Naming normal

In a room at work I was named as being a “systems thinker“. Friendly, not accusing, not implying anything. Except it was.

Nobody else in the room was named, therefore their mental model was normal. Their mental models are the norm therefore nothing needs naming.

I was looking at a bunch of people who didn’t know that their mental model was command and control, they didn’t know they had one at all.

They were just normal. And they are, perfectly normal and nice. All different in many ways, but in work,  normal. Normal being “the default”. Normal is never noticed. Normal is invisible, so anything other than normal is the thing to be named. You don’t have to name normal. You can’t name it, it’s invisible.

Except you do have to sometimes.

Hey there 19th Century Landowner! That’s not normal, that’s a slave auction!

Hey there Mr Policeman, that’s not a terrorist you’ve arrested, it’s Emiline Pankhurst. It’s not normal to arrest woman because they want the vote!

It’s funny because he’s about to make some kids into orphans!
Normal doesn’t do this nowadays

haha! He’s hitting her because she bought the wrong coffee!
Not normal outside of 50 Shades Of Nonsense these days.

The above things aren’t thought normal these days. Normal has moved on, normal always moves on. But normal doesn’t move on by itself. Normal squats there waiting, refusing to budge. It’s abnormal that moves normal, when something new and not-normal comes along, spots the normal, and wants to change it.

It’s abnormal that is spotted and named by the normal.

The slave-owners weren’t called slave-owners. It was the people who spotted it as a thing in itself and wanted to change it that had a name, they were named Abolitionists.

The people who opposed votes for women didn’t have a name. The people who spotted this as a thing and wanted to change it had a name, Suffragists.

And so on, Mothers Against Drink Driving, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, all have a name. But normal doesn’t, there isn’t an association of Drunks For Drink Driving, or People for Making Animals Miserable. There’s just normal.

If you don’t name normal, people just don’t know it is there at all.

Myself, I would rather know who self-names as normal so I can avoid them like the plague.  Here are some badges I have made up and will be distributing. How many takers will I get?

Normal at work is often called Command & Control. It’s an apt name, as at the heart of work-normal is commands and controls. But as I’ve never spotted anybody who self-names as Command & Control. Who would? It sounds dreadfully bossy. Command and control sounds like an awful person barking orders out and brooking no insubordination.

I’ve worked in loads of command and control organisations and only met a small handful of people like that. Most have been nice. Woolly even, at times. They would bridle at being named command and control. That’s because they are normal and normal refuses to be named.

You don’t have to be bossy to be command and control. You just have to work in a command and control environment and think it normal, normal enough not to question. Hey presto, a new recruit. It is hard to look outside the normal and start seeing it as abnormal. Something created, something temporary, something that can be something else instead.

For me the beauty of systems thinking/Deming/Vanguard method is it allows you see normal for the first time. It reveals itself as you start to see your own taken for granted mental models about work. It’s only when you learn that there actually ARE assumptions underlying your thoughts that you can start to change these assumptions. You can’t learn before you un-learn. And you can’t unlearn until you’ve spotted that there actually IS something to unlearn. That thing that you have to unlearn is the normal.

No, not yet.

This entry was posted in learning, psychology, systems thinking, Uncategorized, vanguard method and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Naming normal

  1. That’s one of your best posts! Well said.


  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    thanks for that!
    i got bike out to go to work, found i had flat tire, fixed it and thought I’d treat myself to a post to cheer me up.
    tire fixed, post typed, now its 11am instead of 9am and there’s still work unworked
    Off to the normal!


  3. John Liddle says:

    Good post. You need to step out of your culture to see your culture and most people don’t want to do that. It’s just too big a challenge.

    I guess that’s why expats create their own little Britains in the country they’re working in. It saves them having to acknowledge the arbirtary nature of their own norms and see the world through different eyes. The expression ‘going native’ (with all the contempt it implies for things outside one’s own little world) should be a warning to anyone thinking of adopting a wider perspective. And don’t leave books on your desk. C&C doesn’t people who think for themselves. It can’t distinguish it from insubordination.


  4. Ash says:

    Excellent reading, very well written and keen to know more


  5. YarekT says:

    Nice article, though a little vague for me. I always thought that anyone passionate in the technical field has an innate drive to make things better and question the “status quo” to use that terrible cliché. Anyway, the bridge rectifier is wrong, unless you’ve done that on purpose


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Thanks for the comment!
      Wossa bridge rectifier? If it is wrong, as you spotted, will it get me in trouble?

      “I always thought that anyone passionate in the technical field has an innate drive to make things better and question the “status quo”

      Yup, me too. I think it’s a correct assumption. But like all assumptions it assumes something, in this case that there actually IS passion.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Oh my god. You’ve spotted an incorrect electronic circuit diagram on a badge! Well done!
      I have to admit something, they aren’t my badges. I just found the picture on google and thoroughly stole it.


  6. Roberto says:

    very interesting.
    In crisis period (and in Italy NOW is a bad crisis period) nothing is normal. So it’s very easy too see how the command-control method costs and is improductive. We see the commander-controller in panic and commanded-controlled people (living just for extrinsic motivations) in depression. But nobody try to change model. “The fault lies with the crisi, the fault lies with berlusconi…” and so on.


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