single best-practice approach over varied situations is even possible. This approach smacks of the industrial revolution management and businesses based on assembly lines. It's just not going to work in a lot of cases. There's far more areas where you need the ability to use discretion and not work from the flowchart if it's better to do things differently.

    All of which is my long-winded way of saying I agree with you, of course.

  6. Matt - So well said. Yes, the systems I'm talking about are the ones that contain no flexibility (the DMV pops to mind), wherein the employees that operate within the system are, what Seth Godin would call, "sheepwalking" through their day. So concerned about the letter of the law that they lose the ability to effectively problem solve. Thanks for the great comment!!!

  7. Absolutely. Blind adherence to the rules without any regard for the particular situation they're being applied to is one of the few things that really annoys me.