It’s not the thinking, it’s how we’re thinking.

(with apologies to ALAC)
Things aren’t working as they should.
Everywhere you look there are systems that don’t deliver what we as a society want them to deliver. Law enforcement, workforce management, politics, education, media, to name five that come to mind for some reason.
Why is everything broken?
Answer: it’s not. These systems work perfectly. Keep a system running and it will inevitably trend towards finding the smoothest, least complicated way it can do what it does.
The systems fail us not because they’re broke, but because they have to interact with something that they cannot control and that we did not design: us.
We resist change. We resent uncertainty. We fear difference. We desire status. We react emotionally not logically. We interpret the world as stories. We construct for ourselves a self-identity.
Everything that doesn’t work comes from the way we think.
We break the world for ourselves.
And this means we can fix it.

17 thoughts on “It’s not the thinking, it’s how we’re thinking.”

  1. Of course, it isn’t just us – there’s problems of logistical complexity, balancing competing demands, understanding the problem space, etc etc. But I’m rhetoricizing here, so I’m pretending to forget about all that for the moment.

  2. Ok, are you in my brain or something? After never having heard of The Wire until a couple of months back I’m currently about half-way through the 3rd series. Best show of the decade. easily.

  3. Actually these system _are_ broken. We don’t want them to trend to the smoothest, least complicated, way it can be done. We want them to trend toward the best result for everyone, which invariably is _not_ the smooothest, least complicated solution.
    The problem with a system trending to the smoothest, least complicated, way it can be done, can be aptly envisaged by remembering Judge Death’s solution to the crime problem in Mega-City One. It was certainly the smoothest and least complicated solution to the problem he was asked to solve, it just wasn’t very good for the inhabitants.

  4. mundens: yeah, you’re absolutely right. You’re ahead of me – I was vaguely planning on getting to that in a later post. when I say the system isn’t broken, what I mean is – and what you clearly understand – that it is functioning perfectly *on its own terms*. Systems don’t care about anything that they don’t have to calibrate. And, as you note, the results can be horrific.
    So, yeah. We don’t want them to deliver these results – but systems do move in inhuman directions, inevitably. What is to be done? i’ve got some ideas, as you might imagine, but they’re thinking-in-the-shower type ideas. You seem to be suggesting we need to manage and calibrate our systems towards the best result for everyone – and I think that’s a big part of the answer. How, though? I dunno, man. But I’m thinking hard about it.

  5. Bartok: Totally agree. Up to season 3 on a rewatch. Even better the second time through, incredibly.
    billy: I bet if I searched your blog archives I’d find you saying exactly this ages ago 🙂
    Alligator: run for President of the World, dude. We need someone like you!

  6. What I find distressing is that if you fixed the education system so that it was the way many, if not most, people want it to be, it would be a horrible evil at least as bad as it is now.

  7. Some education system starters:
    Control dangerous young person behaviour + make dangerous young persons think like previous generations (teach traditional material) + engender unthinking loyalty
    Make everyone a creative, unique snowflake who lives at the top of the pyramid of human endeavour
    Differentiate learning opportunities so students can engage in meaningful learning in genuine contexts
    Don’t spend more money than you have
    Actually, spend $50 million less on teacher salaries in 2010 despite the recession probably meaning more school-leaver age kids will stick around in the education system because there are fewer jobs available

  8. Start with putting more effort into helping children have the best start to life possible e.g. not being abused, better parenting courses etc. That’s my belief – the first 2 years of a person’s life are THE most important.

  9. Matt: spoken like a man on the inside. Indeed, thinking about schools was where I first started to see all this complexity, and see how bl..dy difficult it can be to unpick it.
    To me, the real question seems to be, what outputs should we calibrate the system “school” to prioritise? (And what inputs do we use to perform this calibration?)
    Or, in plain language: what is school for?
    Education and publically-provided schooling is an example of how systems start to exert their own logic when their operators lose control of their purpose. (In this case, the purpose changed because society changed around them.)
    Properly unpacking that question would be a lifetime’s work. But hey, we’re on the internet, we can give it a go.

  10. Sproke: I agree absolutely and unreservedly. So much of a person’s future is written by age 2, it’s astonishing.
    So what are the systems at work during this period of a child’s life? What are the human reasons why these systems don’t work like they should?

  11. Conversation about ‘what is school for’ has been rife since the draft NZ curriculum came out a few years ago, gaining steam with the actual curriculum. It’s in there explicitly as something every school community needs to decide for itself. On a theoretical level it’s nice to have that freedom.
    On a practical level there’s all the inherited stuff – buildings, books, community expectations, established practices which produce favourable outcomes – on the one hand, and limited resources (financial, human-hours, human-ideas, human-goodwill) for instituting sweeping change. And competing ideas about what (if any) change is needed (great leaps forward, backward, no leaps).

  12. Which is to say, we have the basis (permission and ideology) for education system reform in the New Curriculum, but the extent of change has many limiting factors.
    (assessment systems can be added to the list for anyone keeping score)

  13. Morgue, it’s a big topic. I can direct you at a large number of resources, starting with Ivan Illich’s _Deschooling Society_. That’s a dense read, and John Holt’s _Instead of Education_ is far more accessible (but even there less ‘fun’ than many of his others).
    To reduce to the point of soundbite absurdity: teaching is not the same as learning; coercion, judgment and praise makes people learn what you don’t want them to; and curricula are yet another instance of other people knowing better and not trusting the learner.
    Really, I think it’s absolutely no coincidence that essentially all babies and small children are curious and interested in the whole world around them, and after a decade and more of school, most have a dislike, apathy towards, or mild disinterest in anything associated with school type things. It’s a way to get a job or what have you, so many still engage with those things, but that’s wholly different.

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