Wednesday, May 27, 2009

System Work Versus People Work

Note well- I am not talking about Martial systems right now.

Which has more value?  Which is the better use of time and resources?   Training individuals?  Or creating a system (environment, standards, processes, expectation) under which those individuals work?

To an extent a good system can function despite bad people. That's one of the real purposes to creating a system or a set of policies.  On the other side good people can do great things with a bad system. (And that piece does apply to martial arts, FWIW).

Extraordinary people, good or bad, can exploit a system, good or bad, for their own purposes.

An absolute monarchy is a totalitarian dictatorship, but sometimes the power is used to create school systems and hospitals.  Some use that power (and, here's a mindtwist for you, does a dictator have more power than another type of ruler or only fewer constraints on the same  power?) for the good of their people.  Others use it to gratify their egos or satisfy personal (or very public) desires.  Good people can do great things with systems that are not inherently great themselves.

And well intentioned systems, like the Americans with Disabilities Act or FMLA or Medicair are often and easily exploited by bad people.

I've always been a training person working within well-established systems. The few times I've been in at the start of something new and radical (CERT, the Mental Health Team) we did fantastic, earth-shaking stuff, but we still had to work within a system, and sometimes the system had automatic checks to prevent any part from outshining the rest too obviously.

This last little bit, though, I've been working with systems in what seems like fairly virgin soil.  There will always be issues with implementation and institutional inertia and all that, but I am still pleased and surprised.  A good system makes everything easier,( even training) because you are training to a standard that makes sense from the ground up and serves a specific, tangible purpose.  Some of these systems, like the After Action Debriefing, have huge continuing payoffs with very little effort.  You can create a system that is self-improving.

The strange part is that it is so easy.  If you really know the problem and know your resources and keep a few simple rules of information management in mind (like "what's the goal" and "who is the end user") you can hammer out a system, sometimes to a problem that seems complex, very, very quickly. How quickly? Depends on the problem and the process, but it frequently takes me longer to write down the proposal than to outline the process. I type slow, though.

Both are important, but good systems makes it easier for people to be good workers. Good people compensate for glitches and bugs in the system, and good workers can move between different systems and adapt quickly.

So add this to the list of very cool things from my time here: systems design was one of those secret things jealously guarded by the wizards in the black tower. Turns out it was easy and I never, ever would have been suffered to find that out back home.