You are in a meeting room arguing with someone about whether something in your workplace, Acme Inc., is a good or a bad thing. Doesn’t matter what, pick something from your line of work. You are systemsy, the other person isn’t. You are against this thing, the other person is for it.
Were you arguing over whether putting a call centre in place to deal with all queries was a good thing? Perhaps you being against were saying that the customer queries were too complicated to be dealt with over the phone, you’ve seen it happen.
Perhaps the other guy who is for was saying that if you broke the queries apart into bits they could be dealt with using a computerised script. He’s seen it happen.
Ignore the deadly dull subject matter for a moment, who is most likely to be correct?
Neither of you are. It’s a trick question. Look at the first sentence, you are in a meeting room. Neither of you can know if anything is a good or bad thing outside of that room. You can argue and debate all you like, and you will, it won’t matter. Reality is outside that room and doesn’t care what you think or say, it’ll get on with things regardless.
Remember the three reasons why you were wrong? Turned out it depends. But on what?
Not only does it depend on the context, there is only ever context. And a meeting room isn’t it. Or anywhere else, there’s only ever one context.
How can you both be wrong?
Now for the philosophy bit
This is something we’ve covered before, but there was this bloke called Plato, as the song goes:
“had my own theory
Like for everything that we see
There’s a perfect version
To be found. Ooh!”
Or as Wikipedia would have it
For example, a particular tree, with a branch or two missing, possibly alive, possibly dead, and with the initials of two lovers carved into its bark, is distinct from the abstract form of Tree-ness. A Tree is the ideal that each of us holds that allows us to identify the imperfect reflections of trees all around us.
Called a platonic ideal. Like a word in a dictionary isn’t the same as the word being used in everyday life, the platonic ideal of “tree” is not the same as the trees all around you. They instead are the thing that defines “tree”. Hold on, almost finished.
Now for the science bit
Imagine you are sending a picture of what humans look like to aliens out in space. You want to show them not what you or Keith Richards looks like, but the platonic ideal of a man and a woman, not a particular man or woman. A drawing that could be every or any man or woman.
They already have!
This photo here is of an engraving on the side of Pioneer, a spacecraft sent into space in 1973 to attract hordes of giant alien bugs to come and eat us, with directions to where we are. It’s a bit like a takeaway menu.
The man and lady are “generic”, or as generic as clearly white, clearly American, clearly from the the early 70s people can be. These are attempts at portraying platonic ideals of humans to aliens. So they can come and eat us. Tasty!
So if NASA with all their science make generic/platonic humans look like white people from America in the early 70s, what does a platonic ideal of a call-centre look like? They don’t exist.
There isn’t a universal platonic ideal of a call-centre, there is only this call-centre right here, or that one over there. But people argue in abstractions, “Call centres do/do not work” not “Does this one here work for your customers?”. This is silly. We are not theoretical physicists. Those people CAN argue about and establish what the universe is made of by sitting in a room with only a blackboard and some chalk. Einstein did. He worked out the theory of relativity with a large supply of chalk and not getting his sums wrong. It was correct but wasn’t proved by reality outside of his room until 5 years later.
We are not theoretical physicists.
There is nothing but context.
“It depends”, on reality so go and test it. There’s a few laws like, to bear in mind. Ashby and that. Coming soon to a blog post near you!
Keep Systems Thinking and have a lovely day!