Deciding where you want to play

My Mom passed away almost twenty years ago. Mom was an anarchist at heart. She tolerated authority when it suited her; ignored it when it didn’t. As her first born and brighter than average she was inclined to trust my reports about school over those of my teachers. One practice that grew from that trust was my ability to take a “mental health day” whenever I thought it necessary. No questions asked, Mom provided the necessary support. She trusted my judgment and was willing to subvert the official system accordingly.

I wonder whether this was one of the seeds that grew into my fascination with organizations and systems. They are inventions of human ingenuity and reflect the design assumptions of their inventors. If you choose to participate in a given organization or system, you can do so blindly or mindfully.

Most organizations aren’t very carefully designed. They’re fuzzy copies and collages of other organizations we’ve experienced. And too many of those fuzzy images are rooted in old industrial assumptions about the weaknesses of “other” people. Half the HR policies in many organizations exist to make sure that no one ever does what John or Jane did that one time.

The deeper problem is that you provoke the behavior you expect. If your designs assume that people can’t be trusted that is the behavior you are more likely to see. It works the other way as well. Something to always keep in mind when you decide which organizations and system you want to play in.