The Comfort Zone · The Secret Of Systems

The Problem With Paper.

In my series, ‘The Secret Of Systems’ I’ve tried to explain – in as much as I understand these things myself – how a system works, and how they might be employed better. Employed, not exploited. The former is a legitimate use of a system, the latter is not.

Systems are not natural occurrences; there are events that take place that have the consistency and the form of a system – like a river or the turning of the year. Whilst repeatable, they cannot be expected to behave in the way a system will. Rivers will overflow, heatwaves and heavy snowstorms happen and are not always predictable. If there is one thing that is true of a system, it delivers the expected. If it does not, something has gone wrong somewhere, and that means the thinking that created the system was inadequate.

It was inadequate because if it had thought of the problem in advance, the system would still be working, wouldn’t it!

It is the aspect that the system has been thought through that I want to look at in this post. Those who create systems do so largely on paper, or increasingly through the use of computers. The long exposed myth of the paperless office shows just how much we still depend on paper to communicate our ideas.

Which is where the problems begin. How can one communicate the bright spark of an idea that just sprang to mind? The very essence of a brilliant idea is that it isn’t easy to explain. It’s the key to knowing if you have had a brilliant idea is when it’s being explained the faces of the listeners slowly glaze over. It’s a bit like me asking a Dutch person how good my Dutch is: if they can’t answer me, it tells me they are dependent on others to tell them how good it is. A certification by any other name.

Certifications do not grow on trees: the paper might, but we first make that paper to write on. Writing wouldn’t be there but for a person writing it… if someone is dependent on a certificate to know something, they are dependent on things that lie well outside their control. Perhaps it’s all to the good that they don’t realize this, because these are people who like to be in control of their lives – and in any case, they will have the ready excuse that they trust the examiners and everybody else who gives them papers to read. A closed circle in their mind, and a closed circle that others may abuse.

But please don’t tell them that. Again, they won’t believe you because it’s not been written down on paper, has it? What’s more, it’s not been on the telly either. So you’re wrong. It can’t be otherwise for a person inside their comfort zone: the illusions that go to forming their lives are a very important part of their life. Dispel those and you are asking for trouble.

It will happen that the comfort zone is broken into by an unexpected event, such as my friend Hendrik’s problem with his toilet (1). An easy and cheap problem to solve that, owing to his need for authorities to make decisions for him, cost him around 1000x as much to sort out than if he had actually thought about the problem.

That is the problem with paper in a nutshell: it is the pincer movement of it having to be written by someone the individual trusts as an authority. The other pincer movement being nature itself that forms the challenges and does so by exploiting the gaps in a person’s thinking.

After all, that is the nature of a challenge: it is unexpected and it is unexpected in a way that takes you outside of your comfort zone. It’s why we’re alive, it’s to explore the world we have no idea existed – in the way I spoke of in my last post about the giant table (2). I’m fine with people having different ideas to me, but with one proviso, that they have thought their ideas through. The problem is that if they do have an illusion, there is two things one can say about this: firstly they will not have thought their ideas through, and as a consequence will contradict themselves. It reminds me of a senior anthroposophist who wanted to establish the ground rules for commenting on his blog. He dutifully wrote them all down with the care that they deserved – and at the end, he threw his hand grenade: he stated quite clearly that he was the owner of the blog and he could change the rules as he chose at any time he wished. Well, that’s modern anthroposophy for you, and the truth is, it hasn’t stood the test of time.

It does illustrate a real problem though, in that someone who is dedicated to the truth is prepared to tell the world that he doesn’t give a fig about it. He wrote it all down, and no doubt it took a good while to think through. Had he stopped there, he would have done the world a service, as long as he could manage to abide by his own rules. There are few who can, though.

Which is the problem with paper: if someone writes something down, are they going to be satisfied with it? Here in Holland there are a lot of rules that the citizens and the authorities simply disregard. As an honest law abiding citizen, it came as a shock to see a nation who outwardly are flawlessly honest acting with such depravity. There really is no other word for it. It’s not as if they drive on the wrong side of the road, that might endanger their life… and that would never do. Everything else is a matter of whether it suits them that day or not.

The real problem with paper is somewhat deeper, though. People will write what they believe to be true, which is fair enough. But that in itself is the problem. There is the aspect of their having limited their writing to the things they are able to see. The things they know about. Obviously, the things they know nothing about they cannot write about. There are ways to find out, but then, we’ve met the resulting excuses already.

It is the limiting factor that is the truly insidious element here. If someone is limiting themselves to the comfy things in life that make them feel good, they are leaving out a deal of their own consciousness. That is to say, the things they don’t like. If they mention them at all, it is to reject them out of hand as either irrelevant or downright lies. It’s how the online troll works: they are so keen to defend their position that they are happy to tell the messenger that they are liars. The better the writing, the better the challenges will be accounted for.

Those who write things down on paper usually ignore the challenges. This, when taken to the kinds of extreme we can see around us today, doesn’t leave them much wriggle room. Two people will describe things in remarkably similar ways – that is to say, bland and, well undescriptive. It can’t be helped because if it’s all they’ve ever done, and everybody else is wrong, where does that leave them?

It came to a point where on Facebook, two people on different sides of the earth responded to me on different threads and used the same words down to the punctuation. And within thirty seconds of each other. It was an eerie experience.

The problem with being undescriptive is that it leads to people saying and doing the same thing, and in that it doesn’t take much intelligence to do so, everybody’s at it. Since they can think of nothing else to do, they will be in competition (if, that is, they are still in business?) The bigger they get the less descriptive they get and by extension the competition is red hot and profits crushed to the point where the fuel station makes more by selling coffee than it does from selling fifty litres of fuel. There is the key to the solution here, if you had your brain in gear.

It’s like the Dutch human resources officer looking through the paperwork and trying to find the right carpenter for a business. There are all the adulatory letters and complete cv’s that are adorned with all the required certificates – it is a big problem and one that can only be solved by a personal interview. Which only compounds the problem: the interviewer is taken in by the friendliness of the carpenters on show and the decision is made yet more difficult. That few of them even knew they weren’t telling the truth is a very serious issue; that one of them had been dumped by their last business and is now looking for more work is another. How is the personnel officer to know who can do the job and who can’t? It’s not as if they’re going to tell you they were thrown out, and when asked the boss of the last business gives him a glowing review so that his competition is going to get hammered by a bungling idiot.

A bungling idiot who is as amiable as the next one, has all the correct paperwork and says the right things but is a disaster on site.

In short, if you are in a job where it is possible to describe it in words, you’re in trouble because everybody can do it. Worse, someone can program a computer to do the job. Just look at the assembly lines in a modern economy: each worker is responsible for several million dollars worth of machinery. If the economy is underdeveloped (or worse, has slipped) the workers will be fitting the wheel nuts themselves. But then, in economies of that kind, employment regulations are slack and they can be sacked pretty well on the spot. You don’t invest in a huge machine only to switch it off, do you? Humans can look after themselves, and in economies of that kind, usually do.

The only solution is to have a job that you find difficult to describe, that makes people’s expressions glaze over when you try to explain it to them. The problem then is that they’ll not believe you because you don’t have a certificate to say that you can. It’s galling to find this, when the person is the only person who has the competence to issue the certifications isn’t allowed to do it because it’s been written down on paper that… it’s the unseen danger inherent in any system. A danger that nobody inside the system is ever likely to be looking for because they are all being told to do more work for the same money.

Notes:
(1) See my post, ‘Trouble In The Toilet’.
(2) See my post, ‘Sitting To Table’.

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