I remarked this headline while surfing a few pages. Not a new idea either. But somehow this time it intrigued me more.
“Systems work, people fail” suggests that if you follow a (successful) system, you will succeed, otherwise you WILL fail. Which sometimes is true, but not always, and definitely lacking the certainty to lead to such a blunt conclusion.
Hasn’t history taught us anything?
We needed well over one and a half millennia and the death or silencing of a few brilliant minds to start understanding and accepting that the geocentric model (a.k.a. Ptolemeic system) was wrong. Slavery is still practiced in some parts of the world, but fortunately abolished mostly everywhere else. At the state level, Nazism is gone and communism lost its breath, with the notable exception of China and a few small countries. Nowadays we have so many examples of smaller or larger systems that failed ‘inexplicably’, barely work or are on the verge of collapse. But I’d rather stop this enumeration here.
These were all systems that ‘worked’ and many people embraced. Yet they failed. The systems failed, not the people who used them. So systems are not infallible.
Some may argue that people who create the systems or change them fail, not the systems themselves. And it’s a great argument. But, in this case both the systems and their creators fail, but not the people who use the systems.
In defense of the systems: we need them. Systems add structure to our societies, and sometimes to our own lives.
In case of a failure, there are two possibilities: you failed or the system failed. You can’t just assume one or the other.
If you automatically blame the system when something goes wrong, then it is very possible that you failed, and took the easy way out, without realizing you may have failed yourself, not the system.
On the other hand, if all people would follow systems without questioning them, how would progress come? Visionaries often challenge existing systems.
I see people and systems as a pair. They must fit together in order to work, or this dual mechanism will inevitably fail at some point, without necessarily a party to blame. Just the misfit between the two.
We generally need people to create systems (although now computers can create systems in many areas). Systems work as they are ‘told’ to. But when conditions change or new variables appear, they often fail, if they are not updated. Sometimes an old system cannot be updated, it just needs to be replaced entirely. People are more adaptable to changing conditions, but are likely to fail to stay consistent with the tasks needed to make a system work. Like going to gym three times a week and eat healthy food if they want to stay in shape. Or keep building their businesses through the valleys of bad times.
In conclusion, both the systems and people can fail. And both can work, if we have the right combination of people and system — at the right time —, and the latter is kept updated to the latest realities. This dual mechanism has a great chance to work. Until either the system becomes obsolete or people evolve to a different stage in their lives.