The Art of Systems

The Art of Systems

imgresSun Tzu says:  Act after having made assessments.  The one who first knows the measures of far and near wins—this is the rule of armed struggle.

Yesterday I shared some of Bo Adam’s wisdom about the importance of systems in school transformation.  It is so easy to check the box, to say “let’s go through a planning process that is open and transparent and we will follow that plan”.  Do we ask if the process is good? Did we start with a clear vision and understanding of both where we are and where we want to be? Do we plan our schools as systems or as pieces, and if the later, are we surprised that we operate in disconnected silos?

In my book, The Falconer, the longest chapter is called Understanding the System. The simple, timeless articulation of strategy, The Art of War, tells us that we first must know our enemies (problems) before we can defeat them (solve the problem).  The essence of problem solving is designing strategies based on a unique set of relationships posed by the problem itself, as well as a desired outcome.

At the end of my chapter on The System, I wrote nine keys to systems thinking using the language of Sun Tzu:

The Nine Postulates of Understanding the System:

  1. First count the arrows in the quivers and the spears in their racks.
  2. Next measure the courage of your soldiers, the faith of your people, and the stealth of your spies.
  3. The enemy is not known by his portrait at one sitting, but by watching and studying him over time, by assessing the ebb and flow of his essence.
  4. The good warrior knows the borders of his enemy and does not chase diversions beyond the frontier of his own choosing.
  5. To know the whole, the warrior must know its parts; to know the parts, the warrior must organize them; to organize them, the warrior must know his goal, or he is merely shuffling pieces on a board.
  6. To fully understand the forest of trees and the braiding of streams, the warrior must understand the forces that bind the one to the other.
  7. The wise general knows that the impossible is probably just improbable.
  8. Absolute honesty requires the warrior to be more honest and less absolute.
  9. The general who shares his vision may find himself at the head of a large army; the general who keeps his vision to himself will likely fight alone.

I could clarify my meaning for each, but won’t. Hopefully you will think about them, tease them about in your head, and question how they apply to your own work.  And if my further thoughts are helpful, discuss via comments or download the book!

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One Comment

  1. boadams1 April 25, 2013 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    One enemy is certainly General Status Quo, or Admiral Business as Usual. As schools, we should be the champions of curiosity – willing to create the future, not to wait for others to do so. Thanks for all you teach me about systems.

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