A Perfectly Designed System

systems-thinking the perfect system

“A system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”Paul Batalden

Part III

Over the past 40 years the US economic system has been, and continues to be, systematically altered to funnel more and more of America’s wealth to the already rich, the “have-mores,” and away from the “have-nots.” The shift of wealth is accompanied by a commensurate shift of more and more economic and political power to the already powerful, undermining the foundations of democracy. If we want to live in a society where the people govern themselves, share the same rights and responsibilities, and decide for themselves how the products of the economy are to be distributed, we must learn to work together to define that society and create it.

A sense of progress toward ideals gives meaning to life and makes choice significant. The belief that the future depends on what we do between now and then enhances this quality.

Many of our problems derive from trying to get rid of a dissatisfaction we feel; for instance with the way the car is working , or how much a certain item costs. This is reactive problem solving, an effort to get rid of what we don’t want. We tend to respond more to our dislikes than our likes, more by our hates than by our loves. It often results in unforeseen consequences that may be worse than the original problem. For instance, DDT.

In proactive problem solving we decide what we want and try to create it. It reduces the likelihood that we will overlook the consequences of our solutions. When embedded in proactive planning, designing a future and finding ways to move toward it as effectively as possible is called idealized redesign. But no idealized design can remain ideal for long. The goal then is not an ideal state or system but an ideal-seeking state or system. Its designers need not have all the answers, but they should design into the system the capability of finding them. The redesigning is never complete. It is subject to continual revision in light of newly acquired information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom and imagination.

German philosopher Friedrich von Schiller believed that human development depends on the successful negotiation between contradictory forces of existence; in fact, there is “no other way to develop the manifold aptitudes of man than to bring them in opposition with one another.” For Schiller, these forces could indeed be harmonized in the balance between sensibility and reason that is the aesthetic condition, or what Schiller called the Spieltrieb. The character of Spiel is the will to play, the will to create, also the will to beauty. Creating must be playful, for according to Schiller, it is only in play that humans are really human. The domain of Spiel opens up, it seems, an aesthetic void, where the product created or even the time it takes cannot be scripted.

In the aesthetic condition the process of creativity or innovation can be thought of as knowledge “production;” as an ever-expanding space of possibility that is opened and enlarged simply by exploring the space of what is currently possible. A society for the future might be thought of as being oriented toward creating the as-yet unimagined – indeed, the currently unimaginable. Such a ‘goal’ can only be understood in terms of exploration of the current possibilities. Rather than focusing on perpetuating entrenched habits, society must be principally concerned with ensuring the conditions for the emergence of the as-yet unimagined.


About Freedom to...

Consultant helping people and employers in health care, education and government to see and understand how their organization works and how to change them to improve performance.
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