Practice excellence – Importance of the system clock

June 13, 2011 at 10:34 am | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Practice Excellence, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

Quite often we see that some people are always on time for the meetings & other occasions, whereas some others are always late. Not just that; if we carefully observe, even their delay interval tends to be more or less constant. When I ask for the reason (of course when I know they won’t mind) each time their reasons are different but the effect is same.

This phenomenon makes me think, maybe there is a system clock which gets set because of our repeated behavior and then starts controlling our actions. Thereafter, even if we want to change it, somehow it becomes quite tough to do so. If it was just a cause and effect relationship, once we are aware, it should be fairly easy to change. But it does not happen that way.

Practices are what individuals do to take the tasks towards their goal. Situations change and we need to quickly adapt our practices accordingly to reach the goal. But the system clock tends to make it quite difficult. What is the possible solution?

Newton’s first law of motion states that “a physical body will remain at rest, or continue to move at a constant velocity, unless an outside net force acts upon it”. Though this is applicable to physical objects, it may provide part of the solution. If our habitual patterns create a large enough shock with a crisis or failure, that may act like as the “net force”. But this again does not always produce a lasting effect. We feel bad / guilty for some time, but soon revert to our old ways. Human beings are far more complex than physical objects. They require different solutions to reset the system clock.

It is said that humans are social animals. Unlike physical objects which interact with other physical objects in predictable ways, human interactions are far more complex and there are no simple laws that help us predict them with certainty. We have to live with this uncertainty and still find ways to manage our lives for better, by continuously striving for excellence in whatever we do.

As Einstein has said “you can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created”, we need to look for the solution outside the problem domain of practices of an individual and look to the human teams (and groups/ communities / organizations). These social structures use processes to orchestrate individual practices to achieve team goals. These groupings are also human systems and hence would have a system clock. With repeated execution of the team processes, the team system clock takes over managing their sequencing and information flows.

The individual is connected to these systems in visible as well as invisible ways, consciously or unconsciously. Effect of these linkages is not always possible to be logically explained but can be definitely experienced. Let me give an example from my own experience. In late seventies, I used to work for a steel forgings company in Bombay. Our office was in north of Bombay whereas I had to go often to south Bombay to meet our suppliers. There were many variations in time required at each stage of journey as I had to reach the railway station by my car, take a local train to south Bombay and then take a taxi to my destination. I had no control over these variations, yet if the appointment was say for 4 pm, I would invariably reach my destination between 3:50 & 4:00 pm. I can’t explain it logically but obviously my system clock was so well set that the other systems could sense it and automatically adjust the circumstances accordingly.

In last few years, I have also noticed that if I work on something with full dedication and great passion, in an area of interest to the other systems, they seem to pick up the signal and the circumstances are shaped to favor the work. I start coming in contact with persons with similar or complementary interests; I come across books & articles which help to show me next steps and in general the environment appears to be interested in guiding me. It is uncanny yet very real. So the solution for an individual appears to be not to limit his vision only to help himself but keep in mind how his actions are affecting other systems. Then working on it with passion & dedication no more remains an individual mission. It is a great feeling.

If you have any views or experiences on the above, please share so that all of us will benefit.


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