Beat The SystemSep 3, 2013
As any social organisation evolves the tendency is to build systems that will further aid development and progress. The social organisation may be anything ranging from a country, a religion, a city, a company, a small project or even the internet. The systems, traditional processes, machines and automation works on repeatable activities making them more reliable, acceptable and predictable. In some cases the systems are enforced using policies, rules and restrictions and in other cases it is just recommended using values, guidelines or rituals.
On the other hand, building systems also creates a counter-tendency to “beat the system”. This is an irresistible tendency which has the same thrill that makes the stolen water sweet.
In the industry I am working in, the systems are implemented using coding standards, version control, release management, and project performance metrics etc. What prompted me into thinking is the tendency to beat the system, and worse to take pride in doing that. The impact is not visible in smaller scale, and in fact in small scale beating the system has definite advantages. The trouble starts as we scale the operations, when dealing with bigger quantum of work, while becoming a larger “social organisation”.
The solution often thought is to make the systems more stringent and introduce punitive measures. But this can backfire as people may end up abandoning the system or worse, manipulating it. An alternate would be to make the systems as lightweight as possible - either by making the process simpler or by introducing automation without being legalistic. This is often quoted by Agile thinkers.
A much more effective solution would be to develop a culture within the social organisation, something that many religions have long succeeded in doing. It is a slow, persistent effort. Culture gets into human behaviour in ways law cannot possibly achieve, encouraging people to adhere than be admonished.