Tetrahedronics: Metasystems Thinking (or, Systems Thinking About Systems Thinking)

It seems that everyone has a “system” these days. From Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to Jim Collins’ “Hedgehog Concept” in “Good to Great,” and from H. Dale Burke’s “Leader’s Disciplines” to Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why,” there are quite a few frameworks which have been offered to show how qualities necessary for success in business need to function together. Interestingly, many of these frameworks are represented by some type of circular shapes – concentric, connecting, interlocking, etc. – which demonstrate how the elements of the system lead or connect to one another.  Even the traditional “Enrollment Funnel” has been updated to reflect the changing processes fostered by the Internet.  Read about the “Enrollment Rings” by visiting this link.

But businesses still have difficulty succeeding today.

Weight loss programs claim to have systems, although some call them methods. There is a difference. A method is the manner in which someone has achieved a degree of success – a step-by-step “successive” plan to achievement. A method may not work for everyone, since many people still have difficulty losing weight. A “system,” however, implies that there are various elements that must work together (not necessarily linearly or progressively, with one step followed by the next) to achieve a desired result. Because all the elements must work together, all the elements of the system must be in place in order for the system to work so that desired outcomes can be achieved.

For instance, let’s take one of those physical fitness devices or programs infomercials say will allow you to build the body you’ve dreamed of.  It’s not just the exercise machine the advertisement says you need; there are two other elements – the proper exercises to perform, as well as a proper diet to follow – and, as the endorsers say, “That’s all there is to it!”

And that’s what we believe because the message is repeated over and over again – even though it’s false.

Why does this system fail? Because there are always at least two hidden elements from systems which claim there are only three things one needs to do to reap the benefits of the system. The problem is that our brains have been trained to not just think linearly, but to only hold three thoughts simultaneously. Sometimes, that can expand to four, but systems thinkers agree that once the fifth element is added, the mind forgets at least one of the elements if we don’t retrain ourselves to juggle all five elements all the time.

In the case of the fitness example, the three elements are the tool, the exercise (use of the tool) and the diet (the fuel for the tool). The two additional elements would be “desire” and “ability.” One of these elements is emotionally rooted, and an emotional component is vital if any change is to happen successfully. In the case of weight loss, you have to WANT (the gut reaction) to do it before you can even THINK (the cognitive or mental component) about doing it. The other component is physical, as one needs to be able to pay for the equipment and the food for the diet, but also has to have the ability to schedule not only exercise time, but to shop for food and prepare the proper meals. Personally, as one who is on the road 4 days out of the week, stays in hotels, and gets to them at night in time to enter records of events from the day and prepare the next day’s meeting materials, there is NO time to shop for food, no place to prepare it, and certainly no time for three significant meals and two snacks to keep the metabolism going.

The bottom line: In order for a system to work, ALL the elements of the system must be in place.

How does this pertain to your school? Let’s say your faith-based school has an excellent faith identity curriculum and is commitment to Christ-centered values, superb academics, distinctive activities, and a great physical structure with an accessible location.  But, on the tour of your school, a parent of a prospective student asks, “I don’t see any computers. Do students have access to technology?” You answer, “By all means, yes!” and proceed to show them a room full of IBM XTs, Compaqs, and other computers that have been donated to your school over the last 1o to 15 years, with wires hanging from the ceiling to connect these computers to the Internet via dial-up modems. What do you think the parent’s reaction would be?

They may not expect a one-to-one technology initiative with iPads or Chromebooks, but they are going to expect computers which haven’t outlived their usefulness and your school to support current technology standards.

It’s not about the faith-identity, or the activities, or the curriculum, or the technology or the surroundings. It’s all about ALL of it!  All of those things working together create the system, and, in this case, form one of the systemic elements which create “the experience” of your school.  Indeed, your school is a system of systems.

Next week, a little more about “Quintelemental” systems.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2016