Thursday, June 11, 2015


Systems are interesting. Complex, organized, inefficient, unpredictable. Systems are usually perceived as broken, unfair, unfeeling. That's likely right.

My wife took the Myers-Briggs test online today. She's done it before, but it's always interesting to see if things change. I took it too. I'm pretty much the same all the time (INTJ, if you care). Anyway, the explanation for mine talked about how people of my personality like to attack systems (usually in a good way) loaded with idealistic pragmatism. We have an unwavering belief things can work better and an irrational confidence we can do something to improve things. That's likely right, too.

I, along with about 80 others, were invited today to be part of the listening process for the strategic plan of the local school district. IO was, of course, flattered when I received the invite; less so when I found out how many people would be there. That's all ego. I didn't have high expectations that they'd really get anything concrete or specific out of the group. I'm not sure they did. I'm not sure they were planning to. (We provided some good general directions and we'll see how that translates to action later this summer.)

But one thing that did strike me as important was just how many people were there to generously and sincerely contribute to the process. There were a lot of people there - at least half weren't being paid to be there. There were a lot of diverse opinions and perspectives, but things were really positive and civil. People whose positions lead to our making assumptions about motives and character got a chance to be people. That was good.

It was also a chance, as I reflect, to really understand systems better. As much as my idealistic pragmatism wants to make me a tyrant, using my specific skills to improve the world around me (or some small part of it), things don't really work that way. Providing a strong education to 10,000 students requires, by necessity, a relatively complex system. It's going to be big and it's going to include people. It's not a problem to be solved or a puzzle to be cracked.

Yes, systems are problematic, but they're also necessary. Most systems, even dysfunctional ones, are made up on good, well-meaning people. Those people might act or react in less than ideal ways, but often that's in response to some systemic issue - the machine isn't working quite right and the parts are breaking.

I'm still a pragmatic idealist (I doubt I'll ever escape that) and I'm still an iconoclast when it comes to respecting tradition or authority (that was another character trait from my INTJ description), but I think I have a better appreciation for the necessary mess involved in systems. It bugs the heck out of me, but deep down there was a real recognition of broader understanding.

Whether it's a school district or a worshiping congregation, a family, workplace, or neighborhood, systems are what they are. They can be better, but they're never going to be depersonalized.

That might not sound like news to you, but it was my satisfyingly profound revelation for the day.

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